Recently, Southeastern Louisiana University held its annual Horror Festival during which the community of Hammond participates in events to display their talents across different media. This is its seventh year, and excitement was in the air as everyone made their final preparations for a tiring, yet eventful, weekend. In order to bring awareness to the problems affecting our world today, the theme for the festival is paranoia.
“We chose this as our theme in order to make our production relatable to the audience,” said Chad Winters, instructor of acting and directing. “Many things in our society are motivated by fear, and how it’s manipulated is a driving force for telling stories. We knew it was the right direction to go because so much has happened this year, and we can’t ignore it.”
The purpose of the Hammond Horror Festival is to provide an annual community project for people to showcase their work in an alternative collaboration of the arts, and benefits local organizations and charities. The goal of this festival is to inspire local artists to get involved with their community through the spirit of Halloween by welcoming a spread of performances and exhibitions including theatre, music, visual arts, dance, poetry/spoken word and film.
“I consider myself fortunate to participate in this festival every year,” said Tara Bennett, graphic designer and Hammond Horror Festival board member. “We get so many people who are truly committed to making this a great experience, and the weekend is more enjoyable as a result.” The first half of the HHF is the 24 hour play festival which involves several playwrights creating a selection of scenes in a short amount of time.
“They’re given a general idea related to the theme, and they have until the following day to complete them all,” said Katy Baronich, stage manager for the production. “Also, they use props provided by the actors to enhance their scenes further.” The company of the play festival works hard from the crack of dawn to the late evening.
“It’s a fun, stressful day, but it all pays off in the end,” said Madison Paulus, production manager and president of Alpha Psi Omega. “My officers and I worked hard to help everyone in their respective groups, and I know we were very successful.” Not only did Paulus supervise the company throughout the day, she also played a minor role in “Geostorm,” a scene based on the new science fiction film of the same name.
“Randy Malbrough Jr., one of our directors, approached me with the idea, and I thought it was brilliant,” she said. “Erin Reid, our APO secretary and my best friend, did it with me, and we enjoyed every second of the process.”
Other paranoias satirized in the play festival include social media followers, imaginary friends, sorority girls, and in the most controversial scene, the election from last year. “Some of the diehard supporters of our president were greatly offended, but we did our job correctly because theatre is all about shock value,” said Winters. “People have to realize we’re on a college campus, so our stories are not squeaky clean; most of the time, they’re mature and adult.”
The second half of the HHF is the Macabre Showcase at the Gnarly Barley Brewing Company during which a variety of short horror films are played for a panel of judges. One of the movies, “Rights & Rituals,” features an all-female cast and crew from Little Blue House Productions, a majority of whom were involved in Southeastern’s mainstage productions.
“It was an incredible opportunity to submit an entry for the festival,” said Grace Jovanovic, director, screenwriter and co-editor of the motion picture. “All of the women were a pleasure to work with, and they were so captivating from beginning to end.” The cast included Janna Baza, Payton Core, Alexis Durante and Jordin Jones. In the film, a young woman goes on a “date” with her girlfriend and is later poisoned by members of a psychotic cult.
“Like any good horror movie, I wanted to surprise the audience and leave them on the edge of their seats,” said Jovanovic. “The final product achieves this in more ways than one.”
The festivities of the evening also feature La La Tribal, a belly dance troupe from Hammond who performed a black light routine and the Wicked Little Voodoo Dolls, a group of dancers from New Orleans who performed a contemporary piece using the theme of paranoia as inspiration.
“Our routine is different from the ones we normally do,” said Crystal Schayot, artistic director and leader of the group. “We focus on ballet, contemporary, and jazz, so it was nice to create something powerful and serious; we wanted to leave the patrons breathless with every movement.”
All in all, the Hammond Horror Festival was a success for the city of Hammond and Southeastern as a whole. “The amount of positive feedback we receive is so gratifying,” said Winters. “This festival is the brainchild of several individuals, and it’s an honor to put this together every year.”