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All Zombies Are Bitches: The Madcap Wonder of Bludpayne VII: A Fistful of Bludpayne



Theatre has been in my blood for as long as I can remember. As a result I’ve seen a lot of shows in my time that truly showed the magic of theatre everyone talks about. I’ve seen the great actors of our time tackle the classics, I’ve seen new voices emerge and dominate the landscape, and I’ve seen plenty of triple threats wow me on countless occasions. But none of those shows, none of those experiences come close to one magical day ten years ago when I saw a little play in a dark high school auditorium in Andover, Massachusetts.


In my sophomore of high school, our drama department joined the Massachusetts Educational Theatre Guild (METG for short) High School Festival. Schools from across the state would present and compete with one act plays, the caveat being that the plays had a maximum time of forty minutes. As enriching as it may sound, the prospect of seeing eight full length plays in one day would be daunting to even the most avid theatre lover. Unless they written and performed by Taylor Mac.


In our first year we presented the ol’ crowdpleaser The Diary of Anne Frank. We had no idea what we were doing or what we had gotten ourselves into, but we were all very excitable theatre kids ready to bloom amongst our tribe. The first performance of the day was easily the most traumatizing experience as Nauset High School presented a spellbinding production of Naomi Iizuka’s Polaroid Stories. We had never seen a high school production of such quality and depth and we began to panic. We were in way over our heads. However, we pressed on, did the best we could, but didn’t make it past prelims.


The next year though, we were determined to succeed. We were older, wiser, seasoned. This time we would come back with a vengeance and dominate this new world. Upon conferring with people from other schools who also did this years later, they told me they referred to it as “festival” instead of our totally non-aggressive “competition.” That’s the attitude towards the arts in the school I went to. Though we had a resentment towards the jocks in our school, as every cliched theatre kid has for all of recorded time, we were just as ruthless.


Our second year we presented Rabbit Hole, a play about a family mourning the death of their young child. So considerably much liter fare than Diary of Anne Frank. We worked our asses off, diving deep into the text, cutting wherever we could. We were all emotional and nervous, but confident in our abilities to succeed. We made it through pre-lims by the skin of our teeth, having to black out early before the show’s conclusion. But our hard work paid off and we made it to semi-finals.


Then things got weird. We cut the show to the bone so that we wouldn’t have to experience another black out. In doing so, we lost the momentum leading up to prelims. It was as if we had used all of our energy for the prelims and didn’t save any for the rest of the competition. The semi-finals were a strange experience. We suddenly weren’t the underdog, but instead the hometown heroes. We had achieved a triumph, but now we had to keep going.

The vibe going into the semi-finals was odd. The moment we stepped into the host school we could feel that something was different. Now the competition was much more stacked, the better of the best were up against each other. We went from being confident to feeling in over our heads all over again. We would not make it past this round. It would’ve been a total downer of a day if not for one thing: Bludpayne VII: A Fistful of Bludpayne, the greatest theatrical piece I have ever experienced.



Bludpayne VII: A Fistful of Bludpayne was presented by Wellesley High School under the guidance of Drama Director Stephen Wrobleski. The show is broken into three horror-based segments. The first is a comedic romp of a young boy going to the worst summer camp in the world. Counselors seem possessed and kids are subjected to brutal hikes, bows and arrows, and the occasional bear attack. There’s a brilliant montage of the kid’s horrific activities set to MIKA’s “Love Today,” that is seared into my memory with how funny it is. I searched for months to find that song and when my girlfriend at the time found it, I was so grateful.




The second segment involves a group of well-meaning folks performing an ancient Native American chant that unwittingly unleashes the dead. It shows the chaos through the perspective of the living, but then rewinds back to the perspective of the zombies. They sit around in the underworld, minding their own business, only to be coaxed by the chant’s true translation: “All zombies are bitches.” What follows is a hilarious horror of an army of the undead preying on the living, culminating in a massive bar fight that is still one of the most astounding and elaborate set pieces I’ve witnessed onstage.


The final segment is a complete 180 from the previous two segments and launches into a serious, Twilight Zone-esque story. Set in an eerie subway, a group of friends are systematically picked off by an unseen force in the dark, only to reappear dazed with a black ooze pouring from their mouths. Eventually all our heroes are taken and they sit staring out at us, possessed, haunting. The lights come up. We think it’s over. We applaud. But still they sit and stare. It’s unnerving and confusing. Then all the sudden they walk out.


