“Psycho Beach Party”: The Expressions of Camp and Comedy
Kaitlynn Tarbox Contributing Writer
“Psycho Beach Party,” performed recently by members of the UMF Theater Program, showed audience members themes of mental health awareness, LGBTQ+ relationships, and camp in the 1960s.
Melissa Thompson, assistant professor of visual and performing arts, directed this semester’s production. Thompson describes camp as “explicitly grounded in subcultural queer ways of communcating and creating, humor and critiguing pop culture and politics through a little bit of coded lanquage because this was written in 1986 and set in the 1960s.”
Thompson chose this production because “when you’re planning out a theatrical season in the educational theater, you want to make sure that you give the students that are here at UMF a variety of genres to try out.”
This show talked about not only mental health awareness but the LGBTQ+ community as well. It illustrated the evolution and coming out story of two characters and the main protagonist struggled to understand her Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). DID was previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder, which is classified as two or more personalities that are shown through actions and behaviors.
The cast and crew put in roughly 20 hours a week rehearsing and did so for a total of five weeks as well as one week of tech. The casting process was “gender free,” Thompson said.
The main character Chicklet was originally played by a male in drag, as well as the character of Marvel Ann. However the only character who was played by a cast member in drag was Mrs. Forrest, Chicklet’s mother, who was played by Joseph Campbell, sophomore secondary education major.
While learning his lines were time consuming, Campbell said, “The bulk of prep work every day was sitting down as the makeup people spent about an hour and a half doing my makeup, and then getting into costume, which took about another half hour generally speaking.”
People auditioned for a variety of reasons. Campbell said he auditioned because, “I love comedies, especially campy/weird ones like Psycho Beach Party. I knew that they had drag roles in the show and that seemed like a super exciting thing to try as well.”
Audrey Bradbury, sophomore theater major, played Marvel Ann. “I auditioned for the show primarily because acting is my favorite thing to do on Earth, but also because the play intrigued me,” she said.
Putting the show together took a great deal of hard work according to Thompson, Campbell and Bradbury. What Thompson did not expect was the cast quickly learning to help each other even though they had not known each other long. “My favorite part of directing the show was watching the way the cast worked together,” Thompson said. “There were lots of first-years, lots of transfer students, and they kind of gelled together really quickly. You got to see them bounce ideas off each other.”
Thompson said the main thing she wanted audience members to take away from the show was for “people to have this comedic experience that is not necessarily the kind of comedic experience you have everyday.”
Laughter filled the room during many scenes despite the vulgarity of the humor that it is typical of a camp theme. Some jokes in the script, due to their vulgarity, might not be seen as funny outside of the show, but camp is unique for the way the tone of the characters can change the delivery to get a laugh from the audience. In one scene, Mrs. Forest starts to hit Chicklet but the scene is turned to hilarity in the audience’s eyes as the weapon of choice is a jockstrap, highlighting the strange nature of the play.