Scare Tactics

Theater Ninjas artistic director Jeremy Paul talks about making his creepy show, Monster Play.

For the next few months, Jeremy Paul will be experimenting with horror film monsters and creatures from under the bed to the depths of outer space.

The artistic director of the Cleveland-based theater group Theater Ninjas is working on a show for Cleveland Public Theatre that debuts Oct. 13 called Monster Play, but first he has to figure out what the monsters will do.

So far, the content of the show is as vague as the name. At the beginning of August, Paul didn't have a word on paper in terms of a script. He has cast six actors, who are spending the next several months collaborating to develop the show.

They'll draw upon their own favorite monsters, horror movies and a lot of experimentation to put together a show that will eventually be completely planned and scripted.

For Paul, he imagines Monster Play as a number of short scenes highlighting a mixed bag of monsters.

"In my mind's eye, it'll be Night of the Living Dead meets Canterbury Tales," Paul says.

Long fascinated by the idea of monsters, Paul would like the stories he tells to explore why people create them in movies and fairytales and then fear them.

"We're looking at what kind of sadists and masochists people are to create these terrible creatures," Paul says. "Once the monsters get loose, we have to figure out how they got there in the first place."

This isn't the first time Paul has created a show from scratch. In fact, he started Theater Ninjas in 2006 because he wanted to direct new and original theater.

After returning home to Cleveland from Wesleyan University with degrees in theater and film, he landed a job as a production assistant at the Great Lakes Theater Festival cleaning the stage and placing props.

"I started looking for opportunities to direct, but while there may be 20 characters, there is only one director," he says. "I was going to have to make those circumstances happen for myself."

Theater Ninjas was his way to create the plays and aesthetic that he enjoys. The company predominantly puts on new and original works but also performs classic shows with a reinterpreted spin.

Monster Play will be in line with the physical style that Theater Ninjas has come to be known for, says Paul. Most of the shows start with movement and images and grow from there. One season, the group staged a human-cast art display of Pompeii in a Cleveland warehouse.

Firmly nomadic, Theater Ninjas performed at the Cleveland Play House its first season before moving on to an old movie theater, churches, studios and art galleries.

"I will say, I'm not sure Theater Ninjas could have started in any other spot," Paul says. The first three seasons were difficult, as the company managed to stay just financially afloat while building a regular audience.

"The conditions in Cleveland make it perfect for experimenting because it's affordable," Paul says. "It's like an old playground where you can do almost anything you want and you can get away with it."

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