By Jerry Bradshaw
A taste for zombies and a love of amusingly scaring people nurtured in a Flint coffee shop have hatched into a performing troupe that after just four years is selling out multiple shows in historic theaters around Michigan and even touring out of state.
Kristina Lakey, a resident Flint artist and founder of the Flint Zombie Walk, formed her Flint-based company, the Goblin King Players, in 2016.
“The impetus started at the Good Beans Café with the ‘Labyrinth’ burlesque show,” Lakey, 35, recalls. “We had three shows and we sold out three shows which at the time seemed huge because 50 people – and you know it’s hard to sell out performance shows. Now it seems like a small amount compared to what we get (currently) but at the time it was big and it felt like we should do more.”
Lakey suggested to her cast the idea for shadowcasting the film. “I knew we would have to have the right theatre so it was nine months later that I asked The Redford [in Detroit] if we could do a show there and when they said yes I was like okay, quick! I gotta think up a name for the company.”
That name would be The Goblin King Players, named after the David Bowie character from “Labyrinth,” the film for which the company first designed a shadowcast.
Shadow casting is when a movie plays on a screen and actors act it without looking at the screen behind them. For an audience attending a Goblin King Players shadow cast performance, it’s like watching a film in live action.
“For us it’s about accuracy of costumes and props as much as possible,” Lakey explains, “so that when you look at the screen and you look at the actor they look like the same person to you.”
Lakey has been involved in theatre since high school. She’s married to actor and musician Dan Gerics, and even their daughter, Willow, sometimes participates in their performances. She is an ASL interpreter by day and a freelance actor when not involved in her own creative projects.
She founded the Zombie Walk in 2009 – the last one taking place in 2018 — when the cast members made themselves up like zombies and wandered the streets of downtown moaning and groaning and raising money for charities, including water for Flint residents during the water crisis. While most of the actors are from Flint or Detroit, the mock-scary crew have been joined by celebrity guests and staged costume contests and an annual Thriller Dance.
Death of The Flint Zombie Walk
Asked about her decision to end the Flint Zombie Walk, Lakey admitted she had to make a choice, and Goblin King Players was part of that decision.
“Less people were coming to the zombie walk,” she says. “I had less and less to give to charity. I never took any money from the zombie walk so it was this incredible drain on me that wasn’t even resulting in much anymore.”
The Goblin King Players had been working on their second shadow cast production. This time the shadow cast was for the 1987 Rob Reiner film “The Princess Bride.” The show opened one week after the Flint Zombie Walk and sold out all three shows.
“It almost killed me it was so much,” Lakey says. “I wanted to grow this successful thing and I knew I could not do both. So, I ended the zombie walk. It had a good run and I decided to focus full time on [The Goblin King Players] which was the correct decision.”
The Goblin King Players employs actors, prop coordinators, and costume designers who also design professionally-styled wigs to mirror characters from the films.
“It’s not giving to charity,” Lakey admits, “but I am paying actors to do what they do. ‘Hocus Pocus’ had ten people, I had to pay someone to do our props. It’s creating jobs so it’s still a benefit to the community. That’s how I see it. Plus, I think theatre is important.”
Invention is one of the many strengths of The Goblin King Players. Working with a screen behind them prevents the company from having elaborate sets or anything that cannot be moved on and off the stage in a matter of minutes.
“We do everything with four blocks because you can’t block the screen,” Lakey explains. “Anything larger is about positioning. It’s a small world to work in.”
The films themselves become the set behind the actors. Costuming and actions are the focus. The actors are an extension of the film which creates a total 3-D experience for the audience. The shadow cast is the bridge that brings the audience into the world of the film and vice versa.
Once opening night draws closer the company must rely on the precision of their actions and truly being at one with the film playing behind them.
“We have an off-script day but then we also have an off-screen day,” Lakey explains, “which means you can’t look behind you anymore and that’s very scary. It comes about a month before we open. We start taping every day and we put (the videos) in our secret Facebook page so you can watch what you did and go ‘okay I’m doing that hand wrong’ or I’ll scream out ‘wrong hand!’
“Five people at rehearsal might scream out ‘wrong hand!’ or ‘you looked the wrong way!’” she laughs. “It’s intense – it’s not for everybody but when it matches – it’s magic.”
The Redford Theatre in Detroit has been home to every Goblin King Players production to date. The historic theatre came to mind after Lakey took her daughter to a screening of “Harry Potter” at the venue.
“I came home that night and I emailed them right away and I said I have this idea and I totally made them believe that this would work and they emailed me back two days later and said that sounds good,” she says. “I have since learned how hard it is to get theatres to be by your side.”
Lakey says her company and the theatre have a working relationship built on trust.
“As far as they’re concerned it’s my show and they are there for the logistics. They trust us because we keep selling out and they believe that we have a vision that’s going to work for them. They will handle things.
“‘Hocus Pocus’ we sold out four shows and it was the biggest show in the history of The Redford Theatre,” she says, “They had to bus people in. They had to hire extra security. They handled that – not me. So, we work together that way.”
