Louis Peitzman

The Other Stephen King Adaptations We Should Be Talking About

You could call 2017 the year of Stephen King if Stephen King had ever really gone out of style. But it’s true: We’ve seen an abundance of King adaptations over the last several months, from forgettable trainwrecks like The Dark Tower in July to the record-breaking success of It just this month. Then there are the TV series — Spike’s The Mist and Audience’s Mr. Mercedes, as well as Hulu’s Castle Rock, which is currently filming.

With so much going on in the world of King, it’s easy to miss something — such as the two motion picture adaptations hitting Netflix this fall. Arriving on Netflix this Friday is Gerald’s Game, based on King’s 1992 novel, a psychosexual thriller about BDSM roleplay gone very wrong. Then there’s 1922, which debuts on Netflix on Oct. 20; it’s a nasty little horror story based on the novella from the 2010 collection Full Dark, No Stars. Both films had their pre-Netflix premieres at Fantastic Fest in Austin, prompting visceral reactions from King fans, along with well-earned sighs of relief.

In terms of source material, Gerald’s Game is certainly more well-known, but it’s still considered one of King’s lesser works. It’s also an incredibly tricky novel to adapt: The whole thing takes place in one room and in the memories and hallucinations of its protagonist, Jessie. Played in the film by Carla Gugino, Jessie finds herself handcuffed to a bed in a remote cabin when her husband, the titular Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), has a heart attack after trying to engage her in an aborted rape fantasy. As she struggles with dehydration and a very persistent dog, she begins seeing things, including visions of her own escape and flashbacks to her traumatic past. It’s essentially a kinky take on Cujo (King’s infamous rabid dog even gets name-checked). That Gerald’s Game hews close to the book and still manages to work so well is a credit to director Mike Flanagan, who cowrote the screenplay with Jeff Howard.

There is some streamlining, which is helpful. In the book, Jessie imagines several personas as she’s losing touch with reality; in the film, it’s all pretty much a debate between projections of herself (a healthier, less handcuffed-to-the-bed version) and Gerald (looking a little worse for wear now that the dog has been tearing at his corpse). Gugino and Greenwood are exceptional throughout — the former is especially good at playing both iterations of Jessie. But it’s not just the script and the performances that make Gerald’s Game so compelling; it’s that this is the kind of confined suburban horror that King does so well. Yes, there’s a boogeyman that Jessie may or may not be imagining — Twin Peaks’ Carel Struycken plays a bone-collecting giant lurking in the shadows — but Gerald’s Game is more about Jessie’s personal demons, the sexual abuse she suffered as a child, and her fears that Gerald, no matter how good he might have looked on paper, was just another monster.

King deserves a lot of credit for how deftly this story plays out, just as Flanagan should be praised for seamlessly translating it for the screen. There was a fine line to walk here, as Gerald’s Game moves from a darkly comedic nightmare to Jessie’s painful recollections of what her father (Henry Thomas) did to her. It’s here that Gerald’s Game becomes more Dolores Claiborne than Cujo — there’s also a very pointed reference to the former, as in the novel. And then the film arcs back again, as the deeply unpleasant flashbacks fade back into Jessie’s current predicament: It’s a careful balancing act. In the end, the real-life horror gives way to a scene of such heightened violence that the humor floods back in, along with a lot of screaming — from Jessie and the audience.

While Gerald’s Game is restrained by the nature of its story, it’s far from subtle; 1922, on the other hand, frequently holds back. It’s not exactly underplayed, but it’s slower and more deliberate, and while that pacing is sometimes questionable, which ultimately makes the film less successful than Netflix’s other King adaptation, the overall effect is a more grounded horror story that relies largely on dread. “This will not end well” is the subtext of every scene, made literal by the rats that won’t stop trailing Wilfred James (Thomas Jane).

Wilfred is not Jessie in Gerald’s Game — you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone rooting for him. He’s a selfish, petty farmer who decides his wife, Arlette (Molly Parker), is too controlling and convinces his young teenage son, Henry (Dylan Schmid), to help him murder her. Jane has done King before, in both good adaptations (the film version of The Mist) and bad (the largely reviled Dreamcatcher), but Wilfred is an especially tough nut to crack. There aren’t really any sympathetic characters in this story. Even Henry, though a clear victim of his father’s coercion, is still doomed from the start as a willing participant in matricide.

