Michael Cox speaks with the actor, director and creator of How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse Reloaded.
Michael: Tell me a bit about your Fringe experience from last year.
Ben: We did the first one in Edinburgh because it was a fun show. That was the only reason we did it—to have fun. You go to the Fringe road shows, and the first thing they tell you is ‘Don’t expect to make money, because you’ll probably lose money. Just go for the experience.’ And that’s what we did—it was the first time we’d been up. And we didn’t expect it to be that much of a hit. We expected to walk away without money and with just the experience of the Fringe. We’d never have believed in how much it’s taken off to where it is now.
Michael: As a film geek, you’re obviously a sci-fi/fantasy fan. Is this production more homage to that passion, or is this story the type of thing you genuinely want to be doing?
Ben: It’s not really a story as such. When we put the show together in the first instance, I went into the company meetings...we meet to discuss the shows about a year in advance...and I said that I wanted to do a show about zombies. But there are actually no zombies in the show because of the way it’s run, being a seminar on how to survive the zombie apocalypse. It is actually a seminar, but the story (if there really is any) is the bizarre, lunatic characters who run the school of survival. We’ve been called ‘affectionate’ on many occasions. It’s an affectionate look. We aren’t taking the Mickey because we know so much about the subject and love the subject, but we’re not taking it wholly serious at the same time.
Michael: As a sequel, what are the differences between last year’s production and this year’s?
Ben: Well, for one, we don’t teach you the same stuff. We recap on last year’s at the very beginning, on simple facts like ‘What is a zombie?’ and ‘what weapons to use’ ‘what safe places to go.’
This year, we focus on different stuff. Also, last year we talked to you and took questions. This year, the majority of the show is taken up by something called ‘the simulation’. Everyone gets stickers when they come in, but the idea is that everyone has to keep their sticker on throughout the night. We’re actually testing to see if anyone can survive by putting them in a simulation imagining that the zombie apocalypse has begun. And so far, no one has ever survived. That’s the challenge for anyone who’s seeing the show: to see if you CAN survive.
Michael: Do you think anyone is going to survive?
Ben: No, I don’t think anyone will. I think I can guarantee that no one is going to survive. We’ve had people argue that they should have survived, but nobody’s going to survive. That just means that they need us, so we may very well have to come back and do a ‘threequel’.
Michael: Cinematically, what would you say were your biggest influences, personally and for the show?
Ben: Well, we’ve watched all of the mainstream zombie films. We have watched some of the Italian and other stuff, but nobody knows those. We like to keep mainstream because we have to be accessible to people who aren’t into zombies. A lot of people who haven’t heard of zombies come along and enjoy the show, just because of the insanity of the situation. So, pretty much every zombie film has some form of reference in there, and we can reference them to the survival techniques and tips as well.
Michael: When doing your research for the play, was there a film that surprised you?
Ben: No, because, like I say, I do watch a lot of zombie films, and I also read a lot of the zombie reviews and stuff like that. So, pretty much everything was as I expected it to be. Although Jeffery Reddick, the guy who wrote Day of the Dead actually picked up on something we were talking about. We were ridiculing his film on Facebook on our fan page and he actually got in touch with me and sent me the original shooting copy and said ‘Look, it’s not my fault. Please don’t blame me,’ which was quite nice. But he did have the vegetarian zombies in there. He put them in! So he can’t get away from it because there’s no such thing as a vegetarian zombie, so he’s 50% to blame for the ridiculous script.
Michael: So, where did this fascination with zombies begin with you?
Ben: I used to be terrified of them, and I thought it would be a good idea to overcome the fear by doing a show about them. And that was it, really. We went to one show and met a guy who said, ‘go to this website, and it’s got more research on it.’ You’ve no idea the about of research we’ve put into being able to answer every question. So this guy sent us to this website, and it’s a website analysing fear and what people are scared of. And overall, people are scared of, more than anything else, zombies. So I didn’t feel so low after that. Because, the more human it is, the more scary it is to humans. That’s why people are scared of clowns and dolls as well.
Michael: And this passion and all of this knowledge has led to a book, hasn’t it?
Ben: Yeah, The Zombie Dictionary. Last year, when we were putting the website together, I started putting pages together called The A-Z of Survival, and added a page every week, which was like a dictionary of how an aardvark might help you, and would just pick up words from the dictionary which were bizarre and had no association with the zombie apocalypse whatsoever, and how they could help during the apocalypse. One of the cast suggested I send the link up to some publishers, and I’ve done stuff like that before (sending things to publishers), but then we got a call and they said that ‘yes, they wanted to go ahead and see the full manuscript,’ so I sent it to them and they called when we were in Edinburgh last year to say that they wanted to publish the book, which is out on August 1, which is Dr Dale’s Zombie Dictionary.
Michael: Now, in the show, you allow the audience to ask questions. Is there a question, either from the press or the audience, that you’ve never been asked? It could be anything.
Ben: I have not been asked: why does Dr Dale talk with such a bad American accent? Because, when we originally put the show together, the idea was that it was a con. He set up the school to dupe people into preparing for an apocalypse that was never going to happen. The idea was that he was a very bad conman. But then, as the show progressed and we saw how popular it was, we switched it to make it real, so that the School of Survival was a real place. For that idea to work, you needed too much back story, just to explain what was going on. But by that point, the character had already been set, we’ve already done some of the YouTube videos and interviews and that sort of thing, so we had to stay that character. He had to keep with the bad American accent. I can’t do and maintain an American accent.
How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse Reloaded is at the Zoo Southside until August 29, before touring. Dr Dale's Zombie Dictionary is out now.