In forty minutes, we went on a roller coaster ride of hilarity, thrills, and chills. Upon further research I discovered that a lot of the show’s success was due to the constant reworking of scenes and jokes. The cast and crew worked tirelessly, noting what worked and what didn’t performance after performance. As an original piece, Bludpayne could be whatever the hell it pleased to best suit the performers and the audience. With each round of notes from the judges, it became an ever-changing expanding from 32 minutes in its first round to 39 by finals without loosing any sense of pacing. It truly demonstrates what people mean when they called theatre a collaborative process. It’s a collaboration of not only the actors, writers, and designers of the show, but also of the judges, the critics, and most importantly, the audience.



What’s most striking is that it looked like an absolute blast to work on. It would be years before I saw another show (Something Rotten!) where it felt like every single member of the cast was in it because they loved it. Wrobleski, along with his student directors and actors created an environment where the entire team was given free rein to craft something that they thought was silly, frightening, and all around fun from the ground up. They all had a say in what the show was and as a result, they created a sense of play that was infectious to every crowd they presented the show in front of.


That team spirit showed up onstage perfectly. There was this palpable sense of camaraderie onstage. The level of support for one another was staggering from segment to segment. Each moment was layered with such intricate background jokes, that audience was never lacking in something to keep their eyes on. Everyone was engaged and in a big restaurant scene in the second segment, it was hard to sort out who to keep my eyes on in the best way.


My eyes darted to this one man reading a newspaper completely covering his face. We see him in the scene right before the fight begins between the humans and zombies. I knew instantly “That person is going to be important later.” Why would they try so hard to cover him up? Once the fight breaks out that man whips the paper down. He flips the table over, rips his shirt open, and joins the fray, punching out countless zombies. Until a bear comes by and cracks a bottle over his head. Then they fight. It was zany, absurd, and I loved every fucking second of it.


What I love most about Bludpayne VII: A Fistful of Bludpayne is that it truly reveals the magic of live theatre. Sure, I’ve seen a lot of more professional shows with bigger budgets, phenomenal writing, and impeccable design, but none have quite captured the wonderment of Bludpayne. The show had beautifully constructed gags, anarchic charm, and, most importantly, authenticity. It was a giant sandbox that everyone wanted to play around in the wackiest and most gruesome ways.


It reminded me that theatre for all its troubles and stress, there should always be this sense of play. Our school spent the next few years doing very serious pieces, as a lot of schools did in that competition. Plays were riddled with AIDS, sex, violence, and teenage angst. It was as if we were trying to show people that we could be deeper or darker than we actually were. Y’know, real teenager shit. But to see a play that gave zero fucks and went for something that was sheer fun was a breath of fresh air.


Bludpayne was one of the top three finalists that year for METG and it deserved it whole-heartedly. It was celebrated in its home town publication The Townsmen (which starts off with the beautiful dig: “ The Wellesley High School Drama Society has done what few ‘teams’ from WHS have been able to accomplish in the past few years…win a state championship!”) following finals and that praise was well earned. The students clearly worked their asses off to create a well-oiled machine that was always evolving. That constant evolution helped keep things from growing stale and that energy surged through the audience. Here were the true underdogs.


The beauty of theatre is that is once in a lifetime experience. That is the only time you will see that performance with those actors in this space. There’s no recording of it (at least not that I know of, though I’d love to get my hands on it) and so my memory of it is so vivid because it has to be. It’s a show I will never experience again so I had to take down every detail. I cannot hear “Love Today” without thinking of the madcap wonder of Bludpayne VII: A Fistful of Bludpayne and how it reminded me why I love theatre in the first place.


Anyone who did theatre in high school can tell you that it may look fun (and it can be), but it is no cheerleader picnic. Especially the ones who continue to pursue a career in the arts once they graduate. Behind every production of Sound of Music or Our Town are backbreaking and emotionally wrenching hours spent making it into something that will make you feel fulfilled. What they don’t tell you about following your dreams is that it can be so fucking painful. There have been many times where I was discouraged in my pursuit of those dreams and there will be many more. But shows like Bludpayne VII: A Fistful of Bludpayne remind me why those dreams are worth pursuing. Following your dreams is tough work, but if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be worth it, would it?


I don’t know how many of the people involved in Bludpayne VII: A Fistful of Bludpayne stayed in the theatre or moved on to other things. What I do know is that they created something special that has stayed with me for the last ten years. It lives on solely in my memory and is right up there with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Iceman Cometh, and Shuffle Along as the best theatrical experience of my life. It is a testament to what theatre is and what theatre can truly be. It’s got everything great theatre is made out of: joy, teamwork, and zombies.

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