Back again, kittens?
The leaves are yellow, there’s a chill in the air, it’s getting dark earlier… Halloween must be approaching. And with it, Catch the Keys’ Dead Centre of Town.
Dead Centre of Town returns again to Fort Edmonton Park for the fourth year, this time taking over the 1920 Johnny J Jones Midway. Dead Centre of Town is an immersive, roving horror show telling creepy and ghoulish stories from Edmonton’s history to an audience that moves with the actors around Fort Edmonton Park.
Playwright and Catch the Keys Co-Producer Megan Dart says the team has been dreaming of creating a show on the Midway since they started working with Fort Edmonton and are excited to be able to finally realize that dream on Dead Centre of Town‘s tenth anniversary. “The Midway is such an incredible space – I think there’s so much fun to be had with the structures. We have this beautiful hand-carved carousel, which is a sight to behold of itself. There are also all of these game booths that would have been true to a 1920s circus, plus there’s just the creative leeway in telling stories of that sideshow oddity culture that would have surrounded circuses at that time.”
“We’re into the off-season now, so the rides on the Midway have been stripped of their chairs and gears and it has this real skeletal feel to it, which it doesn’t during the summertime. It’s a wonderfully creepy place to be creating theatre in.”
Megan and the Catch the Keys team have completely dug into the Victorian circus era and sideshow culture for this year’s show. Megan describes her favourite story that she dug up in the research for this year’s Dead Centre of Town: There are just some really incredible Edmonton connections to some of the stories we’re telling this year. I think my favourite story, and what we’ve sort of hinged the show on this year, is that in 1926, the Sell’s Floto circus came through Edmonton and while they were setting up for the circus, 14 elephants escaped and stampeded down Jasper Avenue. They were able to catch most of the elephants, but there was one, whose name was Mad Mary, who became the unlikely leader of the group. They couldn’t contain her, so she stampeded through Edmonton all day and all night until she grew so tired that they were able to corner her in a lumber yard and bring her home. That idea of being on Jasper Avenue on a typical business day and seeing this heard of elephants stampeding down the street would be so overwhelming and so terrifying for so many reasons, that’s why it’s one of my favourite stories we’re telling this year.”
“Of course, we’re delving into everything creepy and grotesque and we’ve dug into the sideshow culture of the circus this year and we’re looking at how both animals and people were really objectified in that culture through the 1920s. There will be some uncomfortable scenes, some surprising scenes. We’re staying true to the fact that the show is rated 18A, so if gore, the supernatural and foul language are not your jam, don’t come – or, be adventurous. It’s rated 18A for a reason!”
While Dead Centre of Town is an immersive horror experience, Megan emphasizes it’s not a haunted house. There are no jump scares. The horror is created through the psychological thrill, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less terrifying. To date, three audience members have fainted during performances, while others have had to leave the show. Megan says, “What I love about all of it, is it’s all true. These are all things that happened that you can go home and research. We’re always there after the show for people to ask us questions, but I think that’s kind of the most wonderful, creepy thing about it is that these stories are all part of our history. We say it’s part immersive experience, part history lesson, and part horror show.”
Back to the beginning
Having written and co-produced Dead Centre of Town for ten years, Mean says it’s the adventure of uncovering Edmonton’s history that keeps her coming back to the show. ” We are ten years strong and we are yet to repeat a story. Every year we dig up something new and interesting that we didn’t know the year previous. Considering Edmonton is so young in the grand scheme of things, compared to cities out east or in the United States, you wouldn’t expect there to be such a rich history here, but there is. I feel like we haven’t even really scratched the surface of stories to tell. As a Producer, I am just motivated by the fact that we have the most incredible, killer, talented team that comes back every year. This is our reunion, our Christmas – it’s better than anything. We have people who have been with us since day one and come back every year with a renewed energy and with exciting new ideas and they’re always willing to push the envelope. It always makes us so excited to work with a team of people who are so ridiculously dedicated to this project and who bring such a vibrant energy to it and who are just committed to the weird!”
Megan says Dead Centre of Town has grown exponentially since the first year: “from a $500 budget to one that is almost what we’d like it to be. We’ve grown from a tech team of two to now twelve. A cast of five to a cast of fifteen. In our first year, we had 150 people come; this year, if we sell out all of our shows, which I’m really hoping we will, we’ll have 3400 people come to see the show. It’s amazing to me that this continues to grow year-over-year.”
A handful of Dead Centre of Town performances have already sold out, but this year’s run is extended to a 19-day run (excluding Mondays). The show will run October 13 – 31, with shows at 7:00 and 9:00 p.m. Those who purchase their tickets before October 13 will receive $5 off their tickets otherwise, tickets are $28.57 through Fort Edmonton Park’s box office.