In September 1958, The Blob, an independent horror, science-fiction film was released by Paramount Pictures and Umbrella Entertainment. Starring Steve McQueen in his debut role, the film left a permanent mark in Americans’ minds, and in 2006, Charleston’s Contemporary Youth Arts Company took the film a step further, writing their own adaptation of the classic film in the form of a musical.
“It’s the Steve McQueen movie,” said playwright and director Dan Kehde, “and we just thought wouldn’t it be fun to put it on stage. We turned it into a full-fledged musical, so this is song and dance. And it’s not high-tech and there’s no…it’s an interesting Blob when you see it. It’s just campy. But it’s been a lot of fun, and over the years, I finally…actually we got permission from Jack Harris, who was the original producer of the original movie, who’s still alive, to go ahead and do this for FestivALL this year. And it’s been pretty exciting. But it’s funny, and it’s family friendly, and the worst thing that’s gonna happen is parents are gonna have to explain the history of the Cold War to their kids. But besides that it’s just a lot of fun.”
This is the third time the Contemporary Youth Arts Company of Charleston will produce The Blob, the first of which was in September 2006 and the second in September 2009. The story takes place in the year 1957 in the small town of Downingtown, Pennsylvania. One fateful night, a meteor falls from space and lands in the middle of a farm, where a curious farmer goes to investigate. What he finds however, is a small oozing blob slinking out of the meteor. To the farmer’s horror, the Blob attaches itself to his arm, and soon after, Steve and Jane, the main characters, find the farmer pleading for help. They agree to aide him, and the two teens take the farmer to the town’s doctor.
“And his arm is slowly being consumed, and so the doctor calls in the nurse, and as the doctor calls in the nurse, the Blob consumes the farmer, and then the Blob consumes the nurse, and then the Blob consumes the doctor. And nobody believes the two teenagers who found the original, the farmer, that there’s a monster out there. So they’re running around the town trying to convince the town that there’s a monster out there.”
Kehde says that even though this is CYAC’s third time producing The Blob, things haven’t necessarily gotten easier and that with each new production, they are presented with new ideas and new challenges.
“To try to adapt a movie onto the stage, without any kind of camera angles, close-ups, special effects, it’s very difficult. It’s very hard to make it entertaining and keep the plot line going, and I don’t know what the hardest thing was, I guess maybe that final scene with the diner and the fire-extinguishers has always been tricky, it should work this time. We’re going to build the diner on stage. Yeah, that would be the toughest one. And to educate everybody in the cast what this thing is about, and about the Cold War and about people worried about flying saucers, and the whole nine-yards.”
The Contemporary Youth Arts Company was founded in 1995 by Kehde, his wife, Penny, and composer Mark Scarpelli and they have been producing original theater in and around the Charleston area ever since. The Blob is just one of many shows Kehde and Scarpelli have written together. Their first show, MARY: A Rock Opera was met with critical acclaim, and they continue to perform it annually around Christmastime. Kehde says CYAC began with a small group of high school kids who were looking for a theater outlet that spoke to them.
“Just a bunch of kids showed up at my front doorstep, actually. And were looking for a place where they could do shows that usually weren’t acceptable on the high school level, that were a little bit more sophisticated. And that they could have time for, because most of the kids were taking advanced classes, and nobody was going to accommodate them. So we started Contemporary Youth Arts for them, and their friends, and then started to incorporate some original pieces that Mark and I were interested in writing as we went along, until we got a pretty good mix now of kids coming in to do kind of fringy theater as well as a couple of goofy things like The Blob. And we get to write new pieces all the time, and try out new stuff all the time.”
Since its inception, CYAC has expanded to include performers of all ages, but with special emphasis on giving roles to younger people when possible.
“We work with young ones from knee-high, you know all the way up to, you know young adults,” Scarpelli reflected, “of course The Blob actually has some older folks, mom and dad type characters too, just you know, community theater, that’s the fun of it is just being involved and meeting new people, and just watching some of the talents develop on stage. It’s pretty exciting.”
Caitlin Moore and Austin Susman, two recent graduates from George Washington High School are regulars of the Contemporary Youth Arts Company and both say it’s the atmosphere of the company that keeps bringing them back.
“I love that the pieces are challenging,” said Moore, “and they’re new and it’s different from what every other theater company is doing.”
“It’s the shows and the people,” said Susman, “You know, Dan and Mark write some wonderful shows, and I’ve made some great friends with other cast members and a really great relationship with Dan and Mark as well. And also the theater, the Capitol Theater is a beautiful venue, and I love to perform here any chance I get.”
“CYAC has kind of become my second family,” Moore noted, “I’ve only been doing shows for two-in-half-years, but it was the first time I ever stepped on stage, acting, and I fell in love with it as soon as I did it. So ever since then, I cannot bring myself to take a break.”
“The Blob is a really cheesy show,” Susman said, “but it’s a lot of fun, and you can’t leave this theater without smiling.”
The Blob will open at the West Virginia State University Capitol Center Theater on June 19th.