And so what we’re left with is a story that’s, again, classic King: Nothing buried ever stays buried. The question isn’t if Wilfred will get his comeuppance but how. And as things go from bad to worse in mundane but no less gutting ways, the story takes a supernatural slant. Arlette refuses to stay dead, stalking Wilfred through his empty farmhouse, and the rats who desecrated her corpse are always trailing behind. Whether it’s all in Wilfred’s head or not is sort of beside the point — he’s haunted all the same.

Writer-director Zak Hilditch creates some truly stunning visuals, as well as some deeply distressing ones. (Anyone with even the slightest aversion to rodents should steer clear.) He also knows when to hold back: While Gerald’s Game climaxes in an outrageously brutal act of violence, 1922 ends up leaving a lot to the imagination. It’s a risky gambit for a film that’s been building up to something big from the beginning, but it ultimately helps the movie leave a more chilling impression. The details matter less than the sheer fact of Wilfred’s doom, which was fated from the moment of his unforgivable transgression.

1922 is not the crowd-pleaser that Gerald’s Game will likely be: It’s meaner, less triumphant, and sparse in a way that is likely to alienate some viewers. But it’s another solid King adaptation and a good sign of things to come. Hilditch shows a lot of promise here, and he’s attracted some serious talent — Schmid is especially good as the tortured, malleable Henry. If we’re going to keep making and remaking stories from the King canon, then let’s hope they’re all as thoughtful and carefully crafted as these Netflix films, which — even when they falter — show respect for the source material as well as a desire to elevate it with distinctly cinematic flair.

Because these are stories worth telling, gripping tales of past sins refusing to stay buried and the monsters that are always lurking in the shadows. Gerald’s Game and 1922 both play with the idea of the blurry line between fantasy and reality, and how fear can overtake you whether the threat is merely imagined or plainly in-your-face. That is the essence of why King works, and it was part of what made It — about a creature that embodies the purest distillation of fear — such a memorable experience. It doesn’t matter if the giants or the rats or the evil clowns are really there: The horror always is.

How One Play Is Amplifying Trans Voices In Theater

Joan Marcus

The cast of MCC’s Charm at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

We might not think of etiquette as gendered, but it is — the manners we’re taught at a young age often rely on a traditional conception of what boys and girls ought to do. In the more progressive, less binary world of 2017, that can be stifling, if not archaic. But it doesn’t have to be that way, according to Will Davis, director of the off-Broadway play Charm.

In working on the play, about a charm class for young queer people, Davis discovered a way to shake his negative connotations of etiquette. “There’s this other definition and way to look at it, which is about deep empathy,” he told BuzzFeed News from the mezzanine of the Lucille Lortel Theatre in the West Village, where Charm opened on Sept. 18. “There’s another perspective to look at it from, which is ways in which you can think to prepare a space for somebody else. And that just really struck me as being powerful, a way to combat a sense of divisiveness.”

Charm not only gives audiences a new way to think about good manners; the play also offers new perspectives on gender identity, and the way trans lives can and should be represented onstage. For Davis, who is trans, Charm reflects an essential conversation about inclusion in theater — and, ideally, a way forward.

“I wanted to be an artistic director because I wanted to up my activism.”

Written by Philip Dawkins, the play was inspired by the true story of Miss Gloria Allen and her work teaching etiquette at the Center on Halsted, an LGBT community center in Chicago. Here, Allen becomes Mama Darleena Andrews, played in the MCC Theater production by Sandra Caldwell, who booked the role after auditioning as an openly trans woman for the first time. Charm depicts Mama’s attempts to connect with the young queer people she calls “babies,” and the generational divide that informs their radically different perspectives. The babies represent a wide spectrum of gender identities — not to mention racial identities and class backgrounds that reflect the diversity of the trans experience — and the cast features the same gender diversity.

