Putting on a musical like "Zombie Prom" can be a stressful endeavor. But for makeup designer Kjersti "KJ" Thorp, it's not all bad. Every production begins with research, and in the case of Central Lakes College's comedic romp, that meant curling up with a bunch of classic fright flicks.
"I watched a lot of old horror movies," said Thorp, a sophomore majoring in technical theater. "This is based in the '50s and what we want to do is spoof '50s movies. The makeup I have is bright neon green. It's not Dawn of the Dead' or Thriller' makeup, it's the old, cheesy, poor-effects type of zombies."
In an interview last week at the college, Thorp, 23, noted that she loves "Night of the Living Dead" (1968), a film recognized for pioneering the look of, ahem, "realistic" zombies. But for "Zombie Prom," she had to focus on not-so-classics, such as "Teenage Zombies" (1959) and spoofs like "I Was a Teenage Zombie" (1987) and "My Boyfriend's Back" (1993).
"You know, they didn't spend much money on those (old B-movies)," said the 2001 Detroit Lakes High School graduate, who now lives in Brainerd. "It was just, Make 'em, get 'em out there and make some money.'"
Money hasn't been much of an issue on "Zombie Prom" - Thorp was allotted a $500 budget for research and materials - but where to spend that money has been. Thinking it would be wise to plan ahead since this would be her first time designing makeup (she had done scenery, lighting and sound work on previous CLC plays), Thorp placed an order for zombie prosthetics in August. Three weeks later, the company called to say they were all out.
If you go
What: "Zombie Prom"
Presented by: Central Lakes College Theatre
Director: Dennis Lamberson
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and Nov. 10-12 (with high-school performances at 10 a.m. Thursday and Nov. 10)
Where: Chalberg Theatre, CLC, Brainerd
Kjersti KJ' Thorp
Makeup designer for "Zombie Prom"
Favorite play: "Dracula"
Favorite movie: "Old Cold"
Favorite TV show: "CSI"
Favorite band: Disturbed
Favorite book: Anything by Maurice Leblanc
What do you do in your spare time? "Sleep."
So she had to do it the hard way.
"Thank God I had my Tech II class with Michael Harvey, because without that I'd be lost right now. There'd be no special prosthetic or anything," Thorp said. "In that class, we had casting and moldmaking. A company representative from Smooth-On came in to teach us how to do all this stuff. I knew they had stuff for prosthetics, so I ordered their stuff and it came three days later. I started working on it and plugging away."
But another hurdle loomed. The actor who was to portray the "normal" version of male lead Jonny dropped out, leaving Brainerd's Joe Wall to play both the "normal" and "atomic zombie" phases of the character. Not a big problem for Wall, perhaps, but a big one for Thorp.
"Instead of going from an hour of putting makeup on and getting everything right, I'm down to 10 minutes, and he'll be doing a costume change and singing during that time, so it's going to be quite interesting," Thorp said. "I'm confident in my crew. I'm going to have three people who will be working with me, so I figure if we can get in there and practice, practice, practice, we'll get it done."
Thorp created a prosthetic from a mold of Wall's face, but 10 days before "Zombie Prom's" opening, she still hadn't tried it out on the actor. She plans to paint the prosthetic - essentially a partial mask that gives the illusion of sunken eyes and prominent cheekbones and eyebrows - neon green ahead of time. Then, in the 10-minute window when Wall is backstage, she intends to glue on the prosthetic and paint the rest of his face neon green.
"The actual neon green makeup I'm working with is a water base, which I'm finding is very difficult to work with," Thorp said. "Watercoloring is a pain in the butt trying to get the right mix ... I want it to look cheesy, but I want it to look good, too."
At the musical's conclusion, a chorus line of 10 zombies will be introduced, but Thorp notes that these are traditional zombies, not atomic zombies, so they won't have prosthetics.
"For the last song, 10 of the actors change from normal into zombies in a minute and a half," Thorp said. "We have to have the costume change and put the makeup on. It's just gonna be darker, purplish makeups - darken the eyes, hollow out the cheeks, put black lipstick on. Just so they look dead. They're normal zombies, they didn't fall into atomic waste."
As with the 2004 British satire "Shaun of the Dead," another of Thorp's favorites, the "Zombie Prom" script gives no explanation for the transformation.
"You don't need to explain why they turn into zombies, they just do," she said.
Thorp would be forgiven if she was spotted lurching through CLC's corridors like one of the undead after this musical wraps, but until then, "you have to do your best every time, because it's a live show." And she wants to make "Zombie Prom" memorable because it will be one of the last lavish productions of CLC's technical theater era. The program, and Harvey's job, will be eliminated after this school year because of low enrollment numbers.
"He's the best teacher I've ever had," Thorp said. "He pushes hard, but he pushes hard because he knows how the business is, and if you can't handle that, then you shouldn't be in the business."
But while the journey to "Zombie Prom's" opening day has been stressful, "part of the fun is the stress," Thorp said. "At the end of every production, I always say, Thank God that's done with. Boy, did I have fun.'"
JOHN HANSEN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5863.
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