Rhea Amos doesn’t look scary. Her long dark hair, thin frame, and friendly smile appear more kindergarten teacher than theater company director. Talking to the jovial 28-year-old, it’s easy to forget that five years ago she founded Pandemic Collective, Denver’s only horror theater company. Amos scares people for a living.
“One thing I love about horror is that it’s very polarizing,” says Amos. “People have really strong visceral reactions.”
Growing up in Fountain, a small town in El Paso County, Amos always had an affinity for the macabre and fell in love with theater by observing her grandmother’s drama classes. While an associate producer for The LIDA Project in RiNo, she learned others had an affinity for horror too.
“About seven years ago, I wrote and self-produced a one-woman show about Erzsébet (Elizabeth) Báthory, the Blood Countess,” she says. For those unfamiliar with Hungarian history, Lady Báthory is the world’s first documented female serial killer. According to legend, she tortured and killed hundreds of young girls and bathed in their blood believing it kept her youthful. Amos says her performance was well received.
Sensing an opportunity, Amos created the nonprofit Pandemic Collective in 2015. Pandemic produces a handful of shows a year and each one‚ even the comedies—have frightening themes including the supernatural, human sacrifice, and murder. While some plays are based on reality, others explore historical or cultural themes such as Native American folklore or Japanese Kabuki drama. Amos also ensures all productions have a unique artistic and technological element. The collective’s second production ever featured live sand painting and most productions include live music and multimedia.
Laveau, Pandemic’s upcoming production, has a spooky backstory. Amos says normally local and regional playwrights submit plays to Pandemic though email. Then, she and Pandemic’s four-person committee select which ones to perform. Laveau did not arrive in her inbox.
“It came in this envelope with no return address. Like in the actual mail!” she laughs again. It was typed on a last century typewriter with the author’s name whited out. The script wasn’t finished either as lines are crossed out and notes handwritten in the margins. The pages were curled and stained with age. Amos says a board member attempted to find out more, but could only verify the postmark came from New Orleans. Amos has no idea who sent it. The play is about a woman searching for her mother while experiencing vivid nightmares.
“[The story] has a heavy voodoo undertone,” she says. To create a voodoo vibe and the surreal dream sequences on stage, Amos is incorporating shadow puppetry by Denver puppeteer Katy Williams. “It’s dazzling and fascinating,” says Amos.
If You Go: Laveau will open at Theater 29 near Sloan’s Lake on Thursday, April 18, and run on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through May 4. Tickets are $22 and can be purchased here.
Bonus: Voodoo Doughnuts is offering free treats to Pandemic Collective’s Laveau performances this week only. Attendees to the shows this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday—April 29-21—will be able to enjoy free doughnuts.