“A piece like this that has the potential to be such a vehicle and such a platform for trans-identified actors, there is a big responsibility that I felt, and I know all of MCC felt, to make sure that we got actors whose identities aligned with the characters,” Davis said. “That has not always been true in other productions of this play, and it was, for me, a requirement in order to agree to do this show.”

Joan Marcus

Beta (Marquise Vilson) and Lady (Marky Irene Diven).

Davis was prepared to have a conversation about why Charm had to be cast the way it was; fortunately, MCC was committed from the beginning. But while there appears to be more of a push for authenticity and inclusion in theatrical casting across the board, countless productions still struggle — or fail to even try — casting appropriately when it comes to gender identity. The use of cis actors in trans roles also remains a regular practice in film and television, where actors like The Danish Girl’s Eddie Redmayne and Transparent’s Jeffrey Tambor have earned accolades for playing trans women.

The excuse often used by producers for this lack of representation is that trans actors are hard to find or untrained, something that makes Davis “incredibly angry” to hear. “That’s been said about every marginalized group of actors ever. That’s not particular to queer and trans folks. That’s particular to actors of color, to women,” he said. “If you’re in a position in which you’re saying that, that actually means the responsibility for finding them and training them lies with you.”

Davis acknowledged that casting Charm did require putting in the effort and thinking outside of the box. He connected with activists and others who work in the queer community in order to bring in trans-identifying performers who might not have representation or even professional acting experience. And while he’s usually opposed to video auditions, he made an exception for actors who weren’t able to travel to New York and try out in person.

“It felt like, let us work every angle,” Davis said. “We’ll jump [through] the hoops instead of asking this other population to do that.”

Joan Marcus

From left to right: Logan (Michael Lorz), Ariela (Hailie Sahar), Mama (Sandra Caldwell), Victoria (Lauren F. Walker), Donnie (Michael David Baldwin), and Jonelle (Jojo Brown).

As the artistic director of Chicago’s American Theater Company, Davis is the first trans person to run a significant arts institution in the US. He takes that responsibility seriously, not only in terms of the way he casts his shows but also in how he continues to be outspoken about inclusion and representation. Discrimination in the theater community, whether conscious or not, is a very real problem, and there are those who avoid speaking out for fear of reprisal. That’s all the more reason why he is “as vocal as possible.”

“I wanted to be an artistic director because I wanted to up my activism,” Davis said. “I have the ability in conversation with the playwright and the producer and everyone to make decisions about the bodies onstage. I don’t want to let anyone down.”

Joan Marcus

Mama (Caldwell) and Ariela (Sahar).

For Davis, activism also means challenging the dominant perspective on what sells and what doesn’t. Mainstream theater is often so concerned with appealing to a wide audience that stories about marginalized communities fall to the wayside. Plays about queer people may find a home downtown, but they rarely make it to a big Broadway theater. And Charm isn’t just a story with trans characters — it’s a play that actively engages with generational divides within the trans community. Mama encourages the youths she’s mentoring to stick to one gender presentation to avoid confusing nontrans people, and she struggles to come to terms with a more modern conception of gender fluidity and pronouns.

Just as Mama worries about the trans community alienating straight cis people, less daring theatrical producers and directors might be concerned about turning off subscribers with a play that dives deep into the ever-changing politics of trans identity. But Davis notes that the success of Charm lies in its specificity: The play is relatable in part because it is grounded in the real, lived experiences of trans people, and that includes debating complicated questions about terminology and gender expression. In a larger sense, Davis is tired of being told that some theater — and it’s almost always theater about marginalized groups — isn’t sellable.

“Folks leaving this process are going to enrich the landscape of the American theater.”

“Whether people are conscious of it or not, they’re telling me that non-straight white narratives don’t have worth if they’re saying that won’t sell or if they’re saying that’s alienating to an audience,” Davis said. “They’re telling me that the people who represent a non-cis white world are not of value.”

As frustrating as the theater community can be at times, Davis has had plenty of successes, and Charm continues to be an immensely rewarding experience for him. He’s optimistic about the future of trans representation onstage, particularly if more people — including people from different backgrounds than his — are able to make themselves heard. And, of course, if those in positions of power are willing to listen and adapt.

