2016 True West Award: 'Night of the Living Dead'

Night of the Living Dead. True West Awards


Day 8: Night of the Living Dead

                         Paper Cat Films and The Bug Theatre

It started in 2009 as a simple stage adaptation of George Romero’s 1968 cult film phenom about those hilariously slow, flesh-eating zombies in rural Pennsylvania. But writer and director Kris Hipps’ ever-morphing annual live offering of Night of the Living Dead … Live! On Stage! is now a Halloween tradition that has brought both giggles and ghouls to more than 10,000 at Denver’s Bug Theatre over the past eight years.

You probably know the classic story of seven people trapped in a farmhouse, surrounded by slowly … really slowly … encroaching ghouls. Hipps’ twist is that anything that takes place inside the house is presented live on the stage, while anything that takes place outside the house is projected onto an overhead screen, utilizing pre-filmed sequences that are re-shot each year by Hipps’ partnering company, Paper Cat Films.

Night of The Living Dead. True West Awards“I’ve been a zombie fan since the first time I saw the original Night of the Living Dead as a kid and immediately started thinking about ways to barricade our house in case of a zombie attack,” said Hipps, who created the show with Duane Brown.

Local theatre critic Patrick Dorn calls Night of the Living Dead … Live! On Stage! the Halloween equivalent of It’s a Wonderful Life. “Except that everybody’s either dead or in danger of becoming so, in a most gruesome fashion.”

Seriously. Deb Flomberg, the only actor to play the same role all eight years, says the cast goes through four gallons of fake blood each year. Flomberg plays Karen, the creepy infected kid who is dying in the basement.

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“I accepted the role without having seen the movie, so I didn’t realize Karen was a 12-year-old girl until I got the script,” she said. “I called Kris and said, ‘Hey, I’m 27 years old. She’s 12. But Karen said I was exactly what she wanted, and she gave me the green light to play with it.”

Night of the Living Dead Quote. Deb FlombergKaren has since developed what Flomberg warmly calls a weird little following. “I’ll be off-stage and people in the audience will start to chant for Karen,” she said. “I was in a grocery story and this lady came up to me and said, ‘Hey you’re that creepy girl!’”

Hipps keeps her seasonal staging fresh by riffing each year on a singular quirk in the source film. Early on, the movie briefly shows a dead body at the stop of the farmhouse stairs. Romero never goes back to it or explains it. So Hipps does, in a different way each year. Her live stage adaptation always begins with a scene offering a different possible explanation for the dead body at the top of the stairs.

“One year the zombies broke into the house while a bunch of little old ladies were having a Tupperware party,” Flomberg said. “Another year, the ladies were having a stripper party – and one of the strippers was a zombie. This year, they broke into them having a charades party.”

Each year, she said, the production also adopts an overall theme. One year, iconic killers from famous ‘80s slasher films kept dropping in. This year, the story embraced common urban legends (such as, “The call is coming from inside the house!”). Next year, the theme will be science fiction. This way, the audience has a reason to come back each year to see what’s different.

“I think our audiences love the comedic approach that we have taken,” Flomberg said. “We are not trying to scare anyone, or simply re-create the film. We are just offering up our own tribute to the film that started it all in fun and different ways.”

This year’s cast included Joseph Graves as Ben, Janine Kehlenbach as Barbara, Veronica Straight-Lingo as Judy, Seth Harris as Tom, Colin Roybal as Helen, Patrick Brownson as Harry, Deb Flomberg as Karen and Karin Carr, Kris Hipps, Matt Jaramillo, Matt Schultz, Sara Michael and Aran Peters as the hoard of zombies, reporters and other unsuspecting victims.


The True West Awards, now in their 16th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2016 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

THE 2016 TRUE WEST AWARDS (to date)

Day 1: Jada Suzanne Dixon
Day 2: Robert Michael Sanders
Day 3: After Orlando
Day 4: Michael Morgan
Day 5: Beth Beyer
Day 6: Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski
Day 7: donnie l. betts
Day 8: Night of the Living Dead
Day 9: The Killer Kids of Miscast
Day 10: Jason Sherwood
Day 11: Leslie O’Carroll and Steve Wilson
Day 12: Jonathan Scott-McKean
Day 13: Jake Mendes
Day 14: Charles R. MacLeod
Day 15: Patty Yaconis
Day 16: Daniel Langhoff
Day 17: Colorado Shakespeare Festival costumers
Day 18: Miriam Suzanne
Day 19: Yolanda Ortega
Day 20: Diana Ben-Kiki
Day 21: Jeff Neuman
Day 22: Gabriella Cavallero
Day 23: Matthew Campbell
Day 24: Sharon Kay White
Day 25: John Hauser
Day 26: Lon Winston
Day 27: Jason Ducat
Day 28: Sam Gregory
Day 29: Warren Sherrill
Day 30: The Women Who Run Theatre in Boulder
Theatre Person of the Year Billie McBride

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