(Originally posted Oct. 29, 2010)


Last week, “Evenings in Quarantine: The Zombie Opera” performed their final show of the season. If you missed it, don’t despair. It will be back next October. I suggest you buy tickets early. (In fact, just go by your tickets right now. Twelve months in advance should do it.)

(Disclaimer: Tickets are not really for sale. Don’t buy anything)

According to Greek mythology, the universe was created from chaos. The ancient Greeks also had a rich theater tradition. If this doesn’t explain how the Greeks reached that “order born from chaos” theory, then you don’t know much about drama.

The Zombie Opera, like many great creative works, was born from chaos. My sister, Liz Rishel, and her friends, Bonnie Bogovich and Barry Bogovich, spent countless hours fashioning this chaos into order. In case you missed it, the story is about a zombie outbreak in Pittsburgh. Apparently, a botched medical experiment caused the dead to reanimate. Our heroes, Ronnie, Izzie, and Charles, are three college students who are trying to escape to a military-established safe zone. But survival is not enough. Each of them has their own goals and wishes that they must sort out before they can deal with the dangerous new world that they have been thrown into.

I only played a small part in helping the opera along, but I was able to watch much of it unfold. The important parts of the story have already been told by Liz and her cohorts, during the countless interviews they gave when the show opened. However, there are a few good tales left that didn’t quite make the papers. So, for Halloween Weekend, Lepus Studios is proud to present “Behind the Scenes: 5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Zombie Opera.”

1. The Zombies are Coming
I do consider Liz to be practical and reasonable. That said, a few years back she did go through a phase of believing that the zombie apocalypse could, nay, would strike at any given moment. She did keep bludgeons close at hand. Once or twice, she confided in me that people who staggered were beginning to make her uneasy. Although logically, she knew that they were injured or drunk or something, her mind wanted to read them as zombies.

2. What About Charles?
When the first draft of the script was completed, the character of Charles was a lesser character that inexplicably disappeared from the story somewhere around Act Two. Film Director and co-writer Barry caught this error and Charles’s story was polished up a bit. And speaking of Charles, did you know he was one of the hardest characters to cast? Several actors weren’t up to the challenge of playing this part and dropped out before the full rehearsals started. Two Charles (Charleses?) came and went before they could settle on singer Drew Fogle.

3. What’s in a Name?
Did you notice any of the hidden meanings in the characters’ names?
Ronnie Tomaston – The name, “Ronnie,” was derived from Bonnie, as in “Bonnie Bogovich,” Zombie Opera’s co-creator and the actress who played Ronnie.
Izzie Bower – Derived from Liz, the other co-creator and the actress who played Izzie. Notice a pattern?
Charles McKeelis – Named for Charles Darwin because of his strong survival instincts.

These three lead characters get their last names from the parts of a boat. (Tomaston = mast, Bower = bow, and McKeelis = keel.)

Professor Thalamus – The “thalamus” is the part of your brain that controls instinct and impulses. This mad scientist is not necessarily the impulsive type, but he does pride himself on his powerful brain. Of course, so do the zombies.
Commander Fletcher –“Fletcher” is another name for “arrow-maker.” According to Liz, the name implies that the kindly military man has seen combat and that he is “quick, and decisive by nature.”
Aidan – means “fire.” This probably has nothing to do with anything. I just think it’s cool.

4. Zombies are a Public Nuisance
All of the film segments needed to be completed before the stage actors could rehearse. So, during the spring and summer, filming was done all over Pittsburgh.

While filming the party scene, the set was so convincing that the neighbors thought we were actually throwing a party. One of them even threatened to call the cops on us for keeping him awake (in our defense, it was only 9:15 pm on Memorial Day Weekend).

Another day, when the zombie attacks were filmed, most of the actors were wearing zombie or victim makeup. Passersby repeatedly stopped them, asking if they needed an ambulance.

5. A Little Help from Our Friends
Good thing Bonnie and Liz are so popular. A lot of their personal and professional friends joined in to help complete the show.

Special staff included: A director, a film director, film editors, web designer, make-up artist, special effects make-up artist, stunt/fight scene coordinator, logo designer, costume designer (actually, Liz did that one herself), press and poster photographers, instrumentalists, 28 member zombie choir, and a digital animator (heh, heh).

So I hope you enjoyed your back stage look. I would like to close with my favorite response to the production. On closing weekend, my cousin Kristine told me, “I don’t really love zombies or opera, but both of them are better together that they are on their own.” I could not have said it better myself.

Happy Halloween.