Davis believes there will always be plays like Charm, works that are in conversation with a contemporary cultural moment. But going forward, he also hopes that theater can broaden its perception of the classics in the canon, and who gets to play those roles. He’s been “deeply touched” watching the actors in Charm bloom, and he knows they can continue to do great work — whether in plays about trans identity or not.

“I’m so excited about this show, this production of this show, but in a way, I’m also almost more excited about what these actors are gonna get to do after this show because they have been provided resources they haven’t had in the past,” Davis said. “I’m a firm believer that a rising tide lifts all boats. … Folks leaving this process are going to enrich the landscape of the American theater because of the things that this production could provide for them.”

Louis Peitzman is a senior entertainment editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Peitzman writes about and reports on theater, film, and television. Contact this reporter at louis.peitzman@buzzfeed.com.

Contact Louis Peitzman at louis.peitzman@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.

Here Are The Major Differences Between The Original Script Of “It” And The Version You Saw

Warner Bros.

For a while, it seemed like It was never going to see the light of day: Warner Bros.’ adaptation of the epic Stephen King novel had been plagued by false starts over eight years of development. Cary Fukunaga was first attached to direct in 2012, with a script he cowrote with Chase Palmer. But Fukunaga exited the project in May 2015 over creative differences, later saying, “I was trying to make an unconventional horror film. It didn’t fit into the algorithm of what they knew they could spend and make money back on based on not offending their standard genre audience.”

After a brief period of uncertainty, It moved forward that July with a new director, Andy Muschietti, and a script rewritten by Gary Dauberman. Despite the ill omen of production turmoil, the film that finally arrived in theaters on Sept. 8 has proved to be a massive success, earning record-breaking box office numbers and raves from critics. While it’s not a conventional horror film, it’s undeniably more accessible than the version Fukunaga envisioned. BuzzFeed News has obtained a copy of the original Fukunaga-Palmer script, which is vastly different from what ended up onscreen. (A representative for Warner Bros. said the creative team was unable to comment due to scheduling.)

Here’s a look at the It that could have been: a darker, nastier, and likely less commercial affair.

1. The names have been changed, along with some character traits.

Warner Bros.

For reasons unknown, Fukunaga and Palmer changed some of the names from King’s novel. (BuzzFeed News reached out to Fukunaga’s publicist for a comment on this, as well as the other changes outlined in this post.) In their script, Bill is Will — an especially odd choice, as those are basically the same name — and Henry Bowers is Travis Bowers. Everyone else gets to keep their original names, thankfully. The more jarring change about Bill — er, Will — is that he doesn’t stutter. It’s not exactly essential to the plot, but it’s one of his most defining characteristics.

2. There are way more parents.

Warner Bros.

In Fukunaga and Palmer’s version, Beverly’s mom is alive and well, although she doesn’t have much to do aside from a scene in which she dangles a used tampon in front of her daughter’s face. (There’s…a lot about menstruation in this script. More on that below!) Will’s mom is also around, broken and withdrawn following the death of her youngest son, George. And, perhaps most importantly, Mike has two living parents. As in the novel, Mike’s father tells his son about his own encounter with Pennywise, making him the only adult to comprehend what’s really going on in Derry.

3. There’s a bit more homophobia…

Warner Bros.

In King’s novel, the bigotry lurking beneath Derry is directly linked to It: He feeds on the hatred, but he also infects the citizens of the town so that they act on it. It’s not just the racism directed at Mike and his family, but also violent homophobia. The novel depicts a brutal hate crime in which Adrian Mellon, a gay man, is beaten nearly to death by a group of teens; Pennywise arrives to finish him off. While Fukunaga and Palmer’s script does not feature Adrian — which would be in the sequel, anyway — it does incorporate some casual homophobia among our heroes. When Richie and Will are parting ways, Richie says, “Don’t fag out.” Will responds, “Fag you later.” Unpleasant, to be sure, but not inaccurate for young teens in the late ’80s!

4. And the racism is far more spelled out.

Warner Bros.