Lakey admits she emailed tons of theatres all over and they were not interested in a partnership with her company. They wanted the company to rent the theatre and to come up with up-front expenses that a small business like The Goblin King Players was not prepared to take on.
Another issue the company has faced are venues that hire them and then fail to provide the proper specifications for the show to adequately function.
When the company brought “Hocus Pocus” to Massachusetts the venue failed to tell her company there would be no stage left. This meant the actors could only enter and exit from one side of the stage. The show had to be reworked on the spot.
“That wasn’t something I would have assumed I would need to add to our contract,” Lakey admits. “I’ve restructured how I ask (venues).” Lakey says she believes word of mouth traveled to another historic theatre in Ann Arbor. “They wanted us. They were like well, we can rent it to you but we’d rather partner with you – that’s what we needed.”
Plans for the Future
“We have ‘Beetlejuice’ in October,” Lakey says. “We’re opening at The Redford and then taking it to Ann Arbor in November. We’d like to do ‘The Goonies’ in Spring 2021.”Asked how many productions she plans to create with her company, Lakey says she can commit to “two a year – right now – because this is not my only job. I’m producing and directing all of them and I’m in them so it’s what I can handle.”
Lakey says her dream is to do a shadow cast for “Back to the Future.” To do a film of that caliber, she says the company will have to set sights on a much larger budget. Not all movies are quite designed for a shadow cast.
“Just because somebody loves it doesn’t mean it’s going to work,” she says. “I think people like to see how we’re going to get away with things so we have to give ourselves obstacles. Like ‘Beetlejuice’ – it’s gigantic. I can’t tell you how I’m going to do all those things. I’m not there yet.”
The company’s latest production, a shadow cast of the 1987 film “The Lost Boys,” will go up at The Redford in May with special guest, Tim Cappello, reprising his role from the film for the first time since 1987.
Capello is famous for his musical performance of the song “I Still Believe” in the opening scene of the film. He will be performing with The Goblin King Players for every performance.
Lakey says Capello “will be playing his song from the movie at the end of the show. When this guy gets on stage and plays his saxophone I want people to feel like they are on the boardwalk in 1987 in Santa Carla.”
The third and final show will feature an optional VIP experience including a Q&A and meet and greet with Capello. An autograph is included in ticket price along with premium seating for the show.
Bringing it Home
An aspect that is disappointing to Lakey and her company is the lack of interest they are experiencing in the place it all began – Flint, Michigan.
“I have talked to the places that you might expect would want us and I have said this is what we’re doing in Detroit and I would love to do that in Flint,” she says. “I’d love to do that for this city.
“Plus, I live here and I’ve heard ‘wow, (local venues) have seen bits and pieces of your work and they love it’. I don’t even think they’re turned off by the idea as much as sometimes organization within theatre constructs and systems is not the best.
“If I have to beg you it’s not going to be a good situation for us because every time we need something you’re not going to get back with me and you’re going to make it hard and it shouldn’t be hard. It should be a really easy process,” she says.
Venues in Flint tend to overlook local performers like The Goblin King Players in favor of bringing in outside events that may or may not sell out a performance, Lakey observes.
“They don’t hire us,” Lakey says. “They don’t seem to see us as valuable. They might have some famous comedian come in. I shouldn’t have to be working this hard to get my shows in my own town when they sell out. People have to come from Flint to Detroit to see my shows. That shouldn’t be the way it is.
“I don’t understand why. It’s very hard to convince people that good ideas are good ideas. Even with all the numbers. I know how much is being made from these shows – why wouldn’t anyone want that?”
The Goblin King Players provide entertainment that is affordable, local, and growing fast.
“For ‘Hocus Pocus’ we had 5200 people,” Lakey says. “No celebrity. We didn’t need one. We have someone coming in from Finland to see “The Lost Boys”. We had people coming in from all over the country for “Hocus Pocus”. People were standing there in their witch hats and their capes. You could tell that they were so excited.
“That is what I want to give people more than anything. We had a marriage proposal happen [at a show]. Just all this stuff, you know, that makes life better than before. That’s what I want to give people. I would love to do that in Flint.”
From the buzz on the company’s social media page, it appears Flint residents would also love to see that happen.
The Lost Boys Shadowcast – Live on Stage at The Redford Theatre.
Friday, May 8 at 8 p.m. – tickets: $18.
Saturday, May 9 at 1 p.m. (special time) – tickets: $18.
Saturday, May 9 at 5:30 p.m. meet Tim at the VIP event – tickets: $45. Saturday, May 9 at 8pm – tickets: $18.
To purchase tickets visit: www.redfordtheatre.com
The Redford Theatre is located at 17360 Lahser Road, Detroit, Michigan (just north of Grand River Avenue).
General Business: (313) 537-2560 Webmaster: Tickets@redfordtheatre.com
Official Goblin King Players Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/goblinkingplayers
Banner photo provided by Kristina Lakey.
EVM Staff Writer Jerry Bradshaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.