Halloween Horror from “The Alchemist Eye”
Aaron Kopec brings scares to the Alchemist Theatre's cozy space.
When I was a kid, I was a bunny every year for Halloween. I snuggled into my white onesie, secured the Velcro on my bunny-ear hood, pinned a fluffy tail to my bottom, and went sweetly on my trick-or-treating way. Then I grew up and realized scaring the bejesus out of people makes Halloween super fun.
This is the idea behind Aaron Kopec’s annual Halloween productions at The Alchemist Theatre—to scare the bejesus out of people while making them laugh. This year’s Halloween show, The Alchemist Eye, is Kopec’s fifth but his first script not based on a previous work of fiction or historical event.
“There are a few aspects that definitely borrow from a few of my favorite spooky stories, but ultimately it’s an original piece,” Kopec said.
Kopec explained that this time around, he can’t rely on his audience’s familiarity with an old Halloween tale–say, Dracula, or Faust, as in previous Alchemist productions. The Alchemist Eye must make its points entirely in the actions and words of its characters.
Kopec wrote, produced, and directed. “It’s a lot of work,” he said. “I haven’t been sleeping much. But it’s exciting. When everything comes together, that’s my favorite part.”
Kopec takes advantage of the creepiness of the cozy building. The story follows modern treasure hunter Bryant McCartle as he hunts down the alchemist eye, an ancient amulet believed to grant its owner all he desires. He traces it to Elizabeth Hopkins’ decaying mansion, where he and his fiancée pose as caretakers to complete their search.
The compactness of The Alchemist partly stirred Kopec’s interest in theater.
“I really only did theater in high school,” he said. “Later a friend introduced me to Dale Gutzman from Off The Wall Theatre. That was the first time I realized a theater doesn’t have to be these grand rooms with tall ceilings. It can be more intimate.”
The Alchemist seats 64. Kopec believes a smaller theater, as well as the time of year, attract the “non-theater” audience.
“As far as I’m concerned, the theater has two chances a year for that audience: Halloween and Christmas. People have certain misconceptions about plays, that they’re big long pieces with a guy kind of raising his arms and yelling to the back row.
“Nothing is better for me, The Alchemist or the theatre community than having Joe Plumber dragged in by his wife, obviously uncomfortable because he doesn’t know what to expect, and then see that same person after the show, laughing with the cast and genuinely thanking everyone for a great evening. I’ve seen this a lot and it has made me cry a bit –ensuring that Joe Plumber never comes back again,” Kopec joked.
Kopec said the Alchemist’s Halloween shows always sell out.
“We get a lot of comments from folks about how our shows are like a haunted house for grown-ups,” Kopec said. “It has spooky thrills and creepy moments, but it is all tied together with real characters that you get to know, love and hate.”
Kopec wrote The Alchemist Eye with his actors in mind. Liz Whitford, for example, has been in every Alchemist Halloween production.
“I outlined the show’s characters to highlight certain actors’ strong points. Talented actors do the work better than what I’ve written. Sometimes I’ll be watching, and they deliver a line that sounds wonderful, and I think oh right, I wrote that.”
Kopec regards the expertly decrepit set as a character all its own. We won’t say more now, as Kopec would like to save the theatrical surprises.
So, how horrifying is it really?
“There are moments when the audience is startled, but personally I hate being startled, so we’ll follow those up with humor.” Kopec stresses that the story is first and foremost about relationships. “Because we’ve all been in a relationship that’s scary. But really, even good relationships can be a little horrifying.”
The Alchemist Eye runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Oct. 11 through Nov. 3 at The Alchemist Theatre, 2569 South Kinnickinnic Avenue in the heart of Bay View. Tickets online or at the door ($23), if available!