The racism is much more surface-level in Fukunaga and Palmer’s iteration of It than in the version in theaters. In the Muschietti film, Henry tells Mike to get out of his town. In the earlier script, Travis calls Mike the n-word, accuses him of stealing his knife, and brands him a “jungle monkey.” His father, Officer Bowers, is just as abhorrent, dragging Mike in for questioning after Patrick Hockstetter disappears. He repeatedly calls Mike “boy” and later refers to him as the “Negro boy.” By clearly underlining the deep-seated racism that infects Derry, this version of It provides a fuller portrait of Mike’s isolation — he’s not an outsider by choice.

The script also reveals how Mike’s father narrowly escaped the burning of a black nightclub, The Black Spot, when he was younger. The It in theaters alludes to this horrific incident in Derry’s racist history, but Fukunaga and Palmer opted to show it all. Which brings us to…

5. There are major flashbacks.

Warner Bros.

As he’s dying of cancer in the Fukunaga-Palmer script, Mike’s father, Leroy, recounts the awful night the Black Spot was burned down — and we see it all. A 13-year-old Leroy has snuck into the club with his friend Dick. (The script doesn’t mention this, but book readers know that this is Dick Hallorann, whom you might remember from The Shining.) It’s not long before the Legion of Decency, Derry’s version of the Ku Klux Klan, barricades the doors and sets the club ablaze, killing nearly everyone inside. Leroy and Dick barely make it out, and come face to face with Pennywise, dragging away the corpses. “This town is like poison,” Leroy concludes.

That’s not all we see of Derry’s violent past in Fukunaga and Palmer’s telling. Later on, we get an exceedingly blood-soaked flashback to the Silver Dollar Saloon in 1879. As in the novel, Claude Heroux slaughters everyone around him with an axe, driven to madness by Pennywise. While the scene would have significantly upped the gore, it’s also notable for making clear that It has the power to make people do very bad things; similarly, the Black Spot flashback implies that It spurred the already hateful Legion of Decency to commit mass murder. The most unsettling part of the Silver Dollar Saloon scene? The patrons Claude doesn’t kill scarcely notice his spree, even when a decapitated head lands near a drunk’s foot. The moment underlines another aspect of It’s power: the ability to make the citizens of Derry look past the very awful things happening right before their eyes.

6. The threat is more overtly sexual.

Warner Bros.

Beverly’s fear of becoming a woman is subtext in the Muschietti film. In the Fukunaga-Palmer script, there are repeated references to menstruation designed to make the metaphor abundantly clear. Beverly’s mom explains her period in these unpleasant terms: “When it happens, once every 27 days, you’ll bleed, and you’ll bleed the most right before the end.” (Surely there’s a less traumatic way of relaying that information?) Recall that It resurfaces every 27 years. And when the kids are discussing how It manifested their fears, Beverly actually says, “‘IT’ showered me in blood because I just got my period.” Not subtle!

There’s more. Stan’s encounter with It is wildly different and takes place in his temple’s mikveh, where women bathe to purify themselves after menstruation. And it’s also tied to his fears of growing up and his burgeoning sexuality. Here, It appears to him as a naked woman in a tub who attempts to seduce him by saying, “You’re going to be a man soon, won’t you? I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” When the woman rises, he sees that she’s covered in sores and missing chunks of flesh — it’s pretty much exactly like that scene in The Shining. King’s novel never shied away from the sexual development of his young characters — sometimes to a fault — but it’s hard to imagine how audiences would have felt seeing it play out on the big screen.

And then there’s Beverly’s father. The movie hints at his incredibly upsetting desire for his daughter, but the original script took it to a whole other deeply uncomfortable level. After discovering the haiku Ben wrote for Beverly, Mr. Marsh demands that she take off her tights so that he can check to see if she’s “intact.” It’s clear that he intends to rape her, and that Pennywise is somehow possessing him. “You’ll like it, Bevvie,” he says. “Be like you’re floating.” Beverly fights him off exactly as she does in the Muschietti movie, but Pennywise isn’t there to grab her — and that changes everything.

