One Girl, Two Cities

The History of the Devil: Q&A with Director Paul von Stoetzel

hotdShadow Horse Theatre brings us The History of the Devil Nov 6-22 at Phoenix Theater.

Satan is lonely and lovelorn, and finds that he is tired of his residence in Hell. He finds himself missing his wings, his beauty and elegance, and freedom of flight. He also misses God. Satan requests a trial to seek re-admittance into Heaven.

Join us as we take Satan’s trial through space and time, revisiting humanity’s greatest failures. Question whether those failures are the result of human nature, or the actual work of the Devil. Find yourself at the edge of your seat, awaiting the judge’s decision. If Satan wins his trial, he will return to Heaven. And if he loses? He’ll spend eternity here with us – on Earth.

I’ve been a fan of Shadow Horse Theatre for awhile and appreciate their interest in bringing the darker side of theatre to the Twin Cities in an approachable way. Director Paul von Stoetzel took some time to answer some questions for me, so please enjoy his responses and purchase tickets to The History of the Devil.

Q. Tell me a little bit about your film and theater background.

A. I’ve directed about 20 short films and music videos since 2005 as well as a couple feature documentaries including SNUFF: a documentary about killing on camera which, obviously, is abundant in dark and disturbing subject matter as is a lot of my work. I’ve been expanding from this in the past couple of years in directing a couple comedies and more straight forward music videos but disturbing stories are simply just very natural for me. My theatre experience has been a bit more rounded since beginning to direct regularly in 2006 but then my two major productions: Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and Clive Barker’s Crazyface were also dark and violent pieces. This can be great, as I’m comfortable in a genre and subsection which many folks aren’t but it can also become limiting in how others perceive your abilities and you become typecast for work. Otherwise, I’ve directed a little over 30 plays in the Twin Cities area for Cromulent, Urban Samurai, Hardcover and I just recently became a member of Shadow Horse Theatre.

Q. What about The History of the Devil enticed you to direct it?

A. I grew up a Clive Barker fan since I was a teen so I’m very familiar with his work, especially his earlier more macabre and absurdist work which was when he was writing plays. I saw History of the Devil produced in the early 2000’s by Mary Worth Company and directed by Joel Sass, which is when I first saw Crazyface and Titus Andronicus. So essentially I’m copying Joel but hey, if you’re going to emulate someone, a person could find a worse mentor. HotD is quite fascinating as it’s more of a philosophical debate on humanity more than anything else which is what draws me to darker stories, anyway. The heart of darkness concept is very intriguing to me as any time a play, film, any medium delves into darker subject matter it is always very revealing and humanistic. I don’t believe we can evolve as a species much less a society without this form of introspection.

Q. What challenges do you face in directing this show?

A. Where to begin? The show is multimedia so it’s a balancing act to find areas of the show to utilize other elements besides traditional theatre, which is very fun and liberating but at the same time you want these aspects to work as an intrinsic element and not shoehorned in just to create a clever moment. I took weeks going over and over through the play to decide where to deviate from regular theatre, and one of those moments wasn’t even obvious to me until we began table work and the actors took the scene and ran with it through voice work. I place a bit too much pressure on myself to have all the answers and forget to just back off sometimes and let a moment play out with the actors doing what they do. So, for example, the scene I mentioned is where we deviate into a radio show but then we have to be cautious to be able to transition back into our more traditional courtroom setting. There is also a filmed segment and a raucous puppet show which we’re already quite proud of.

Q. Clive Barker covers broad, serious topics. What would you say to people who worry this show is too heavy for them?

A. It’s actually quite an accessible show. Barker is a smart gent, and he’s conscious that darker works can seem off putting so he adds a lot of humor and absurdity to History of the Devil. It’s actually more of a comedy than it is a horror piece, to be honest. Barker understands the symbiotic relationship between horror and comedy, and he utilizes it incredibly well which makes my job even easier because when you have more brutal or darker scenes, the audience thrives for the release of laughter so it works out incredibly well. I took this concept and kind of ran with it where we have more somber moments of pontification and hypothesizing regarding the nature of evil, but then we break into a scene where we use very, very silly voices for the sake of entertainment. The balancing act is there and to be honest this is nothing compared to folks attempting to act like they understand another poor production of Shakespeare or any Beckett play. I love me some Beckett but this is much more of an entertaining candy coating to help the philosophy pill go down.

Q. What are some things about Shadow Horse Theatre you think people should know?

A. Primarily that we greatly enjoy and strive to bring darker stories to the Twin Cities area but, much like your previous question, in an accessible production. Don’t get me wrong, there are incredible companies in town doing phenomenal work with visceral subject matter, but our goal is to make it our primary focus and branch out from that concept. For example, our next season is the adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting which isn’t a creepy scary type of piece but a dark, honest look at addiction and violence. Then we have Hearts Like Fists which will be directed by Brian Hesser and is a superhero piece but which has a basis in sincere violence as well. We close out our 2016 season with Terminus which is a very dark piece which follows 3 people through a Dublin night where each character is literally encountering Hell. What is unique about Terminus is not how disturbing or brutal the piece is but that it is all told as one-person storytelling which then crosses over to one of the other 3 characters for the entire show. So what I’m saying is that our mission of bringing darker stories to life is only the core while we strive to branch out in various ways from that core.

Q. What is Black Death: The Musical?

A. Thank you for asking. Black Death: The Musical is a project I’ve been a part of for a couple years as we continue to work diligently on it. The playwright Susan Woehrle created this amazing world within the time of the Black Death where pestilence was commonplace and death was literally everywhere so she uses this as the backdrop for alchemists, the true character of the “Party Pope” of the period and alchemists bringing the dead back to life via steampunk style technology. It’s a hell of a ride and now my long time soundtrack/music collaborator Scott Keever is on board and has even recorded some demo tracks of the music which you can hear on the video via the link here to our IndieGoGo page. The music is a merging of period style music and modern darker work, so imagine if Tom Waits wrote 15th century work and there you go. We’re attempting to raise funds to get the project up and running for autumn 2016, so we are taking donations and appreciate the attention. Click here to donate & find out more.

I can’t thank Paul enough for taking the time to give us a little more insight into The History of the Devil and his work in general. I so excited for the show, and I hope you feel the same. Please click here to purchase tickets, and be sure to check Goldstar for discount tickets.

And if you’re interested in a sneak peek, the cast will perform a scene from The History of the Devil at Phoenix Theater on Oct 31 for Flights of Fright, and you can see a performance of one of the songs from Black Death Oct 29 and 31. Also, artistic director Matthew Saxe was recently featured on Minneapolis Happening. Click here to check it out!

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