Working Title: Death and All His Friends

This week Will Leschber talks little deaths and Aurora Theater’s Little Erik with Mariah Castle.

This time of year amidst the frenzy of the award season, there is something that rings undeniably true. Glossing over the red carpet facades and the self congratulation, I guarantee you that 5 minutes or so of anyone of the myriad award shows will capture genuine emotion. It’s possible it will pop up elsewhere in the programming but the section of which I speak is the “In Memoriam” section. We don’t want to linger there (God forbid we focus on death too long in our culture) but for the minutes of montage, I know I am locked in sad admiration and recognition for those who have passed on. The time for award and applause has moved along and all that is left is a 4 second clip and our memories.

Everyone’s relationship with death is their own. Even having lost a brother and a best man, I still feel at arms length and very distinctly separated from death. Maybe that is the proper way we should be as the living moving forward with our lives. As a new parent, I cannot imagine what it would be to lose a child or a spouse. What that would mean to have to re-define how you draw the lines of your personal identity. This playground of dark emotion is called out in the Aurora Theater’s new world premier play, Little Erik. This contemporary adaptation of Henry Ibsen’s Little Eyolf is written and directed by Bay Area auteur Mark Jackson and described as “a dramatically charged, volatile exploration of personal responsibility, grief, guilt, and the nature of desire…as a family searches for meaning and connection after the tragic death of their young child.” ( I spoke with Bay Area actress, educator, and theatre-maker, Mariah Castle, who plays Andi in Little Erik, and she had some excellent recommendations to get you in the headspace of the show before you go.


Since death (and the way we conduct going about our lives) is rarely simple or without a tension of opposites, Mariah’s recommendations run the gamut in tone. Which is perfect to chip away at the complexity that this subject calls for. Here’s what she had to say:

When our cast first sat down with Mark Jackson, the writer and director of Little Erik, to start digging into the script, he encouraged us all to go watch Hitchcock movies. He said they capture something of the eerie, quiet but potent tension that’s in our show. One of the films I watched was Rear Window. It has a strange, sexy, very stylized, and sometimes even silly quality to it that I would say overlaps with our show a bit. It captures some of the feeling but not all of it.


There’s also tragic loss in Little Erik, amidst the pleasurable suspense. I’m personally doing a little bit of digging into the experience of loss as research. I have Showtime’s Time of Death on my to-watch list. Lastly, I find some important feminist themes in the play so I’d also recommend watching something with an off-center female character who is finding her voice. Like…The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt? Haha. No but seriously, I can’t wait for the 2nd season.


It appears that the play has much more to wrestle with than simply despair: strange, eerie, sexy, stylized, silly, off center characters, pleasurable suspense…I’m definitely intrigued. When presented with the tragedies of life, it is curious the colors and emotions that paint the complexity of that time. Traveling back home for a funeral is an awful reason to return (I know; I did it in the recent past) but once there, I found joy amongst friends. I was happy to be brought back to a community of built family to reflect and laugh and grieve. As in the montage of “In Memoriam”, when we remember those passed, not only tears but celebration too is in order.

Aurora Theater’s Little Erik opens January 28th and runs through the end of February. More info can be found at Read Window and Time of Death are available for rent/purchase on the usual platforms (Google play, iTunes, vudu, etc). The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt can be found on Netflix.

Cowan Palace: Folks Feeling Fear For Fun

This week Ashley scratches the scary surface of spooky sensation seekers.


Did I scare you?

Ah, probably not. But I’m sure you’re familiar with the feeling of fear. And for whatever reason, it tends to be a sensation so many folks tend to seek out. Especially as we get closer to Halloween. Americans alone spend millions of dollars getting their scare on; from horror movies to costumes to haunted houses. All for moments of increased heart rates, fast breathing, tense muscles, and focused attention. People often thrive from being pushed into an extreme and riding the adrenaline rush. I’ve personally been away on vacation this past week and have sought out any and all thrill rides. From fantastic drops to exhilarating speeds, I’m into it (the attached picture is legit). So I thought it may be an interesting topic to investigate a bit more.

This is legit FEAR.

This is legit FEAR.

Perhaps the fright fascination comes from exploring an experience that doesn’t stem from typical daily life and then being able to survive it to tell the tale. While it seems obvious most people tend to search for experiences that bring them pleasure over pain, the concept of fear is a little more unique. One-third of the population try to stay away completely from “scary material” while one-tenth actively yearn to be scared silly. In fact, I read about a company in New York where customers can pay to be kidnapped. For the very reasonable price of $4,000 you can be captured and confined! You can customize your own terror inducing experience to create your very own nightmare. Cool, right?

There’s lot of debate regarding what kind of material can manufacture the sweatiest palms and fastest heart rate but ultimately scientists have a limited number of theories regarding seeking out fear. Some believe that folks long to experience both a positive and a negative emotion at once. If your brain can identify that there is no real chance of harm while still feeling the thrill, you ultimately can have your cake and eat it too. Others think people long to be horrified in order to find a larger source of euphoria when it’s over.

The idea of “enjoying fear” may actually be an evolutionary development as it’s an experience that humanity has continued to pursue. While our ancestors were tested by nature and motivated by survival, our modern day representatives, complete with the same “fight or flight” instincts, continue to yearn for those sensations and then go home to safety. Research also suggests that along with returning to a comfortable and “less scary” place, you can take a few lingering feelings of heightened arousal. For those that tend to enjoy the horror genre, those feelings get to play in the part of the brain that controls perception, memory, and consciousness. So basically, you’re more likely to hold on to some of those positive emotions and long for them in the future.

But before you start planning your next date to see something spooky in order to reap those hormonal benefits, you should know these feelings could be complicated and different for everyone. If your crush tends to be super aware of room temperatures, highly empathetic, or even just overly sensitive to something like an itchy tag on a shirt, they may be prone to suffering from unsolicited stimuli and retain only the adverse effects of something like a scary movie. And since those negative emotions are stored in a separate part of your brain to where your positive emotions are, they can be notably tricky to eclipse. On the other hand, playas, studies have shown that many ladies long for physical intimacy from someone who can display strength when they’re feeling scared. So pick wisely.

In any case, as Halloween draws closer, it’s interesting to think about celebrating a holiday that flourishes in fear. And for me, I’m just coming out of honoring my birthday by screaming my head off on one Orlando ride after another. But how about you? Are you a thrill-seeker with any big Halloween plans or are you planning to stay home and eat candy? I’d love to hear your thoughts over tricks and treats.