December 3, 2022
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Life & Culture

Senior Sean Pollock brings obscure theater to Ithaca College

Bringing blood, gore and overall strangeness to the stage, senior Sean Pollock has crafted some of the more bizarre productions to ever hit Ithaca College. As the founder of the Macabre Theatre Ensemble, Pollock has contributed to the company through his directing, acting, producing and playwriting for the past four years.

Pollock has introduced a new kind of theater to the college. From directing a musical about people who assassinated presidents to writing a play revolving around sex and anarchy, Pollock has put emphasis on stranger, more bizarre scripts and productions.

Pollock, who founded his drama club in high school and is now majoring in theater studies and minoring in writing, is the artistic director of Macabre Theatre Ensemble. Through the ensemble, Pollock has worked to expand the types of theater brought to the college with productions including his horror-comedy “Teeth: A Parody” in 2011, “Assassins” in 2014, and produced his own play “Fried Bacon” this year. Pollock said he realized the college was missing something crucial: a type of theater that showcased the obscure, strange and all-around bizarre.

“I wanted to create a type of theater that I wanted to see,” Pollock said. “I like things off the wall.”

Pollock began to seek out this type of theater once he arrived at the college in 2011, after he participated in IC Players’ annual production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” over Halloween weekend. Just a couple of weeks later, he founded Macabre Theatre Ensemble in November. At the time, there were only about a dozen students in the group.

“We started with 10 people and the first year I was on every single production staff, I overextended myself and it got really hard at times,” he said. “The important thing is to stick with it because things have a really funny way of working out.”

Since December 2011 when Macabre produced its first show, “Teeth: A Parody,” a musical adaptation of the 2007 film of the same name that follows a girl suffering with teeth in her vagina, the ensemble has grown exponentially. Over the years, Pollock said, he worked with other members of Macabre to bring a strong array of shows to the college, including the first-ever officially sanctioned college production of “Carrie: The Musical,” a mashup of “Old Yeller” and Stephen King’s “Cujo,” and “Spurt of Blood,” an extremely short, surrealist production.

During Pollock’s junior year, Macabre took on “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” when IC Players decided not to continue the tradition, which helped Macabre gain notoriety around campus. This was followed by the musical “Little Shop of Horrors,” and Pollock said throughout the year the ensemble continued to gain members and a following in the community.

“If you’re going to create a horror, science-fiction, experimental theater company, the best time to do it is in a college setting,” Pollock said. “You’re guaranteed a fair amount of success because college is the time where I think people want to challenge their perception in theater and what can be done in live performance.”

This year, Pollock directed the musical “Assassins” in the fall and Macabre is in the process of producing the musical “Sweeney Todd” — both featuring music originally created by award-winning composer Stephen Sondheim. He said directing “Assassins” was a joy and a privilege, and he’s looking forward to the completion of “Sweeney Todd,” which is scheduled to be performed at 7:30 p.m. April 17–18 in Beeler Hall in the James J. Whalen Center for Music. Pollock said his experiences with Macabre allowed him to gain some professional experience.

“I feel honored to be able to direct two Sondheim pieces,” Pollock said. “Once you direct a Sondheim show, you really get insight into his mind.”

Pollock said he had hoped from the beginning that his theater company would gain the respect from other theater companies for Macabre’s one-of-a-kind perspective on theater. He also hopes the organization will continue to grow when he leaves. Sophomore Catherine Proulx, a member of Macabre who will assume Pollock’s position next year, said Pollock serves as the face of the organization.

“His impact is monumental,” Proulx said. “A lot of people in my year to his year know it as ‘Sean’s Macabre’ because he’s had such a role.”

This year, Pollock produced his most recent original work, “Fried Bacon,” which ran for two days this year in April. Influenced by John Waters, Pollock wrote “Fried Bacon,” which follows a teenage outlaw, a convicted prostitute and four aliens killing and hiding police officers. Pollock said he wrote the script with the intention of creating something that was unapologetic, filthy and raw.

“I didn’t give a s— about my audience feeling comfortable,” Pollock said. “There’s so many conditions of what we can and can’t do, but in a way theater is much more liberating.”

Matthew Porter, a freshman member of Macabre who joined his first semester, said his experience in Macabre has been unforgettable this year.

“It was a blast performing in ‘Fried Bacon’ because it was the most shocking thing I’ve ever read,” Porter said. “[Pollock is] not afraid to push boundaries and offend people, which I think is really respectable.”

Though a handful of cast members initially worried that the play was too controversial for general audience members, in the end Pollock’s work was a success, with a packed house every night the show was performed. Despite the risk, Pollock said he isn’t concerned with how audiences receive his work, only that it is authentic.

“I’m not aiming to do everything to please people,” Pollock said. “That’s one thing I’ve learned through Macabre: Not everyone’s going to like your work, and never apologize for your work. As soon as you start apologizing, then it discredits it automatically.”

Though Pollock graduates this year, his legacy at the college is a thriving theater scene that will continue even after he leaves. Sophomore Tyler Manning, executive producer of the ensemble, said Pollock has always had the best interests of the ensemble at heart.

“One of the main things is he wants to make sure Macabre is still a thing when he graduates, which is why the executive board is working really hard to get it out there,” Manning said. “Sean is a lot of things, but I think one way to describe him is I think Sean is Macabre personified.”

Pollock, too, said he is thrilled to be able to use all of the experiences he gained through Macabre these past years even after he leaves the college.

“I’m more than humbled for the abundance of support that I’ve received throughout the years, and even when in the face of adversity,” he said. “I hope that the practitioners of theater at this school will know to never stop reaching and never stop pushing boundaries.”