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Michael Shaw Fisher - Exorcistic Interview

EXORCISTIC presented by HRS Productions and Orgasmico Theatre will premier in NYC just in time for Halloween. The show will come to NYC for its limited viewing on October 8th through October 23rd at The Box. The unauthorized parody of The Exorcist was brought back by popular demand after their sold-out run at The Three Clubs in Los Angeles. 

The musical parody brings about horror, hilarity, and the most powerhouse rock tunes you’ll see in a theater this year! The production brings to roaring life with iconic imagery and an explosive live band, the story of a movie star whose daughter becomes possessed and is helped by priests who try to save her. 

Book, lyrics, and music by two-time Ovation Award winner Michael Shaw Fisher. Lindsay Heather Pearce (Wicked and RENT) will be featured in the opening cast. Emma Hunton (Freeform's Good Trouble, Wicked, and RENT) will also star, reprising her role from the LA production. The cast includes: The Summer Set's frontman Brian Logan Dales, Leigh Wolf (Exorcistic 2013), Jesse Merlin (For Love of the Glove, Re-Animator the Musical), Marissa Jaret Winokur (Hairspray, Bupkis), Nick Bredosky (UMPO 10 Things I Hate About You) Kim Dalton (Cluelesque, Toil & Trouble) Mitchell Gerrard Johnson (A New Brain) Gabby Sanalitro (That 90’s Show) and Tyler Olshanksky.

Michael Shaw Fisher. Photo by Dave Haverty.

Ahead of the run in NYC we caught up with writer Michael Shaw Fisher to discuss the show.

What inspired you to write this piece? 
It’s weird. In the past, some projects have been sparked by a musical idea, or a story concept…but this one got sparked off by a very specific image: that of a possessed girl moving through the audience, cabaret style, insulting and seducing them at the same time. It was probably inspired by Hedwig & the Angry Inch which I saw when it was first being performed back at the Jane Street Theater in the late 90s. I fell in love with that “car wash” moment (if you know you know) and similarly audiences have gotten swept up in the craziness of our lounge act demon saying a bunch of filthy stuff to them. So it turns out to have been an essential moment to the production too.

When creating a parody musical, what research do you do when you are writing?
My research started with the film, watching it back to back, taking copious notes on the various scenes, themes, and off-beat details that could be made absurd or celebrated. Certain quotes rang bells (or alarms) and I was like, “YES.” And it all came together that way rather quickly.. Depending on the effect, I could either interpret the quote a total camp commentary, or every bit as sinister as an Exorcist purist might hope for. Also, since this is a play-within-a-play where the theater company is exploring the phenomenon of exorcisms, I also had to do a deep dive of exorcisms in the 21st century, which as it happens, is vastly more stupefying than anything in the film.

How do you approach honouring the original source material whilst making it that parody?
I equate it to making fun of your best friend. You still love that friend more than anyone else, but your reverence is your way into the humor. I love the film unconditionally as a masterpiece of cinema. Sure some people scoff at its “dated-ness” but really this movie has endured better than most films from the early 70s. This is partly because it succeeded in so many things which no one would even attempt today. The cinéma vérité style realism of dramatic scenes disarm you into total investment one minute, only to assault you with the bawdy theatricality of its horror the next. Watching it, you realize it’s meant to be outrageous. The demon’s entire intention is to outrage. Seeking those larger than life bombshells were the biggest joy in writing it. So would I be honoring it if I made it too serious? I personally don’t think so. Also, I should say that personally, I never understood the point in parodying films that were already parodying themselves. I’d much prefer finding the absurdity in a masterpiece like The Godfather, and to do it with loving reverence. It’s just more daring and interesting an endeavor.

Do you develop the songs before the story or do both go hand in hand?
It’s always kind of both for me. You have to ask musical what it wants and not force anything on it, because otherwise people can tell it’s forced. One of the beautiful things about the Exorcist is that there is no real score - just classical music that William Friedkin selected for certain moments of the film - and of course their iconic use of Tubular Bells. This meant that I was starting from scratch when it came to creating its rock musical sound. I had to be careful too because, even though parody’s purpose is to comment on the material, I still wanted the music to be powerful enough to capture the emotions of certain moments (like a priest’s loss of faith, or a movie star’s longing to help her messed up daughter...) So after viewing the film, I would record the strange musical ideas that were calling from these characters, tug together the stage show forming in my mind, piece by piece.

Emma Hunton. Photo by Dave Haverty.

Having played a sell out run in LA, the show now comes to NYC, do you approach this run in a similar way or have you made any changes/edits to the piece?
Since the show is about this fictional theater company who is putting on a parody of the Exorcist, certain jokes will allude to that community the company is in. In this regard, NYC show will be tailored to NYC with the same specificity with it was previously tailored to LA. This way it can be NYC’s baby as much as it is LA’s. Other than that though, it will be the same uncensored beast no matter where the show goes next. 

You also star in the production, what is it like being like as a writer being in the piece you’ve created and seeing the other performances come to life?
I’m having an amazing time with it! It’s such a great opportunity to poke fun at myself at the same time getting up there and rocking my face off. As the writer/composer you worry about every little detail of your show, and performance it is the quickest way to get unpretentious about it and put it in your body.. It’s therapeutic for sure. And I’ve fallen in love with everybody’s performances in the show. I mean, we’re now like a team of Navy SEALs, everybody has a certain specialty that they bring and no one leaves anyone behind. 

What keeps you inspired as a creative?
Huge question! Maybe part of it is knowing there won’t enough time to create all the things I’ll want to create before I die. That sounds morbid. It’s true though. Writing can be a compulsion, or some desperate act of devotion. And everything we experience in the narrative of our existence feeds the fire of that sacred work. All I can do is try to make sure that my output is of a quality worthy of the epic input that inspired it. It’s like that quote from Akira Kurosawa‘s Dreams where a Japanese tourist stumbles into one of Vincent van Gogh‘s paintings and discovers him in the fields painting (being played by Martin Scorsese) and asks him why he does it, and Vincent van Gogh says, “The sun! The sun is why I paint!”

What do you hope an audience takes away from seeing the show?
The show has a way of being so over the top and profane that it disarms you in a way that I think Theatre needs right now. There’s something almost Dionysian about the frenzied insanity of this rock musical which is why so many of us fell in love with the Theatre to begin with. The show makes fun of everything. Nothing is sacred, but also…everything is sacred, because the show really is a love letter to so many things…especially the Exorcist. Total contradiction, right? Another contradiction is I want everyone to come out sore with laughter, but also to feel accelerated by a rock show that is expansive and powerful. What’s the nature of this beast? Audiences will have to find out for themselves. No matter what, I want the die-hard fans to have their baskets full from the Easter egg hunt. 

Exorcistic plays at The Box in NYC from 8th until 23rd October. Find out more information at

Mitchell Gerrald Johnson. Photo by Dave Haverty. 

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