7. The climax is completely different.

Brooke Palmer

Beverly is not the damsel in distress in the Fukunaga-Palmer script; instead, she’s an active agent who decides, along with her friends, to go down to It’s lair and kill Pennywise before he can make any more adults do horrific things. In this version, it’s not Beverly who encounters the deadlights, but Stan — he’s pulled away before he loses it entirely, although the trauma he endures surely has something to do with his ultimate fate. The way the kids defeat Pennywise is pretty similar, though at one point, It manifests as a tentacle monster. So that’s new. And while the novel’s infamous gang-bang scene is mercifully avoided, Beverly pointedly takes every boy’s face in her hands so they can find the way out. It’s a pretty clear reference, and not even a little bit nauseating!

8. And there are changes to the ending, too.

Warner Bros.

As in the novel, Travis’s hair turns white after his encounter with It. The Muschietti film left Henry’s fate ambiguous — the fall should have killed him, but who knows — while the original script has Travis taken into custody for killing his father. As for the Losers Club, they still make their blood oath, but there’s no kiss between Will and Beverly. There is, however, a somewhat happier ending, in which they gather again to say goodbye to Will, who is going on vacation with his parents, seemingly less traumatized from George’s death. But the camera lingers on the scars on their hands — and a red balloon floats above them. It’s hard to imagine the Fukunaga-Palmer version of It finding as large an audience as the Muschietti film did, but a sequel was always part of the plan.

Louis Peitzman is a senior entertainment editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Peitzman writes about and reports on theater, film, and television. Contact this reporter at louis.peitzman@buzzfeed.com.

Contact Louis Peitzman at louis.peitzman@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.

I Survived The Clowns-Only Screening Of “It”

Amy Lombard for BuzzFeed News

Pondering my choices but enjoying the free balloon at the Alamo Drafthouse’s House of Wax bar before the clowns-only screening of It.

I feel about clowns the same way I feel about spiders: It’s not an actual phobia, and I think the fear is overblown, but I regard them with a certain level of suspicion and would prefer to keep a healthy distance. Also, they’re much scarier in groups.

When I heard about the Alamo Drafthouse’s Sept. 9 clowns-only screening of It, I experienced a level of dread and nervous excitement I haven’t encountered since my bar mitzvah — and I was considerably more prepared for that than Stan Uris. An entire auditorium of clowns is an objectively distressing concept, whether or not you’re weirded out by clowns as a rule. At the same time, I loved the idea of seeing the movie again, this time among like-minded freaks — and maybe (dare I say it?) rooting for Pennywise. My friend Michael Tom had already snagged tickets, so I agreed to join him before I could really process the consequences. I did decide, however, that if I was going to be surrounded by clowns at a screening of a film starring fiction’s most notorious murder clown — I think John Wayne Gacy still holds the real-life title — I would have to fully commit to my clown look.

And I’d bring along a photographer because I don’t cake on layers of terrifying makeup for my health. (Although I’m told everything we used is nontoxic.)

Amy Lombard for BuzzFeed News

Serving you Pazuzu from The Exorcist realness.

Because It has already had a negative effect on the clown community, I decided to do my part for It-clown relations by having a professional clown design my look and do my makeup. We hired Sassi the Clown, who ended up being a total delight and thrillingly open-minded about the whole evil clown thing. It helped that she had just come from a kids’ birthday party and needed a break from doing princess face paint. Sassi was committed to the idea of turning me into the scariest clown possible, and she used the new Pennywise as inspiration for my makeover. I don’t have Bill Skarsgård’s Nordic cheekbones to work with, but she made do.

Amy Lombard for BuzzFeed News

Fun optical illusion: My eyes are actually closed in this photo!

Sassi admitted that, yes, It can be bad for clown business. But she also said there’s a silver lining for her — she’s more often asked to do a “soft clown” look. This look consists of no white face paint, which I can now attest is a bitch to get off, because that’s a lot less confronting to Pennywise-scarred children. I found Sassi to be both insightful and informative about the realities of professional clowning, and she didn’t seem to mind that the photographer, Amy, and I asked so many questions. For example, did you know that there is a supposed rivalry between clowns and mimes? Sassi doesn’t think it’s as much of a conflict as some would have you believe.

Amy Lombard for BuzzFeed News

I look like Ronald McDonald had a baby with the Hypnotoad from Futurama.

