From UNC’s theater department to the Chicago stage

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The Man-Beast is a new production that adapts the historical legend of a werewolf terrorizing the French countryside (firstfolio.org/The Man-Beast)

Aaron Christensen, a University of Northern Colorado theater alumnus, has been a professional actor for 27 years, and has been co-starring in the world premiere of the play “The Man-Beast,” at the First Folio Theatre in Chicago, Illinois. Christensen’s fascination with horror has also lead him to be an author, a horror journalist and a founding member of WildClaw Theatre, Chicago’s only horror-based theater company.

 

Q: Where did your interest in theater start?

A: “I didn’t do actual plays until I got to high school, and I went to high school in Longmont, and it was just a natural fit. I looked like a big ham, and this was an opportunity to wear other people’s clothes and do funny voices and it kind of grew from there. I think as you start becoming more serious about it, you learn your craft and it becomes more than just making funny voices, and you start slipping into the skin of real people. It’s an interesting career in that you get to play a million different characters, a million different walks of life, everything from the richest to the poorest, and I think that’s something that’s interesting to me to kind of examine the human condition and reflecting it back to an audience.”

 

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Q: How does it feel to be where you are?

“It feels great, but one of the things about theatre is that unlike writing a book or making a movie, is that the art kind of just appears. It’s very ethereal, and so you don’t necessarily have a body of work that you can just show to a prospective employer, like ‘Hey this is what I do.’ You’re constantly looking for work, so that’s the challenge of it, and luckily the people that you work for, they can recommend you, they can hire you again. But in terms of how it feel to be successful–it’s wonderful, it’s a wonderful position to be in, to do the things that you’re passionate about, there’s always some kind of give and take.”

 

Q: Tell me about your fascination with horror.

A: “I grew up in California, in San Francisco, and there was a late night,’Creature Features,’ was the television show that played on Friday and Saturday nights. I was instantly captivated by the monsters, by Godzilla and Dracula, Frankenstein, et cetera, a lot of Ray Harryhausen stop-motion epics, just because they were from another world. They were a world of fantasy, and I think as a young kid, that definitely appealed to me in the same way Harry Potter appeals to today’s generation. I often say that I was born in 1968, and that was the same year that “Night of the Living Dead,” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” came out, and those are often referred to as kind of the birth of modern horror. So I’ve kind of grown up with the horror genre as well, and it’s been interesting to watch it mature.”

 

Q: Tell me about “The Man-Beast.”

A: “So ‘The Man-Beast’ is based on a real-life legend of The Beast of Gevaudan, France, where there was what was suspected to be a ‘loup-garou,’ which is the French spelling for a werewolf, and what Joseph Zettelmaier has done is take a spin off of the historical facts as to how this might have all gone down. My character is an actual historical character, and he was the one who supposedly captured and killed the beast, and brought it to Louis and presented it to the court. But the story is how he is trying to collect the reward, and if he can’t kill the beast proper, he’ll do something else to still get the reward. He enlists the help of a beautiful young witch who lives in the woods, and tries to enlist her help in his scheme.”

 

Q: How do you get into character?

A: “Well, he’s a very simple and direct man, so I just kind of tap into my alpha male. It’s interesting because as much as it is a horror play about a werewolf, it’s also very much about the relationship between men and women, and whether partners can ever actually trust each other. I’m very fortunate to be working with Elizabeth [Laidlaw], that I’ve known her as an actress for 20 years and we did our first show together 18 years ago. So we have absolute trust in each other and are very intuitive and keyed into each other’s process. So that works wonders in that she can give me a cue that instinctively takes me someplace that I need to be emotionally and vice versa. It’s a two-person play, so it’s just the two of us and the playwright, and from that we get to spin a whole world that nobody’s ever seen before.”

“No joke, the werewolf is my favorite of the classic monsters, so the idea of doing a werewolf play is very exciting for me. I love that idea–if you can compare it to Marvel’s ‘The Hulk,’–I love the idea of that dark superego, the id I guess it is, that we keep in check all of the time as humans to fit into society, and the notion of that just being released, completely unfiltered; it’s a common trope, you see it in ‘Jekyll and Hyde,’ you see it in the werewolf, you see it in ‘The Hulk,’ you know, it’s that alter ego, that face that we do not show to society for fear of being judged.”

 

Q: What advice would you give to UNC theater majors?

A: “What I learned from my years at UNC is that the opportunities–to seize every opportunity you can to explore your craft. Whether it be as a writer, whether it be as an actor, whether it be as a designer, to take as many chances as you can now, while you’re in school, while you’re young. That allows you to kind of expand your toolbox while you’re in an educational setting, as opposed to when you’re out in the world being professional. You don’t have the time and opportunity to take as many chances because there’s a job to be done, and there’s a timeline involved. So my advice would be to enjoy the opportunities that are presented to you as a student, and try to be as diligent as possible in learning from your peers and your instructors.”

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