An interview with The Zombie Opera's Bonnie and Liz

The Zombie Opera is taking over Pittsburgh!

The Zombie Opera is almost ready to take over Pittsburgh so we thought now would be the best time to chat with the creators… before they become zombies for the show!

What are your Pittsburgh backgrounds?

Liz: Bonnie and I both grew up in Pittsburgh and were college roommates at Duquesne University.  We were both studying music, I was studying Music Education with a vocal emphasis.

Bonnie: I was in a new program combining a BA in Music Technology, my concentration was music composition, and a Masters of Science in Multimedia Technology.

Liz: We both met in choir and immediately started working together on a number of small projects and musical experiments, each one with a multi-media twist, or some use of technology added.

Bonnie: We did everything from vocoders to video projection… and a really fun popular piece about Sushi.

How did you guys get started with The Zombie Opera?

Liz: The concept of Zombies has always terrified me.  I was in a band a few years ago, and we wanted to expand our rep for Halloween, so to me, “Zombies” was the obvious subject to tackle.  I wrote a song called “Screaming” about a zombie outbreak (with a twist.)  While the band never got to perform the song, I pitched it to Bonnie, and she just loved it.

Bonnie: I had to love it, come on… ZOMBIES 🙂  But yes, the music was great and the way she pitched it to me made it seem that there was definitely more to the story than one song.  I proposed we do a music video of the song itself, but then it started to get ‘bigger’.

Liz: Then we were going to do a song cycle of Zombie-themed music videos, and eventually we agreed to do a full hybrid-film-and-stage show.  We brought on Barry Bogovich, Bonnie’s brother with whom she had worked on a variety of video and independent projects already, as our official film director; Arvin Clay as the Special Effects Make-up Designer; and Edwin Huang as the Director of Photography.  Since then, our team has grown very large with people who have pledged themselves to this show’s success.

How did you come up with the concept and name?

Bonnie: The concept of mixing theater and multimedia in itself is not new, but people are always exploring new ways of mixing them.  I had been working with video since I was a little kid, from skits with our parents’ camcorder, to shooting independent films with my brother and other colleagues, and serving on the board of a film festival.  The biggest influence that helped me come up with the concept of our show was my work, stage management and video design, for a variety of modern and experimental theatrical arts groups over the past decade.

Liz: Early on in the process, we were trying to decide on a suitable name for the show, and Bonnie suggested we use the name of one of my compositions, “Evenings in Quarantine” because the show takes place primarily in the evening, and the song was just a simple aria about feeling the stress of containment.

Is it really an opera? What language is it sung in?

Liz: Yes, this is actually a full opera, sung in English, with very few spoken lines.  But we’re very focused on keeping the story moving, so don’t expect to see the traditional “forty-minute death scene” that you might find in the traditional operas of the past.

Bonnie: People always seem so relieved when they’re expecting the show to be 3+ hours long, but instead we reply “2 hours including intermission”.

Liz: As far as the music itself is concerned, it is mostly classical singing – but we sneak in a few contemporary styles, like rock, techno, and tango-cabaret.

Does the story take place in Pittsburgh?

Liz: Yes, we wanted this show to make a point of being set in Pittsburgh. The film element of this show was intentionally designed to capture as much of the Pittsburgh landscape as possible.  The characters travel through different parts of town, and the news segments help us see how the city is dealing with the zombie plague.  We chose Pittsburgh because we are proud of living here.

Bonnie: And we are proud to defend of our title of “Zombie Capital of the World”. The first zombie movies were filmed here, like the original Dawn of the Dead being filmed in Monroeville Mall. Ours is a show made by Pittsburghers for Pittsburghers.

Why is the zombie scene so popular in Pittsburgh?

Liz: Pittsburgh is responsible for being the birthplace of the Zombie. The first zombie movies were filmed here starting with George Romero and his Night of the Living Dead. Most yinzers embrace that claim and we want to further solidify our Zombie Heritage with as much fervor as we can muster.

