As the leaves begin to change and Halloween fast approaches, it seems appropriate to chat with one of the season’s biggest LGBTQ fans, Chicagoland original Brian Kirst aka the Big Gay Horror Fan. A man of many talents, Brian has an exciting new project, the musical Zombie Bathhouse coming in October to the Hoover-Leppen Theatre at the Center on Halsted (3656 North Halsted Street). Kirst wrote the book of the musical in collaboration with local performer, musician, and songwriter Scott Free who did the music and lyrics. Zombie Bathhouse will be running from October 15-29, 2017; tickets are $20.
How did the Zombie Bathhouse project come about?
This project has been a long time coming. Scott Free, the show's composer and lyricist, approached me about working on the project in the winter of 2010. The title Zombie Bathhouse had popped into his head and he thought it would be a fun name for a musical. He isn't a horror movie buff, so he asked me to come on board to write the book for the show. Seven or eight drafts later, here we are.
What's the elevator ride synopsis of Zombie Bathhouse?
Michael, a DJ and bartender, is playing a set at the Man Vault, a local bathhouse, on Pride Day. He has been in and out of trouble with the law and is very trigger-happy, emotionally, and very, very suspicious of romance. His best friends are determined to get him laid. Ash, one of the mysterious bathhouse patrons, catches Michael's eye and as the two start to fall for each other, strange and deadly things begin to happen. Michael's mother, a former Lita Ford style rocker, is determined to save him, so there is soon mayhem occurring outside the bathhouse, as well.
What can folks expect to see?
Well, obviously, there's going to be dudes in towels...and some ridiculous situations and fun songs. But, I also hope that people are going to be surprised by the emotional and social depths that we've tried to instill in the piece. I wasn't using him as reference point, initially, but George Romero's sense of political purpose has found its way into the show. His stuff was more about how people are the true monsters in relation to how they treat the undead and, eventually, each other when faced with an extreme crisis. We hit upon that too, briefly, but we also focus on a bunch of other humanistic aspects, as well. The raids that took place on gay establishments in the late '60s and early '70s are a huge plot point for us. We explore how those horrible, discriminatory events could destroy people's lives and have long lasting effects on their relationships, as well.
zombie apocalypse....opens FRIDAY THE 13th!!!!Posted by Zombie Bathhouse on Saturday, October 7, 2017
What do you think make you and Scott good collaborators?
Scott has just been so enthusiastic about this show and the whole process. I think he's just adored this project and the characters from the start. I haven't written a play in almost 15 years. I had a bunch of stuff produced throughout the '90s, but none of it was necessarily horror themed. So it’s been a huge thrill to incorporate the genre that I love the most into a play. I thought I was going to be perfectly content writing about horror for different online sites and publications for the rest of my life. Therefore, returning to theater, and returning with this show in particular, has been such a nice surprise. So, I think our mutual joy for the material has made us good partners for this one.
Who is the Big Gay Horror Fan?
Big Gay Horror Fan is my blog (https://biggayhorrorfan.wordpress.com/) and Facebook page that celebrates all aspects of horror, but from a queer and feminist viewpoint. I spend a lot of time looking at how women and other outsider cultures are treated in genre films. For example...Why does the sassy, sexually confident best friend always have to die in thrillers like The Boy Next Door, No Good Deed, and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle? It's a trope we've come to expect and almost rely on, enjoyment factor-wise, but it's so degrading to women and reinforces such a backwards judgment on how they control their own bodies and lives.
I also love writing about the genre credits of the old school movie divas. Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy, Vivian Blaine, Gloria DeHaven, etc. All have horror credits on their resumes. I think that is something only a true film scholar or a gay man can get excited about and the regular horror journalist doesn't concentrate on that stuff in the slightest. That's where I come in. I just discovered that cabaret legend Julie Wilson appeared on an episode of Monsters — with Laura Branigan and Morton Downey, Jr. of all people! I was so excited! I'm forever having Andrea Marcovicci, who is kind of the Julie Wilson of our era, sign stills from her genre credits when she's in town doing her shows at Davenports (1383 North Milwaukee, Avenue). She's so refined and elegant, telling stories about musical legends like Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, and I'm like, "I love it when that long forgotten cave beast killed you in A Vacation in Hell!" I'm sure it's the last thing she wants it be reminded of, but she's always so generous and kind with me.
