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The Fable of The Cockroach, The Grasshopper, & The Devil

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.

TheMoltingComic_Birth
Madagascan hissing cockroaches have live births, and have them often. I’ve kept hissers as pets for years and throughout that time have watched the population inside Tank Shawshank ebb and flow. I’d never witnessed the birthing process until that fateful morning, however, just the crawling, hissing aftermath (incidentally, groups of roaches are unfairly labeled “intrusions” as opposed to the friendlier handles bequeathed groups of less-vilified species, like “litters” or “colonies”).

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.

The Molting Comic_Nymphs
It’s hard to know what labor is like for a roach, but, like with most she-creatures, the experience looks painful and exhausting, and the scene I came home to after that all-night film shoot was no exception.

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.

The Molting Comic_Cannibals
With hissing roach labors producing thirty to sixty offspring at a time, it’s a matter of routine that each successful birth produces a handful of birth defects—gimp nymphs and roach runts that don’t survive their first molts—so perhaps botched labors are also par for the cockroach course.

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.

The Molting Comic_Mama
I suppose the reason my tired eyes couldn’t turn from the miniature birth/death/cannibal scene on that sleepless morn—and why I still haven’t thrown out the nymph remains—is I felt/feel a connection between the beautiful disaster that was happening inside the roach tank and my own plight, struggling to bring TDC 2 to life.

TheDevilsCarnival_God
The carnival-cockroach connections were not just emotional ones; in the TDC universe, the character of God is a craftsman who’s routinely frustrated by, and dismissive of, his defective creations. The string of baby cockroach corpses snaking bloodlessly from the womb of their heaving mother, mirrored some of God’s creative malfunctions featured in our screenplay.

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.

Alleluia
In spite of difficulties, on Sunday, August 24th, we wrapped principal photography on TDC 2—another all-nighter where we hustled to beat the inevitable daylight. The shoot, like all creative efforts, was unreasonable, but the unreasonable quest did not begin there.

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.

TheDevilsCarnival_Alleluia
Like our creative pursuit, production was also unreasonable. We had fifteen days—reduced to fourteen—to shoot a feature-length movie musical. Due to financial restrictions, the twenty-two musical selections that Saar and I penned for the episode were reduced to fifteen, and, due to cast availability and shrinking location options, scenes had to be rewritten on an almost daily basis throughout production. Because of these challenges, there were moments where I felt like the devil had leapt from the pages of the script onto my shoulder to reasonably whisper, “Give up.”

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.

TheDevilsCarnival_Aesop
On the last day of filming, the insect poetry that began with a cockroach miscarriage came full circle: after five hours of being glued to a make-up chair to visually become the character of Lucifer, I was stewing at a table, under the open sky, frustrated by prosthetic malfunctions, when a lone grasshopper came along to befriend me.

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.

Grasshopper
The moral of the fable of The Cockroach, The Grasshopper, and The Devil: good, bad, or ugly, I wouldn’t trade these experiences for the world. A heartfelt thank you to everyone who helped to make TDC 2 a reality. I’m excited and anxious to share with you the final product. Always Alleluia!

  • Syndrome

    I look forward to seeing it!!!

  • Syndrome

    I look forward to seeing it!!!

  • Kellie Stewart

    We are all waiting with baited breath. Just reading the poetry and wisdom in your blogs is enough to inspire one to go to view the movie to see what other wisdom and life lessons you have to impart. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and you have the support of the the Repo! armies and devoted Devil’s Carnival viewers to help you raise this baby to adulthood and independence.

  • Kellie Stewart

    We are all waiting with baited breath. Just reading the poetry and wisdom in your blogs is enough to inspire one to go to view the movie to see what other wisdom and life lessons you have to impart. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and you have the support of the the Repo! armies and devoted Devil’s Carnival viewers to help you raise this baby to adulthood and independence.

  • Shannon RepoGeneticoperafan Mu

    Always Alleluia! Be strong Terrance! You’ll make it through this, then off on the road. And know when you are in Massachusetts, I will be bringing a home cooked meal.

  • Shannon RepoGeneticoperafan Mu

    Always Alleluia! Be strong Terrance! You’ll make it through this, then off on the road. And know when you are in Massachusetts, I will be bringing a home cooked meal.

  • Cassandra Johnson

    Thank you for struggling and pushing and not giving up, your fans appreciate it so much.