It was Sassi’s idea to paint glowing yellow eyes on my eyelids, a fun little trick that made every blink total nightmare fodder to those around me. Listen, it’s not an entirely realistic effect, but it’s totally creepy, and not all of us have access to expensive CGI enhancements. (Also, I love my job, but I don’t “use color contacts” love my job. Life is about compromise.)

Amy Lombard for BuzzFeed News

I had a costume, but I tried it on and it rode up in a way I can only describe as NSFW. So I dressed like a schlub in clownface instead!

The part of the day I was most worried about was taking public transportation from my office in Union Square to the Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn. But as it turns out, New Yorkers have seen much weirder shit on the Q, and no one really paid much attention to what Michael Tom and I were doing. With the exception of a teen who approached me to ask if I would help him scare his friend by walking over and hugging him while he filmed it on his phone. I declined, because I really didn’t feel like getting punched for the sake of someone else’s viral video. Oh, and one very sweet woman told us she doesn’t understand why people are afraid of clowns. I was weirdly touched? Like, thank you, kind stranger, for pretending I’m not horrifying.

Amy Lombard for BuzzFeed News

The House of Wax bar is creepy enough without all the clowns, if we’re being honest.

We arrived at the theater without incident and made our way to the bar. There were red balloons everywhere — has anyone from the balloon community spoken out about the effect It is having on red balloon sales? — and a themed cocktail, the S.S. Georgie, described on a paper boat. Anyone who has read the book or seen the movie knows that Georgie and his boat meet a particularly unpleasant end. So while I was delighted enough by the cocktail (balloon garnish!) to Instagram it, I did make sure to caption the photo “too soon.”

Amy Lombard for BuzzFeed News

Clockwise from top left: attendees Dallas Rico, Tuesday Sellers, Joe Moya, and Kerri Allen.

We’d gotten to the Alamo Drafthouse early, so it took a while for the other clowns to arrive. I briefly worried that this whole thing was an elaborate prank designed to make me look like a goddamn idiot. But that would have been a really great prank — and my clown makeup was on point — so I couldn’t have even been that mad. Anyway, it was a moot point: I soon learned I was far from the only clown in attendance, as more and more started filing in. The looks ranged from the cute to the frightening to the (I’m just going to say it) awkwardly attractive. There were…a lot of hot clowns. Deal with it.

Amy Lombard for BuzzFeed News

Scott Dicke (right) comparing clown notes with Mike Brown before the screening.

I don’t know what I really expected in terms of preshow festivities. Would we show off our clowning skills? Would we band together to eat children? But neither juggling nor murder was on the agenda. Instead, we just kind of milled about. It wasn’t exactly the dynamic clown party I’d hoped for-slash-feared, but it was an appropriately harrowing spectacle. You couldn’t throw a comically oversized shoe without hitting a clown in that place. And while I’d expected to feel seriously uncomfortable, I found myself enjoying the sense of community. I was among peers!

Amy Lombard for BuzzFeed News

Shout-out to all the Alamo Drafthouse employees who were surely compelled to dress up. They are the true heroes.

Still, the best thing about the clowns-only screening of It is that there were people at the Alamo Drafthouse who had not heard about the clowns-only screening of It. Imagine walking into a theater lobby and seeing 50 clowns staring back. I’m pretty sure I’ve had that actual nightmare. Ryan Murphy optioned it and turned it into American Horror Story: Cult. At one point, a little girl walked by shielding her eyes and repeating the mantra “Is it over? Is it over? Is it over?” I felt for that kid, but I’ll admit I was thrilled. What’s the point of dressing up like an evil clown if you can’t traumatize at least one child?

Amy Lombard for BuzzFeed News

From left: clowns Jon Theriault, Jared Dymbort, and Rimi Cooper.

We eventually made our way into the theater, where the sheer volume of clowns became more apparent and I started to feel a tiny bit overwhelmed. I couldn’t help but think of the opening of Scream 2 — if one of these clowns started stabbing, would anyone intervene? I mean, who willingly signs up for this type of screening in a post–Scream 2 world? Did we learn nothing from Jada Pinkett Smith’s mistakes? But no, everyone really was just there to have a good time. There was a lot of joy and goodwill in that theater, and sensing that, I started to mellow out. Besides, an allergy attack had sent some of my face paint into my eyes — I had bigger concerns.