How did Big Gay Horror Fan come about?
I spent a lot of time writing for various sites like Horror Society and Fangoria online. It felt good to be just another horror journalist for awhile. But I began to see more and more queer and trans folks at conventions and realized that it was probably important to start to explore the genre, openly and proudly, as a gay man. And, unfortunately, there is still a need to be upfront about difference within that community. Many of the terror freaks that I've encountered are amazing. But there is also still a huge right wing bro culture that can surface in that atmosphere, as well. So it's still important that I, as Big Gay Horror Fan, and so many other LGBTQIA folks who now have fright sites and Facebook groups, let people know that homophobic and transphobic attitudes are no longer acceptable.
What are some of the things you do in your role as Big Gay Horror Fan?
I’ve been a part of panels that explore gender issues in horror and I update the blog, fairly frequently. But I’ve also put together a bunch of different movie nights — everywhere from gay bars like Cellblock (3702 North Halsted Street) to one of my favorite spots in the world, Alley Cat Comics (5304 North Clark Street).
I'm also the primary host for Movieside Productions and all of their film events. That means I’ve been lucky enough to interview everyone from The Godfather of Gore, Herschell Gordon Lewis, to Jack Hill, who is Quentin Tarantino’s favorite director, to Linnea Quigley, the Queen of Screams, on stage.
We’ve got a 24 hour film event, The Massacre, coming up on Saturday, October 14. The guests are going to be Sleepaway Camp’s Felissa Rose and John D. Hancock, the director of Let’s Scare Jessica To Death. What is really cool is that I’ve gotten to know a bunch of these folks on a personal level and they’ve included me in some of their projects. Deborah Dutch, who starred in a number of Roger Corman projects, and I have become really close. She flew into town this past summer to shoot a scene with me for the sequel to The Hollywood Warrioress, her take on a Wonder Woman style heroine. We did a free screening of Hard to Die, one of her most popular films, at Alley Cat, as well, and it was such a fun night.
What is your favorite hidden gem of Chicago?
Probably, Alley Cat Comics in Andersonville. It truly is hidden from the street — you have to cut down this tiny alley of off Clark Street to get to it. It's a geek's paradise and Nick and Selene, the owners, are awesome people. They have these great, bright comic style murals on the wall, as well. It's just a fun, tucked away spot.
What is your favorite LGBTQ friendly restaurant?
I'm not much of foodie. I'm going to say Zanzibar (1036 West Bryn Mawr Avenue) in Edgewater. It's a coffee shop, but it has great sandwiches and the staff is awesome. We had a lot of production meetings for the show there and I wrote a lot of it in its booths there, as well. So, it has strong ties to Zombie Bathhouse.
What is your favorite LGBTQ bar?
It's not exclusively gay, but Logan Arcade Bar (2410 West Fullerton Avenue) in Logan Square has really fun queer themed nights once a month or so. On the more traditional front, I really enjoyed hanging out at Big Jim’s (3505 North Halsted Street) this summer. The people who work there always greet me. One of the bartenders even tried to help us out when we had a minor casting crisis.
If someone is looking to buy a gift or unusual memento when they're in Chicago where is your favorite place to tell them to go?
I’d definitely recommend Bucket of Blood Books (3182 North Elston Avenue). It's a horror themed book and record store. They have a great section of those low rent horror paperbacks that you used to find in drugstores in the '80s and '90s. They do a lot of screening of independent horror films and have author events and other fun stuff, as well.
Also Logan Hardware Records (2532 West Fullerton Avenue). They have stacks and stacks of vinyl, walls of old VHS tapes and silly little knick knacks. I'm obsessed with finding LPs of obscure female singers from the 80s — women who weren't even one hit wonders — and I always seem to find something incredible whenever I go there.
Center on Halsted
3656 North Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60613
Explore more of the LGBTQ scene in Chicago and check out the neighborhood — Center on Halsted is at the heart of Chicago's Boystown. For more guides, download the 2017 OUT! Chicago & Illinois LGBTQ Visitor's Guide, or find all things theater in the official 2017 Fall Theatre Guide from the League of Chicago Theatres.