I think many would agree that we could use more compassion in this world. I’m guessing though that most would not look to a concert musical about female serial killers as a possible outlet. Surprise, Pittsburgh! Real/Time Interventions, a local theater company, is debuting Angelmakers: Songs for Female Serial Killers this October at Aftershock Theatre in Lawrenceville. The show is a cabaret concert featuring a slate of songs performed from the perspective of women who have killed. Lyricist and composer Molly Rice notes that the work is coming from a place of inquiry and empathy, “The play is about more than sensationalizing stories. These women were born a certain way, and a thought I had was— how can we open the definition of human race to include even those who are born with a fascination with violence? Wow, if we can do that, what kind of empathic culture can we be?”
Years before Angelmakers was conceived, Director Rusty Thelin began researching and writing a play about serial killers that never came to fruition. During that period he came across a book called Female Serial Killers: How and Why Women Become Monsters by Peter Vronsky, which inspired Angelmakers. Part of what drew Thelin back to the material was that female serial killers are in general less sociopathic and more often than not there are societal reasons behind their motivation to murder. He said, “They unmask a deeper idea about society- there is a lot of darkness underneath. It’s really disturbing and bleak.”
Rice pointed out that, “There were a lot of women who became serial killers because they had to get out of a situation. For example, there was a big rush of serial killers in the 1800’s and there were reasons for it. One was the Industrial Revolution where everybody was poor and struggling and had large families, so if you had too many family members that couldn’t work anymore they were draining resources and the other thing that happened was arsenic came onto the market as an everyday thing that you could buy at the drugstore to kill rats. It does sort of demonstrate how inequality can lead to the creation of so-called monsters in our society.”
Rice though was quick to note that not all of the women portrayed in Angelmakers are the victims of capitalism. One noted serial killer profiled is Countess Elizabeth Bathory de Ecsed, who was a woman of noble status in Transylvania. She believed that by bathing in the blood of virgin girls, she would remain young and beautiful. Also of note, at the time of my conversation with Rice and Thelin, no women of color were featured in the production due to the fact that most female serial killers are white.
Thelin and Rice created the work as a way to examine the lives of these often misunderstood and maligned women. The songs are, according to Rice, imagined moments in these women’s lives. The characters portrayed say what they would want to say if the could talk to us now. Rice said, “For example, Aileen Wurnos, she comes back and says, ‘You know if I hadn’t been born in Michigan, everything might have been different’, and that is something she actually did say in her interviews—in other words, it was so cold, and If I hadn’t been kicked out of my house and had to turn tricks to survive, things might have been different.”
Pittsburgh audiences may recall a 2015 Real/Time Intervention work that was staged in collaboration with local artists and Bricolage Production Company called the Saints Tour: Greater Braddock. I believe we can expect this work to be another challenging and gracious entry into this company’s oeuvre. Supporters and curiosity seekers can be sated before October by coming out to the company’s fundraiser this Thursday, September 28 at Cattivo, where revellers will get to perform karaoke to a special song list about murder and mayhem. Don’t miss out!
Angelmakers: Songs for Female Serial Killers opens at the Aftershock Theatre in Lawrenceville on October 25. For more information on the show and their fundraiser, check out their Facebook page.