Steel Beam storyteller event focuses on '… Fear Itself' – Chicago Tribune

Perhaps, looking back, it’s not that surprising actor and storyteller Mike Speller would some day be sharing frightening tales with audiences.
“When I was growing up my dad was part of the Science Fiction Book Club and so monthly we would get these different things,” he said. “And some of them were kind of outlandish off world stuff, but some of them had some really creative monsters.”
As a teenager, his high school teachers introduced him to the works of Ray Bradbury, “who has a lot of really, nice, crisp, short creepy stories.”
Several creepy and scary stories will be told when Speller performs “… Fear Itself” Oct. 22-31 at Steel Beam Theater in St. Charles. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays.
“If you like the classic scares and you’re kind of tired of the 3D or bloody slasher films, this is probably the show for you,” Speller said. “We deal with a lot of original premises. ‘The Monkey’s Paw,’ haunted objects. A lot of those unknown, old fashioned, good jump in the chair kind of scares.”
A solo storyteller since 2004, Speller first began performing the scary short stories at fringe festivals around the Midwest about 13 years ago.
“I was an actor in this area and I wasn’t getting all the work I thought I could, so I started putting this package together so I could start pitching myself at fringe festivals,” he said.
Every two or three years the Crest Hill resident tries to take a new line up of stories to those fringe festivals.
“This is actually my Chicagoland stage premiere with this show,” he said.
For the Steel Beam run, he plans to perform one set of stories the first weekend, changing a few of them for the second weekend.
“It’s a collection of stories that changes every time I do it, so I try to give as many of the those old authors visibility as I can,” he said.
Among the works he will perform both weekends is “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs. He includes stories by authors like Edgar Allan Poe and Algernon Blackwood as well those less familiar to audiences. Listeners might recognize the story but not necessarily the author’s name.
“There’s a lot of folks that are just under the radar as far the names go, but the stories will be pretty evident,” he said.
Audience members may recognize Speller from when he performed on stage at Steel Beam for its last two Christmas shows in roles “very comic, very broad, very different kind of people from what they’re going to see this time around,” he said.
Last year he recorded video for the 2020 virtual Elgin Fringe Festival, telling one scary story and one fun one.
“I had basically rehearsed and practiced it on my feet because I was going to be doing it on a stage,” he said. “To do it on camera, I really had to change almost all emotions and I still had what I thought was a good performance out of it. And now I get to do the scary story from the Elgin piece on its feet like I originally intended, so that’s exciting.”
For the performances, Speller keeps costuming to a minimum.
“It’s not very elaborate and I like that, because I rely on the literature and the imagery told instead of shown,” he said. “So I’ve got subtle costume pieces and there’s a few essential props that I use. It’s really relying on the words and the theater of the mind.”
The show, he said, is appropriate for those ages 12 and up.
“Because it is older literature and so the vocabulary is not the easiest to handle for younger kids,” he said. “The younger audiences, too, since they may not get the vocab, they’re not going to be patient enough to wait around for the good scare.”
‘… Fear Itself’
When: Oct. 22-31
Where: Steel Beam Theatre, 111 W. Main St., St. Charles
Tickets: $28 adults; $25 seniors, $23 students
Information: 630-587-8521, steelbeamtheatre.com
Kathy Cichon is a freelance reporter for the Beacon-News.
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