Fourth annual festival horrifies theater guests

two women in costume

Actors Sara Stembel (left) and Terri’ance Johnson (right) perform in the play “Love Bites,”
as part of the “7 Brides for 7 Monsters” 24-hour theater poduction.
The Lion's Roar / Heather Jewell 

The Hammond Horror Festival returned for its fourth consecutive year this past weekend to the excitement of students and the university’s theater department. 

“It’s something to look forward to every fall. Like, boom. We’re back in class. Boom. We’ve got a festival to throw and we have a project now,” said Taylor McLellan, artistic director of the Louisiana Center for Theatrical Arts.

The idea for the three-day festival came from the collaborative ideas of its co-founders Dr. James Winter, assistant professor of theater, and McLellan. McLellan had been living in Hammond for two years when someone told him to contact Winter in the theater department because of their similar interests.

“I sent him an email. We met up and had coffee, where he said, ‘I want to have a 24-hour theater event’ and I said, ‘I want to do a horror festival.’ So we combined forces and now we have a three-night festival,” said McLellan.

The HHF began Thursday night with a special screening of “Alien” to commemorate the film’s 35th anniversary.

Comic artist Kurt Amacker was there as a special guest and signed autographs for fans. A costume contest was also held during the event.

Friday night, the Hammond Regional Arts Center hosted the Macabre Masquerade Ball. Partygoers wore formal attire with dark twists. Masks were mandatory to enter. Throughout the night, raffle prizes were won and a zombie fashion show highlighted local makeup artists and costume designers. 

The La LA Tribal Belly Dance Troupe also made an appearance and performed a Halloween-themed belly dance. An arts market was also on display, offereing local art pieces as well as tarot card readings.

The 24-hour original theatrical performance “7 Brides for 7 Monsters” concluded the festival on Saturday night at the Vonnie Bordon Theatre in D Vickers. 

For many involved, the process only lasted 24 hours, but for others such as the Production Stage Manager, Kayla Turner, preparation began as early as the month of July.

Turner’s job included locating stage directors, actors, crew members and meeting with production teams.

Playwrights were chosen from all over the country. Chelsea Krause from New York wrote “Asenath’s Curse: The Kiss of Death” and Dr. Donna Gay Anderson from New Orleans  wrote “Formula One.” Madison Christ, who wrote “Bride of Frankenstein,” wrote all the way from Berlin, Germany. 

Artists were contacted through Winter.

“Everyone knows Jim [Winter], and we are very lucky to have him. He is very big in the theater world. People know him and people respect him,” said Turner.

Winter teaches playwright at the University of New Orleans and teaches every summer in Cork, Ireland as well. This allows him to meet writers from all over the world.

“The ones I like, I recruit,” said Winter.

One of his “recruits” was Amber Graber, who wrote “Bride of the Werewolf” from Chicago and flew in to watch it unfold Saturday night. Graber believed that there was a level of letting go when watching others take her words and transform them into a performance. 

“You learn so much as a writer to see your work actually performed. You wrote it, but it’s a collaborative art to see how people take things. Yes, sometimes you don’t agree with what they did and sometimes you go, ‘Whoa, that was way better than what I had in mind,’” said Graber.

Thespians Santiago Rodriguez and Terri’ance Johnson each performed in “Love Bites” by Adam Hoffman. Rodriguez’s character is overtaken by three nymphs of the Black Lagoon, who are only clothed in swimsuits and fishnets, and he is offered as sacrifice to their “lord.” Before he dies, he is subjected to their lustrous advances. 

“[The experience] was interesting, very arousing, but in the end I didn’t survive them. I did my best though,” said Rodriguez.

The actors performed with high energy throughout the night and when the dancers performed in the beginning and end, they held the audiences’ attention.

“I think a lot of what it is, is that actors are extremely lazy and procrastinators, and when you put us under a lot of pressure to make something happen on the spot, this is what happens,” said McLellan.

More than anything, Winter and McLellan hope to get people interested in the arts in Hammond and at Southeastern because the festival as a whole is a collaborative effort from both.

“There are visual arts, there’s dance, writing and acting all rolled into one. It takes an army and a determined one to do this in a day,” said Winter.

The HHF has gotten bigger every year, and its co-founders hope it to become something that regionally everyone wants to be a part of. They also hope that when people walk away, they are proud of the students’ and alumni’s efforts.

After 24 hours of scrambling to assemble of stages and props, “7 Brides for 7 Monsters” left the crew satisfied with their finished product.

“The actors came in, they rocked it. The directors came in, they rocked it,” said Turner.

dancer in red costume

The closing performance of "Rocky's Time Warp" featured dancer Cyrstal Shayot.