With the Halloween season now upon us, the Siren Theater is putting on another one of their parody shows that is as spooky as it is silly. A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Play! is the brainchild of creator-director Shelley McLendon and is part of the theater’s growing number of satirical plays from Road House: The Play to the pandemic-made parody of the original Blair Witch Project.
McLendon opened the Siren Theater back in 2015, and in a 2018 Mercury profile was hailed as “a driving force in Portland’s comedy scene.” The theater had previously done a run of this Elm Street show, though that was in the before-times (2019) when no one foresaw the pandemic that was about to hit us. How young we were. Freddy himself even seems like not so scary of a guy in comparison.
Now, approaching the theater’s sixth anniversary and new in-person run of shows, McLendon is sharing what to expect of the show’s triumphant return, how the process of creating comedy from horror works, and what her favorite Elm Street movie is. Sadly, it wasn’t Dream Warriors.
[Editor's Note: The Mercury's own Wm. Steven Humphrey has a role in A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Play! Humphrey wasn't involved in the commissioning or editing of this piece.]
MERCURY: How does it feel to be bringing back the show?
McLendon: It feels great because we were, you know, hoping to do it last October but we could not. So it feels wonderful.
What kind of preparation have you been putting into capturing and having fun with this iconic horror story?
We have built a name for ourselves for doing staged parodies of cult, 80s movies. We’ve done Road House, Poltergeist, and The Lost Boys. We did Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer which was the 60s Rankin/Bass one that comes out at Christmas every year.
The original movie [A Nightmare on Elm Street] just speaks for itself. It’s intentionally funny in a way that was not clear when the movie first came out. It’s still very scary, but there are also lots of funny things about it. I just tried to underscore what is naturally funny about it.
Often horror and comedy can go hand-in-hand as both are built around a question being asked of the audience with a surprise answer. That surprise can either be a joke or something more scary. What do you see as the relationship between comedy and horror?
What makes comedies really funny to me is when people are just being themselves, going about their day and something unexpected happens. That’s also what a good horror movie is: just normal people going about their day and something terrifying happens. Just people’s natural reactions are both funny and terrifying. [Laughs]. Like you said, the outcome can either be terrifying or totally funny. To me, it’s really easy to find that relationship when people are reacting to something naturally that is unexpected. That to me is always entertaining.
There is a lot of real-life stuff to be scared of these days, whereas a show like this seems like a way you can experience something scary and silly in a safe way. What role do you see the show and theater like this having in our present moment?
We reopened in June and have been doing shows just about every weekend since then. One of the things that I keep hearing from people, in email or when they stop me in-person, they’ll say ‘Thank you so much for doing this again. For having live comedy again.’ I agree with you, there is lots to be scared of right now and I don’t want to give people more to be afraid of. I want to give them more to laugh at.
Shifting to a more silly question, what is your favorite Nightmare on Elm Street film and why is it Dream Warriors?
[Laughs.] Thank you for asking that question, not a lot of people are brave enough to ask that and I appreciate it.
Oh yes, I have to ask the hard-hitting questions.
[Laughs] I have seen Dream Warriors and I don’t remember much about it. But I’ve had people ask ‘Are you going to do Dream Warriors?’ so I should probably watch it again. My favorite one is the original because I remember watching it when I was a kid and being completely terrified by it. But if you really look at it, it’s really not that scary. The special effects aren’t that great and the acting isn’t very good.
Making for a ripe opportunity for parody.
Speaking of those effects, there is an iconic moment in the first film that makes use of a dummy. Will that factor into the show?
I’m actually today going to go pick up a mannequin that I have purchased that does play in. It’s so obvious and one of the things that we’ve done with the script is we’ve added a narrator. The narrator comments on everything that everyone’s thinking. We do mention the mannequin.
In regards to the status of theater, I know you are taking precautions including reduced capacity. Do you think things are in a more stable place right now?
That’s a great question. Last month, we reopened the run of Road House. When we started rehearsals in July, it was scary. We were like ‘Do we still want to do this?’ Everybody still wanted to do it. We all got vaccinated, we all wore masks. We have air purifiers throughout the Siren and require vaccination cards from everyone in the audience. While I hope to not have to do that forever, it’s so far been okay. After the run of Road House, which was four weeks, I was like ‘Wow, this seems like we can do this.’ If everyone continues to wear masks and continues to take proper care and are safe, it seems like we can do this if this is how it is going to be for a while. It does take everybody to participate. Knock on wood, so far so good.
What can people do to show their support to The Siren and other arts organizations as a whole?
Come to shows. Obviously, people are going to do what makes them feel safe and I totally understand that. But if you feel okay with sitting inside with everybody else who is vaccinated and wearing masks, come on out to a show.
What does the future hold for other shows? Any other iconic horror films you’re hoping to tackle?
During lockdown when we couldn’t do a live show we made our own version of the Blair Witch Project, which is one that I’ve been wanting to put on stage for a long while. It is legitimately scary, though there are also some funny things about that movie. So we made our own Blair Witch parody that I will make available on our website for people to enjoy for free. It was super fun. We filmed it on my phone, so let’s not expect a cinematic masterpiece but I think it works [Laughs]. As far as future horror movies, The Craft was suggested to me which I have not seen. I’ve just had many people say, ‘You’ve got to watch it because it’s the thing where it’s hilarious yet not always meaning to be.’
Is there anything else you can tell us about coming to pay a visit to Elm Street with you all?
The show is legitimately scary. We try to put some scares that will really make you jump a little bit. People look for something to do around the Halloween season where you don’t have to wear a costume if they don’t want to, and this is it.
Because everyone on stage will be the ones wearing the costumes.
You can see A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Play! at the Siren Theater starting October 8 through November 6.