When the Center for Puppetry Arts’ Jon Ludwig and Jason Hines were dreaming up a new Halloween show in 2005, they read dozens of spooky stories ranging from classic Victorian horror to Mark Twain’s satire. The resulting The Ghastly Dreadfuls features eight of those tales, each with its own puppets and live band mixed with song-and-dance. The adults-only vaudeville-esque show has become a cult favorite and Halloween tradition.
Bag of tricks
The eight tales use different puppetry styles, from the stop-action silhouette to marionette to masques.
The audience is encouraged to attend in costume, and some come annually. One year a couple drove down from Michigan.
“The Girl in the New Dress,” an elaborate tale that feels like a pop-up book come to life, is a “60-piece plywood ballet,” Hines says.
“Halloween … [is] really about the dead and living and the doorway between the two.” —Jon Ludwig
Each of the seven performers takes on a personality and name. Ludwig (top right) is Simply Dreadful, the debauched group leader. Hines (bottom left) is Cattly Dreadful, a theremin-playing feline.
The Dreadfuls play their own instruments, including cello, piano, guitars, violin, drums, and electric bass.
The show must go on
The Dreadfuls swap out stories every year and now have enough material for two separate shows. But Ludwig and Hines always strive for a mix of puppet styles and story genres, from the touching “11:59” about a porter hearing a ghost train to the straight horror of the “Grand Guignol.”
This article originally appeared in our October 2017 issue.