Living

Just say gnaw and become a zombie

Rachel Leyh creeps us out.

She was coming out of church one day when she was attacked by zombies. They slashed her throat, and she became One of Them.

Now she walks around, all zoned out, in a pretty pink dress dirtied with the blood dripping from her throat, looking for someone to gnaw on.

Sometimes, for effect, she licks “blood” from her fingers with great relish, like she’s enjoying the last of the icing from the bowl.

Nice touch, Rachel.

The 17-year-old Park Hill High senior has spent the last two weeks in Zombie 101 classes at the Coterie Theatre.

Now she and her fellow undead are putting that know-how to work as the cast of “Night of the Living Dead.”

The play is based on George Romero’s famous black-and-white horror film of the same name. Seven people are trapped overnight in a rural Pennsylvania farmhouse as flesh-eating, carcass-craving zombies swarm outside.

The Coterie threw its first “How to Be a Zombie” class last year. The word spread so far and wide that this year the theater had to create two teams of zombies — the green army and the red army — to perform on alternating nights.

Brothers and sisters signed up. Parents brought their kids to class. The youngest zombie is 13. The oldest is eligible for AARP. Who knew that scaring the bejabbers out of people could be such a bonding activity?

“Anyone can be a zombie,” says Ron Megee, the show’s director who, it must be noted, is somewhat of a zombie zealot. “This show was very popular last year, and many people talked about it to their friends — ‘I was a zombie, and it was a great time. I got to eat human flesh and walk around!’ ”

Undead diet

Victoria Brown, an 18-year-old Kansas City college student, was surprised to learn that zombies eat humans. That part was actually kind of a bonus for an amateur actress who has never played anything really exciting like, say, a tree.

“Who ever gets to be a zombie?” Victoria says.

She believes that zombies are scarier than even Dracula and Frankenstein because they’re human. True enough. A zombie could be your uncle, your brother or the Avon lady across the street. During the Coterie show, they get up close and personal with the audience, moaning in your ear. In the dark.

“It’s one of the most terrifying villains out there because they have human qualities,” Megee says. “The only way to kill one is to cut off their head or destroy the brain or burn them. You must burn them!

“The best way is to put them in the street, pour gasoline on them and burn them. There’s no time for a funeral. You’ve gotta keep moving!”

Yeah, OK. We’re scared now.

Dead to rights

Just what is a zombie anyway?

Megee says a zombie is a dead person who, through some fluke of chemical or biological or outer-spacey intervention, has been “reanimated,” or brought back to life. Or at least back to something resembling life.

Zombies, for instance, can’t speak. They moan, making low, guttural sounds that become higher-pitched when they spy human flesh. Because zombies have no fear, they will hunt down human flesh until they die.

They will bite and chew and gnaw on human flesh like gluttons.

“They say zombies will just keep eating and eating until they burst,” says Megee, relishing the thought, we think, just a little too much.

Zombies don’t walk fast, either, because their brains don’t function like they used to. The zombie walk could easily be mistaken for that of a drunkard, a sleepwalker or a dying pirate dragging a peg leg.

You could try to outrun a zombie.

“But when you turn the corner there’s another pack of zombies,” Megee warns. “They’re out during the day, too. Sometimes you can’t hear them. Sometimes there are surprise attacks.”

His actors had to learn the “dead stare,” the stone-cold, glazed-over look of a zombie that says, “

I eat spleen for supper

.”

They had to learn the makeup, too, because they do their own before every show. The trick? A base of cream makeup called “dead flesh” — no lie — and black around the eyes and cheeks for that just-got-out-of-the-grave look.

Megee challenged each actor to come up with his character’s backstory. How did you die? Gunshot? An arrow through the head? Animal attack? Old age? Dismemberment? The more horrific the death, the more ghastly the costume.

One actress decided she was making supper when zombies broke into her house and attacked her, so she carries a blender throughout the show.

At one point a Girl Scout zombie, with wild blond pigtails and blood splattered on her uniform, wanders onto the stage carrying a box of Girl Scout cookies.

“We have a farmer, a postal worker, a clown zombie. You could be anybody,” Megee says. “You could be a reporter who works at

The Kansas City Star

and be a zombie.”

Yes.

I could.


‘Night of the Living Dead’

What:

The first in the Coterie Theatre’s new “Coterie at Night” series of evening-only performances for older audiences.

When:

Now through Oct. 29

Where:

Off Center Theatre, Level Three of Crown Center. (Where the movie theater used to be.)

Tickets

: $12 for all ages; $8 for Coterie season ticket holders.

Get them here: www.coterietheatre.org

or the Coterie box office, 816-474-6552.

Parental advisory

: The show is recommended for preteen kids and older.

Be a zombie

: The theater offers its “Zombie 101” handbook on its Web site. It tells where to get costumes and how to do the makeup.


A bloody mess

Just in time for Halloween, the Coterie Theatre makeup folks share their recipe for edible stage blood, the same stuff they use buckets of during “Night of the Living Dead.”

• 1/2 cup maple or corn syrup

•40 drops red food coloring

•1 drop blue food coloring

•1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Blend well.


@ Check out the FYI Halloween Vault for a Halloween countdown ticker and more Halloween stories at www.kansascity.com/fyi
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