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Thrilling Tales at UFL: Scary story time for adults

This Saturday, Urbana Free Library will be hosting a free event called Thrilling Tales: A Halloween Performance for Adults. Members of the Celebration Company will be staging dramatic readings of terrifying literary works in the library’s basement from 4–5 p.m. While the timeslot may make it seem child-friendly, the program’s pacing and content is geared towards grownups, who can attend and still have time to make it to a real Halloween party. Oh, yeah, and the library closes at 6 p.m. so there’s that.

Following on the heels of a read-aloud party called “Read My Lips!”, and remembering the incredible response from the Station Theatre’s dramatic reading of Mark Twain works during C-U’s Big Read, Thrilling Tales is the gruesome brainchild of Carol Inskeep. “There’s nothing like sititng a few feet away from a great actor/storyteller who can take you outside yourself into another realm. Being part of a live audience adds another dimension too – feeling the collective sense of suspense or all sharing the power of a climactic moment,” she says. The community posted lots of positive comments on the library’s facebook page after the other performances, so clearly there is a demand for more events like this and she was happy to oblige.

As for the actors, they were happy for the chance to use their talents for evil. For the past few years, Celebration Company has staged a “Dark Night” performance of scary stories and thrilling tales at the Station Theatre near Halloween. Beginning as a way to celebrate the full moon closest to Halloween in 2013, the idea was repeated last year. This year, although the Station Theatre is currently occupied, all the planets aligned when Urbana Free Library reached out with this idea.

Six talented and seasoned performers answered the call: Gary Ambler, Barbara Evans, Mathew Green, Joi Hoffsomer, Kay Holley, and Nic Morse.  A spider in her web who caught the dress rehearsal told me, “It’s great to see actors of this caliber on stage; every one of them is a solid performer.” There is no question as to the quality of acting we will see in Lewis Auditorium–according to another source, “they have a combined 9,000 years of experience.” Unhyperbolically, however, every name on that list has a well-deserved spot in the upper echelons of local talent.

There is also no question as to the quality of the source material. While the past two Lunarcy nights have featured original work being read by actors, Thrilling Tales has a more literary theme. Since Urbana asked for classic tales of horror, Kay Holley, the Celebration Company actress/board-member/publicist/superwoman who has been spearheading the event, revealed a few of the selected authors: Ray Bradbury, Angela Carter, Stephen King, and of course, Edgar Allan Poe. The participating actors all contributed ideas for stories to be read, and a few took on the job of adapting them for group reading, making judicious cuts and finding ways to bring the stories alive vocally. “Strictly speaking,” says Holley, “we aren’t dramatizing the stories so much as giving them a fully-voiced dramatic reading – hopefully with a great deal of style and panache. At least enough for audiences to find it creepy, and, well, thrilling.” Participant Mathew Green states, “These authors are important to me, [they] write stories that are scary but, more importantly, are engaging and entertaining as hell.”

Gruesome, evil, hell…hopefully there’s enough blue text in this article to impress upon you the adult nature of the event. So leave a bowl of candy out with a sign that says “Please only take one” for the first trick-or-treater who finds it, and materialize at the Lewis Auditorium in the basement of Urbana Free Library from 4-5 p.m. on Saturday, October 31st for a horrifyingly good time. 

All photographs taken by Yen Vi Ho, courtesy of the performers. Illustration by Matt Wiley.

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