  • Cassandra Johnson

    Thank you for struggling and pushing and not giving up, your fans appreciate it so much.

  • Arielle

    Oh, Terrance, I would leave it to your duty to see tragedy and hardship through the clear eyes of such beauty, strength, and grace. Your efforts are admired and appreciated beyond what words may convey; please know that to the fullest extent. Hopefully continued loyalty will prove just how much. Anything you do is guaranteed to be brilliant and magnificent, tho I struggle to call this merely “anything.” I cannot wait to see the outcome of all the makeup, moons, and magic.

  • Arielle

    Oh, Terrance, I would leave it to your duty to see tragedy and hardship through the clear eyes of such beauty, strength, and grace. Your efforts are admired and appreciated beyond what words may convey; please know that to the fullest extent. Hopefully continued loyalty will prove just how much. Anything you do is guaranteed to be brilliant and magnificent, tho I struggle to call this merely “anything.” I cannot wait to see the outcome of all the makeup, moons, and magic.

  • beetle

    Can’t wait for the film! Will all songs be released eventually? Including the ones that didn’t make the film? Also, I believe your insect friend is a katydid. 🙂

    • Heather Baker

      Haha Jason, I just saw your comment, after my geektastic reply LOL

  • beetle

    Can’t wait for the film! Will all songs be released eventually? Including the ones that didn’t make the film? Also, I believe your insect friend is a katydid. 🙂

    • Heather Baker

      Haha Jason, I just saw your comment, after my geektastic reply LOL

  • Syd Jordan

    that was the most beautiful story i have ever heard <3

  • Syd Jordan

    that was the most beautiful story i have ever heard <3

  • Heather Baker

    As a total bug-lover and amateur entomologist… I feel compelled to mention that the critter on those lovely red fingers- is not actually a grasshopper (though sometimes called long-horned grasshoppers), but a Katydid. While both belong to the taxonomic order Orthoptera, Katydids are members of the Tettigoniidae family- entirely separate from grasshoppers. True Grasshoppers can be in any of several other families of Orthoptra. 😛

    • Julie Peloquin

      That was my first thought on seeing that photo… absolutely a katydid. You can tell by the leaf pattern of its wings.

  • Heather Baker

    As a total bug-lover and amateur entomologist… I feel compelled to mention that the critter on those lovely red fingers- is not actually a grasshopper (though sometimes called long-horned grasshoppers), but a Katydid. While both belong to the taxonomic order Orthoptera, Katydids are members of the Tettigoniidae family- entirely separate from grasshoppers. True Grasshoppers can be in any of several other families of Orthoptera. 😛

    • Julie Peloquin

      That was my first thought on seeing that photo… absolutely a katydid. You can tell by the leaf pattern of its wings.

  • That was quite honestly the most moving blog entry I have read to date… ❤️❤️❤️

  • That was quite honestly the most moving blog entry I have read to date… ❤️❤️❤️

  • Cathy

    Wow that was…wow.

  • Cathy

    Wow that was…wow.

  • Michael Salzer

    Living in Austria, me and my Friends here are more than just excited about the film, we loved TDC and just the thought of a sequel made us happier than any movie in the past years could’ve done, so I just can say from the bottom of my heart nd soul as student, musical-lover, singer and also in place for all my friends, thank you for fighting through!

  • Michael Salzer

    Living in Austria, me and my Friends here are more than just excited about the film, we loved TDC and just the thought of a sequel made us happier than any movie in the past years could’ve done, so I just can say from the bottom of my heart nd soul as student, musical-lover, singer and also in place for all my friends, thank you for fighting through!

  • Damien Deadpool Valtennen

    cant wait to have you back in Pittsburgh for a night and to see another amazing movie, you guys slave for your art and your fans, and it shows and we really do appreciate it

  • Damien Deadpool Valtennen

    cant wait to have you back in Pittsburgh for a night and to see another amazing movie, you guys slave for your art and your fans, and it shows and we really do appreciate it

  • Messr. Night

    It’s painful to read this post. I was already getting bittersweet sensations when going through the ‘greenlit’ posts, KNOWING what was to come, but it still hurt to read this. From the stillbirth to learning that a third of your hard-wrought musical creations (along with cast and storyline) had to be cut from production, I can’t imagine the full spectrum of what you must have been going through. What I CAN imagine hurts as is. I’m sorry you’ve had to go through this fucked up roller-coaster.