The undead return in The Virtual Stage's On Death’s Door: Plague of the Zombie Syndrome
The undead return in The Virtual Stage's On Death’s Door: Plague of the Zombie Syndrome

For someone who has spent the last three years scaring people on the streets of Vancouver with Zombie Syndrome, a mash-up of site-specific theatre and scavenger hunt, you may be surprised to find out that creator Andy Thompson is a bit squeamish.

[pullquote]“Individually we are often worried about mortality and zombies become part of an entertainment package that allows us to laugh at our fears.” – Andy Thomson, Artistic and Managing Director of The Virtual Stage and creator of the Zombie Syndrome series[/pullquote]“Zombies are not something I’ve always had fun with,” admits Thompson, creator and producer of the popular series that sees teams of Vancouver theatre-goers racing through city streets in a quest to save mankind from the undead. “I did not have zombie lore or zombie culture in my life until recently and to be honest, I’m actually quite a squeamish person when it comes to blood and gore.”

Discovering the zombie genre through movies like 28 Days Later while doing research for his own film, Thompson says he soon found himself caught up in the horror sub-genre.

“Zombies completely caught my attention and my imagination,” he says. “With my company [The Virtual Stage], we are interested in a hybrid form of entertainment that incorporates the cinematic, pulp culture and technology with theatre, and it felt like a really good match.”

Now in its third season, this year’s On Death’s Door: Plague of the Zombie Syndrome incorporates the usual chase through city streets, but adds a new element with a party drug called “Death’s Door” that has been laced with the same zombie virus that has made appearances in previous years.

“I’m really excited about exploring the street drug aspect this year and how the Death’s Door drug plays into the show,” says Thompson who is also excited about how tight the circuit is for this year’s production. “It is set in a real-life urban environment, all within a city block.”

Tightening up on the area in which the show is performed has also helped to ensure one of his company’s goals has also been met this year: “As a producer I am also excited about something I wasn’t able to deliver in the other two years; the show is now fully wheelchair accessible.”

Andy Thomson, Artistic and Managing Director of The Virtual Stage and creator of the Zombie Syndrome series.
Andy Thomson, Artistic and Managing Director of The Virtual Stage and creator of the Zombie Syndrome series.

But of course, the real fun for fans comes from the story and the cinematic quality of the make-up used to created the zombies, and Thompson and his team are working hard to ensure that primary goal, to entertain, is not lost.

“From a general tone point-of-view the show this year is darker,” says Thompson. “There is still going to be that element of fun and humour, but the theme in general will be a bit darker.”

As well as a change in tone, Thompson and his team have come up with a story that ensures returning audiences get something fresh.

“I decided early-on that it must be new every year,” says Thompson. “It provides us with great challenges in doing that, but it delivers on giving the audience a new experience each time.”

As for the continued interest in zombies with shows like The Walking Dead with its legions of fans and the annual Vancouver Zombie Walk that now draws as many onlookers as zombies, Thompson thinks that as much of the popularity has to do with the spiritual side of being human, as it does with having fun.

“When we’re born we are trained to do our best not to die,” he says. “We take care of all those survival things first and then we can start to enjoy ourselves as a spiritual being. At our most base level we are afraid of dying and the zombie represents that fear.”

For Thompson, it goes deeper to his belief that while our technologies are advancing at a phenomenal rate, morality isn’t necessarily keeping up; a philosophy that he not only explores with Zombie Syndrome, but with his sci-fi musical, Broken Sex Doll.

“The evidence is that we are not keeping up morally as our technology grows and we are constantly playing catch-up,” he says. “Individually we are often worried about mortality and zombies become part of an entertainment package that allows us to laugh at our fears.”

On Death’s Door: Plague of the Zombie Syndrome plays at a secret location in the streets of downtown Vancouver from October 7 – November 2.  Visit http://thevirtualstage.org for tickets and information.