Bonnie: There’s always a Zombie Walk or a Zombie Party happening somewhere in town at any time of the year, not just in October like you would expect.  When we put out our call for extras for the summer filming sessions, and asked that people provide clothes for ‘damaging’, many asked “Is it okay if I bring one of the zombie outfits I already own?”

Are there any openings for extras or volunteers?

Liz: Lots of people showed up for our “Extras Call” to be zombies, soldiers or civilians in the filmed segment.  Now, the main volunteer base for this show is in getting the word out and raising awareness for our project.  We will be putting together teams to help distribute fliers, posters, and offer adspace to local businesses.

Bonnie: We actually have Jill Egyud, our self-proclaimed “Zombie Wrangler” and production assistant to thank for all the hard work that is organizing the extras… I believe at last count we had over 55 people this summer participate in our filming! We would also like to thank our fabulous intern Olivia Traini and promotions assistant Jackie Uranic for helping us organize the paperwork chaos that is ‘marketing’!

Is there still time for becoming a sponsor of the opera and what are the benefits?

Liz: Lots of people have worked with us donating goods and services in exchange for a little notoriety.  Whenever possible, Bonnie and I have worked with local artisans instead of buying off the shelf.  We get beautiful items to make our show even better, and these businesses get to display their work on stage with an ad in the program naming them the creator.  Bonnie and I feel great satisfaction when we hear that we’ve brought attention to other Pittsburgh businesses who’ve helped us.

Bonnie: We are still accepting food and monetary donations for the project, and thanks to our Fiscal Sponsor, New Sun Rising, all monetary donations are tax-deductible!

Have you ever heard of the Microscopic Opera?

Liz: I actually performed with The Microscopic Opera Company last March when they debuted with “The Proposal” and “To Hell and Back”  I played the five-year-old in “The Proposal”.

Bonnie: It was awesome 🙂

Liz: The founders, Andres and Erica, are dear friends of ours. Both Bonnie and I went to see their latest show, “The Monkey’s Paw” and “The Happy Garden of Life”, which we loved.

Are there any other similar artistic organizations in town that people should know about?

Bonnie: Well I definitely recommend catching anything the Microscopic Opera puts out, they have two shows under their belt now and I can’t wait to see what comes next.   I have worked with Attack Theatre in the past, if you like modern and traditional dance performed in unique locations to a variety of music, I strongly recommend checking them out.  They just had their 15 year anniversary season too, congrats Peter and Michelle!  Also I have worked many years with Squonk Opera, they are a fabulous example of the combination of live music performance and video projection (live and prerecorded).  I have done some of the projection pieces featured in their last three touring shows, under the video direction of the fabulous William “Buzz” Miller.

Do you think Pittsburgh is boring? What are your thoughts on the Burgh?

Liz: I never realized how UN-boring Pittsburgh is until recent years. How many cities can claim to have two winning sports teams, a world-class symphony, multiple exquisite opera companies, a Zoo and aviary, high-rated Universities, many excellent museums, and a vivid night life?  And we have Zombies!  Whatever your taste, whatever your budget, there’s just so much and so many talented people.  Pittsburgh is the best-kept secret out there.

Bonnie: Honestly, I find myself always a bit sad that I don’t have enough free time to do everything that I want to do every week, there’s always a good concert to be found somewhere, art shows, film screenings, etc… If you find that you are ‘bored’ in Pittsburgh, you need to walk out your front door and look around sometime. Pittsburgh will surprise you.

Liz: Oh, and if you are looking for something to do, being ‘bored’ and all, check out our show at the GreyBox Theatre this October 15-17 and 21-23.  We are also holding a fundraiser party at the BrilloBox on Tuesday night, October 5th, 8pm.  Come on down!!!

This project is supported in part by a Seed Award from The Sprout Fund, a Small Arts Initiative grant from the Heinz Endowments, and through fiscal sponsorship by New Sun Rising.

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