After a delirium-inducing night shoot on The Devil’s Carnival 2: Alleluia, where production raced against the slow-rising sun to complete the day’s final shots, I crept home, bleary-eyed, to a horror show happening in the aquarium where I keep my pet cockroaches: the eldest female was in the throes of delivering a clump of stillborn babies.
After carrying an egg—an ootheca—inside them for roughly two months, a female hisser goes into labor, pushing out the shell of the egg, followed by a wriggling bundle of thirty-plus sunflower seed-sized babies, called nymphs. Except for the black of their pinpoint eyes, the nymphs enter the world a creamy white. In the hours following birth, however, their ivory shells and antennae gradually turn a familiar cockroach brown.
It was dawn, and even though every muscle and neuron of my being was ready to collapse from work weariness, I couldn’t look away from the unjust plight of this would-be mother, fighting to create lives that never had a fighting chance. The agonizing minutes dragged as I watched her twist and heave behind the aquarium glass, slowly ejecting what looked like an accordion of dried, dead rice kernels. The gruesome, protracted experience ended with the drained mama heavily eating what she could of her failed nativity, before limping away to hide—and, presumably, sleep—beneath a shelter of egg carton scraps and sod.
I’ve had this particular mother bug for years, and my gut is that her ineffective labor was the result of her being past her reproductive age, but it just as easily could’ve been caused by other natural phenomenon. For example, I’ve noticed that hissers seem very susceptible to temperature, especially when molting. Maybe the climate was wrong for life that direful morning. To that end, the eating of dead offspring, although outwardly gruesome, probably also has natural advantages for roach mums. Maybe they do this to keep their nymph nests hidden from predators. Or maybe they simply need to replenish the calories exerted during labor. Whatever the natural cause, my artist brain saw the behavior in more poetic terms: I imagined her eating her dead nymphs to hide her shame and the evidence of her creative failure… and, as such, sympathized.
Like the God of our tale (and my bereaved Blattaria mother), The Devil’s Carnival has also overcome its share of malfunctions and mutations. The project is fast approaching its five year mark… and its fight for life continues.
In June, I blogged about the drawn-out, complicated pregnancy phase of TDC 2. The birthing difficulties shared in that blog have unfortunately continued beyond the project’s green-lighting, onto set, and will undoubtably wriggle, kick, and bite for many months to come as we squeeze against birth pangs and splash through slippery afterbirth on the road to delivering our own crawling, hissing intrusion.
Years ago, director Darren Lynn Bousman, co-composer Saar Hendelman, and I made a pact to fight against probability and create something that in survival terms was completely unnecessary: art. More specifically: cult musical films. Our dedication to this irrational cause inspired others to join our carnival covenant, like producers Sean E. Demott, Chris Bonifay, and executive producer Brian Perera. These stalwart souls, in turn, inspired others to be a part of the illogical journey—and then others still—until we were a fully-staffed, functioning film production.
In spite of daily chaos, we battled through devils, exhaustion, and frustration to keep our vision and sanity intact, and, in the end, succeeded. Due to the vast and diverse talents of our cast and crew, we captured something beautiful and bizarre through the camera lens that promises to exceed the quality and scale of our past collaborative endeavors. There were even rare moments during our delirious production where I was so inspired by what was happening on set, that I modified story elements to serve those slivers of unpredicted magic.
For over ten minutes, the green stranger perched on my red, be-clawed hands and preened itself. Due to the hopping nature of this species’ namesake, I’d never before had the opportunity to examine the grace and complexity of a grasshopper up close. In dance-like motions, the insect brought its long, flexible legs and antennae, one-by-one, to its mandibles to groom. I could have watched this insect ballet until the sun rose, but had to eventually brush it from my knuckles as I was called back to set.