Killing them softly: Slasher musical mocks rock festivals

Killing them softly: Slasher musical mocks rock festivals
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

It’s got horrible deaths by the score!

Murder on the dance floor! Drowning in a Port-A-Potty! Burning alive in a camping tent! These gruesome deaths and more will come to toe-tapping life in the campy slasher musical “South By South Death,” debuting at National Sawdust in Williamsburg on Aug. 26. The creators of the horror satire, which is set at a trendy music festival, said the story was just “sitting there waiting to happen.”

“I’ve always been a fan of slashers, so I figured — why not set one at a music festival?” said musician and playwright Jared Saltiel said. “Toby [Singer, the other creator] was in a musical theater headspace, so we said, ‘How about a slasher musical?’ and we laughed for 10 minutes straight and it just sort of appeared — who the characters would be and what the general storyline would be.”

The protagonist of “South By South Death” — a painter named Sarah — finds herself in the middle of a “Scream”-style murder spree when her jaded New York friends drag her to the fictional Didgeridoo Arts Festival on a remote island. Not long after they arrive at the three-day affair, a murdering psycho wearing a mask of pop superstar and festival headliner “Ciley Myrus” starts violently murdering people in Sarah’s circle.

The characters meet their demise in classic slasher fashion — mostly “people walking off where they shouldn’t walk off to,” Singer said. Sarah and her crew have to unmask the killer, who takes callous selfies with the victims when the deed is done, apparently making a stab at social media fame.

“There’s this notion with success and ‘making it,’ how you get people’s attention and the absurdity some go to get to that end,” Singer said. “A reasonable jump is, what’s the craziest thing one could do in that pursuit?”

Singer and Saltiel have woven bits of their own experience at musical festivals into the play — no murders, but plenty of other frustrations.

“There are certain elements and environmental factors that come from experience, like how crowded everything is, how hard it is to get from one place to another, the insane amount of sensory input, the drug use,” Singer said.

The two musicians have composed about 20 songs for the musical, and will lead the electric four-piece pit band, which may appear on the stage-within-the-stage. The music reflects the variety of performers at the fictional festival, including one song that transforms as different acts take the festival stage, Singer said.

“It starts as straightforward rock, then we have this ‘bougie’ Afro-pop band come out so the accompaniment changes underneath, then we have this typical [electronic dance music] deejay freakout thing happen — all interwoven with a creepy version of the song to indicate some murder-y things happening,” he said.

“South By South Death” at National Sawdust [80 N. Sixth St. at Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg, (646) 779–8455, www.nationalsawdust.org]. Aug. 26 and 28 at 7 pm, $20.

Reach reporter Dennis Lynch at (718) 260–2508 or e-mail him at dlynch@cnglocal.com.
Masters of mayhem: Musicians Jared Saltiel and Toby Singer wrote “South By South Death,” which has its first public performance at National Sawdust on Aug. 26, based on their experiences at chaotic music festivals.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini