Exclusive Interview: Playwright/Director Michael Song Talks About His New Play

 

Making its world premiere at the Overtime Theater is Michael Song’s thriller anthology, Beneath the Surface. This intriguing trilogy is intended to give audiences an evening of suspenseful fun — especially if they enjoy being scared. Mr. Song took some time to talk with ArtScene SA about it.

Tell us a bit about your new show.

Beneath the Surface is a three-story horror anthology. There are two stories in act 1 and then a full-length story in act 2. All three stories are vastly different in tone, style, and subject matter. The first piece, Specimen, explores the theme of isolation in a futuristic setting. The second piece, Belly of the Beast, deals with the feeling of confinement.

Michael Song

Cabin in the Woods, which takes place in the late 1960s, is the third story and it’s about the issue of trust. I would liken them to some of the classic horror shows like Tales from the Crypt, The Twilight Zone and Black Mirror. It’ll hopefully be a real treat for horror buffs to get to see something like this onstage. During intermission in the lobby, audience members have shared comments like, “I was not expecting that!”

What was your inspiration for writing it?

I’ve always been a big fan of the genre. For the past couple of years, I have been writing for the podcast Strange Fantasy Show and sharing these self-contained, short stories is a lot of fun. The stories in Beneath the Surface were compiled from a couple of years of writing. With the world going through COVID and all the political turmoil that has ensued, I think I was naturally drawn to themes of isolation and trust. I think we all dealt with what we were feeling in our own way and I found a sort of catharsis through storytelling. Putting these three plays together just felt…right.

What can audiences expect when they see it?

My hope is that audience members experience a really intense, armrest-gripping adrenaline rush. I want to spark that feeling of walking through a really good haunted house, or seeing a really intense horror movie where you can just feel your heart in your throat. I want people who come to see Beneath the Surface to have a visceral experience. One of the biggest compliments I’ve received was from an audience member who came on opening night. When I saw them a few days later, they told me that I “gave them nightmares.” Watching the show on opening weekend, I just loved seeing the jaws gaping as people were leaning forward, invested in the characters’ survival.

Along with directing Beneath the Surface, how involved were you in the casting and production process?

Well, I was front and center of the casting process. Quite honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better cast. I also owe a great debt to the Overtime Theater board, former managing director Nicole Erwin, artistic director Jade Esteban Estrada and the actors: Ashton Simmons, Marie Molina, Venny Mortimer, Amy Abrigo, and Martin Vidal, who have been an absolute pleasure to work with.

The crew of the Overtime Theater bent over backward to help make sure the space and the equipment was what I needed, and the actors were amazingly supportive; bringing in essential props, costume pieces, and other little bits and bobs that brought this ominous world to life. By tech week, it changed from “I can’t picture how we’re going to do this” to “I love how this all came together.” I would say, in the truest sense, that this has been a collaboration between so many beautiful people that warms my heart.

Did the actors bring new insights to the production through their interpretations? Has the show creatively changed from what you initially started with?

It’s great working with actors that I trust on a new production. A lot of the shape of things has stayed mostly the same, but there have been several lines here and there that have been cut or rearranged or altered so that the flow is smoother and feels more natural. I wouldn’t say the show has changed, so much as it is continually evolving. We did a scene last night where we played with a character’s exhaustion vs. the callousness of who she was talking to, and it changed the whole way the scene felt for the better.

You mention that you love horror. What are some of your favorite, influential horror movies?

The Thing, Alien and Aliens, Poltergeist, Cabin In the Woods…the list could go on and on, but those are absolutely some of my top favorites.

You’ve done a lot at the Overtime, right? Isn’t it great that San Antonio has a theater that gives local talent the opportunity to exercise their craft?

It’s a blessing in every sense of the word. From writers to performers to technicians, the Overtime Theater is vital to the San Antonio arts community. In fact, some of the work that I have been most proud of in my life I have done at the Overtime. Any city that doesn’t have a theater dedicated to helping budding writers get their work refined, polished, and seen is at a loss. It’s also a great place for fringe audiences to find a home.

The Overtime has some great regulars that love something a little different, shows that are off the beaten path. If you think about it, every streaming service provides an option for entertainment seekers to follow their cult favorites and find the non-mainstream gems. As a medium, theater usually only produces scripts that are commercially popular, so it’s amazing to work at a place that acknowledges that theater should be a place for everyone and every taste — not just what’s popular.

What do you think about SA theater’s recovery after the pandemic shutdown? How far do we have to go?

I think we still have a ways to go. Performers are people, and people gotta eat. I know a number of writers, actors, and technicians that had to find side hustles to sustain their lives when the arts shut down. Getting those people back and getting new performers in the door is an ongoing challenge in the theater industry.  Some creatives are hungry to get back to the stage, but many are still struggling with the work-life balance issue. This is perhaps another conversation, but in San Antonio, doing theater for a living is very difficult.

Some of our best theater artists just can’t afford to give up their time to do what they love. But the good news is audiences are slowly coming back. The Scriptless Sleuths, our murder mystery improv show, drew nice crowds on our mainstage, and our late-night improv shows have been selling out lately. But getting performers and audiences back in the door after two years won’t happen overnight. Whenever I host a show I always say, “If you liked the show, the biggest compliment you can give us is to tell a friend, come back and see us again.” And I mean that. It would be great to get some financial support from some bigger institutions, but at the end of the day, if we put on a good show, I’m happy.


Beneath the Surface plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. through Apr. 16 at the Overtime Theater, 5409 Bandera Road, Suite 205. There will also be a 7:00 p.m. performance on Sunday, Apr. 10. Tickets can be purchased here.

Feature photo (l-r): Beneath the Surface cast members Venny Mortimer, Marie Molina, Martin Vidal, Ashton Simmons and Amy Abrigo (Bree Hendrick).

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