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Springfield Contemporary Theatre Presents Funny Moments, And Lots of Scary Moments, In "Feathers And Teeth" At The Art Museum

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Imagine "Gremlins" reinvented by Tracy Letts... humor and horror in SCT's "Feathers and Teeth"

Springfield Contemporary Theatre will present the Missouri premiere of Charice Castro Smith’s bone-chilling but wildly funny “Feathers and Teeth” October 22-31 in the Springfield Art Museum Auditorium. We were joined in the studio on today’s “Arts News” program by two of the lead actors, Jennifer Eiffert and Heath Hillhouse.

“The way that it's set up is that a lot of these characters act—as it's described in the script—like they're in ‘The Brady Bunch,’ or wish that they were in ‘The Brady Bunch,’ if that makes sense!” Hillhouse said. “There are lots of funny moments, but lots of scary moments. It's definitely a Halloween show. And we're excited to be able to actually perform it on Halloween.”

SCT describes the show on their website, https://www.springfieldcontemporytheatre.org, this way: “Imagine ‘Gremlins’ reinvented by Tracy Letts.” Hillhouse said he feels “that’s a pretty accurate description.” Jennifer Eiffert added, “But I think there's a lot of truthfulness in it as well. Like, you have the funny and you have the horror, but you really get to see a family dynamic--there is some heart to the story, too.”

The home-sweet-home idyllic existence of 13-year-old Chris is completely upended after her mother dies and her father’s new fiancée moves in. Chris is convinced the woman is evil, but can’t persuade her dad.

“There's also an element of sort of a monster spooky horror to it as well, the ‘feathers and teeth’ in the title,” said Heath Hillhouse, in the form of a “Gremlin”-like cute, but potentially dangerous, little creature they find in the back yard. “So we get to work with blood,” Eiffert said, which is always fun! The special effects, the audio—yeah, that’s always fun.” And to help make the production even more of a family affair, Eiffert’s real-life stepdaughter, Mikayla Hodges, plays Chris. “She’s actually debuting, and doing a fabulous job.” Heath Hillhouse plays the father, and Jennifer Eiffert is the fiancée. Also in the small cast is Caleb Quinn in the role of Hugo, the neighbor “who is there,” said Hillhouse, “to try to help young Chris, or perhaps insinuate himself into her life a little bit too.

“And that's the thing, is that the horror elements of it—there are, you know, those blatant monster, spooky, scary sounds and blood effects. But the horror, I think, really kind of goes back to that horror of the replacement of family and the horror of having lost someone and having someone else step in to take that place, and trying to work through that. And Chris is not having a good time with that.” Jennifer Eiffert called it “the analogy of the stepmother monster.” And that, according to Heath Hillhouse, “is where that ‘truth’ we’re talking about comes in.”

Performing in the Art Museum auditorium is a departure for Springfield Contemporary Theatre, but Eiffert and Hillhouse are both enthusiastic about the new venue. “Such a great space,” said Eiffert. The acoustics in that—we are having so much fun. I'm excited they're going to be doing their entire season there.”

“It’s a wonderful space,” Hillhouse said. “It’s very ‘live’ in there. And I think it has a lot of opportunity (as they) do the other shows that they’re doing this season, to find some fun things, because we’re already having a great time. We've just been moved into the space recently… it already it feels like home.” “Yeah, they’ve been very welcoming,” according to Eiffert.

The actors said they hope to evoke a variety of reactions from audiences. “There’s humor, there’s horror… we want you to scream, laugh, be uncomfortable, maybe even cry.” They mentioned the sound effects. But mostly, there’s “blood, more blood… and a little MORE blood!” However, there’s also a highly innovative video aspect to director Gretchen Teague’s staging, said Jennifer Eiffert. “One thing I would like to share, we have some shadow puppetry in there, which I think is absolutely fantastic. Yes, that's a different layer to play that I had not seen before.” The actors video-recorded the shadow-puppetry elements, which was “a really cool experience” according to Eiffert. And the result onstage, “the way it’s presented, looks fantastic—it’s haunting,” added Hillhouse.

“Feathers and Teeth” performances are scheduled for a run of two weekends at the Art Museum auditorium beginning October 22nd: Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2:00pm the first weekend, and the second weekend (Oct.28-30) it’s a Thursday-through-Saturday run at 7:30pm, and ending with a 2:00pm matinee on Halloween, October 31st. No evening show that night, as they want to allow the audience to “come in for the matinee, and then go celebrate Halloween.”

If it sounds like the cast is having a ball putting this show together, they are. “It’s just the hectic nature of it,” according to Heath Hillhouse. “We jokingly say that’s our cardio for the day when we go to run the show.” The campy “Brady Bunch” vibe is also fun to work with, Jennifer Eiffert added. “I mean, just that style—getting to embrace that, but creating realism in it.” “It's been very, a very interesting process,” said Hillhouse, to play “in that camp space, but also bringing the truth into it, and finding where those two can kind of butt up against each other. And then have that horror come in and shock you as well.”

Are there any kind of age restrictions to consider, given the play’s content? “We do have some inappropriate language, yes,” Jennifer Eiffert said. “And then with the blood and the horror aspect.”

Tickets for “Feathers and Teeth” are available at the SCT website or by calling 831-8001. Opening night the 22nd, all tickets are $24; otherwise, the cost is $26 for senior citizens and students, and $29 for adults. For the single Thursday-night performance October 28th, SCT offers their “Pay What You Can Night.” And there are $10 student-rush tickets for each performance.

Both Eiffert and Hillhouse said they are excited to have the public “back in the audience. 100 percent. We are so excited to be onstage again. We want people to come back and enjoy live theater—come play with us!” Keep in mind, though, that we are still living in a COVID-19 world, and there is a notice on the SCT website listing health precautions the company requires for any of their indoor events, including:

--Proof of full COVID-19 vaccination (physical or digital copy accepted with photo ID);

--Proof of negative COVID-19 test less than 72 hours before entry to the theater;

--Face masks are mandatory even if vaccinated.