I did not set out to portray Lovecraft but when the opportunity presented itself, I was not about to turn it down.
It all began with Monkeyman Productions and a short play by Stephen Near called Monstrous Invisible which was a poignant look at Lovecraft’s fiction as well as his brief marriage. This was followed by an expanded remount of the piece and a request by a vlogger named Derek the Bard to have me reprise the role for a series of video reviews of Lovecraft’s works and their derivatives. The whole thing put me in mind to try and make a show of my own and the end result was Ask Lovecraft, an advice program from the Old Man of Providence.
Since 2012 I’ve stood before a camera three times a week and responded to actual emails, tweets, and messages all asking for advice or for Lovecraft’s thoughts and opinions on a number of subjects. I began to read more and more of his stories. His letters also wound up being an amazing resource for seeing his non-authorial voice and living in Toronto, I had access to several published editions of them at the Merril Collection.
Since starting this project, I’ve had to wrestle with a number of challenges. The first is determining how to depict Lovecraft, an eccentric figure with a great deal of legend built around him and no small amount of controversy. Do I play him as someone who sees squamous monsters from beyond space and time in every shadow? Do I highlight his more scientific, skeptical persona? What do I do with his racial prejudices which lurk in his fiction and show up rather violently in his personal writings? How do I stay true to the man while creating an engaging performance?
The final product is a homunculus more than a carbon copy. My Lovecraft has had to come to terms with some of the cultural changes of the 21st century and so some of his more disagreeable opinions and notions have been watered down so that my program appeals to more than just White Power enthusiasts. However, what I hope comes across is that curiosity and that desire to find beauty and strangeness in the world which made up so much of Lovecraft’s writing.
Moving from my video series to a live show has been another challenge. The times I’ve performed Lovecraft live have been largely improvised affairs where I just take questions from the audience and riff off them with the occasional poetry reading. Given the new setting of the Fringe, we’ve created a more structure format that doesn’t assume the audience knows much if anything about Lovecraft and so the end result is almost more like a stand up set which is a radical departure from my comfort zone. Our hope is to both entertain and introduce people to this strange man and the bizarre world he both inhabited and created.
Monkeyman Productions has always striven to bring together the world of the weird and the world of theatre and show just how intertwined they truly are. It’s going to prove an interesting journey.
Editor’s note: Come out and see how that journey has progressed live at the Fringe Festival – Check our Ask Lovecraft page for the details!
(Excerpted from the article “Depicting Lovecraft,” as featured in the Lovecraft E-Zine.)