Amy Lombard for BuzzFeed News

Can I pull off glasses with this look? Be honest.

Ordering a Diet Coke helped. (Diet Coke always helps.) Sassi had advised me to be really careful when eating, and I’d already swallowed a substantial amount of paint at this point, so I abstained from my Drafthouse go-to, chips and queso. I did eat one of Michael Tom’s fries, but I managed to avoid touching my lips to it at all. Please do not try to picture what I looked like essentially sliding a french fry down my gullet. Thanks.

Amy Lombard for BuzzFeed News

Leslie Wellman (center), proving that even clowns love that tote bag.

The clowns-only screening was an inspired idea, made better by its incredible origin story — the whole thing was ironically suggested by a troll who was pissed off about Alamo Drafthouse’s women-only screenings of Wonder Woman; the theater took the comment and ran with it. That is a level of pettiness I can only aspire to. But points to them for making it happen and taking it seriously — or, you know, as seriously as you can take an event at which clown makeup is considered mandatory.

Amy Lombard for BuzzFeed News

This is the moment in which I realized that I actually had to watch a movie with these people.

As for the movie, I found that the clowns-only screening didn’t really change my opinion of It: I hoped I’d feel a new kinship with Pennywise, but I don’t feel any more intimately acquainted with him than before. Makeup or not, I have an Eddie Kaspbrak–like aversion to sewers and will never really relate to any creature that opts to hang out in poo-water. And while my nerves were a little heightened being surrounded by so many fully committed clowns, I still think the movie itself is more emotionally resonant than it is scary. Which is fine! I even got kind of teary this time! And then I got makeup in my eyes again. And then I cried a little more.

I’m fairly certain, though, that my days of being a clown are behind me. I saw how much work Sassi puts into her profession, and I don’t think it’s really fair of me to dabble. But I’m glad I got to try it out for a day — and I hope I didn’t do any lasting damage to a clown community that’s already dealing with a lot. But never say never, right? I mean, we all know there’s going to be a sequel.

Amy Lombard for BuzzFeed News

Where have all the clown-boys gone?

I Went On A Fake Date For Theater And It Was Awkward As Hell

It’s hard to pinpoint the most awkward moment of my date with Emma. It might have been when she showed up late and alarmingly frazzled before immediately demanding a selfie in case I murdered her or we ended up married. Or maybe it was when she held my hand and asked me to pretend we’d already been dating for a couple years, then proceeded to ask me to recount our relationship milestones. I can’t remember the last time a question stumped me quite like a stranger asking, “Where did we first have sex?”

But when I look back on the hour we spent together on a breezy August night in Los Angeles, the moment that makes me cringe the most is when I felt suddenly compelled to kiss her. I didn’t, but I was so startled that the thought even crossed my mind. First of all, I’m gay enough to have never actually kissed a woman romantically. But more pressingly, Emma was an actor and our date wasn’t real. It was a one-on-one immersive theatrical experience called Red Flags. Whatever weird spark I was feeling was pure fiction.

I’m a big fan of immersive theater in theory, but I almost always regret it once some actor is forcing me to don a gladiator outfit or threatening to give me a rectal exam. (These are real things that happened earlier this year, but I digress.) Red Flags was an especially stressful prospect: an interactive show where I was the only audience member. I wouldn’t be able to opt out of participating, or even be confident that the actor would do all the heavy lifting. Plus, there would be no way to make a quick exit if things got weird — and things always get weird.

I was anxious all day leading up to my date with Emma, way more anxious than I’ve ever been about an actual date. (We can think about what that says about me, or we can move on!) We’d had limited contact up to that point: After booking the ticket, I got an email from Emma asking me to fill out “the rest of my dating profile,” which involved sharing my biggest disappointment alongside my favorite dessert. (The latter was a lot harder for me.) The day of, she texted me when and where to meet her, stressing that I should let her know as soon as I got there. “I’m OCD ha ha,” she wrote.

The online communication and the title Red Flags gave me some indication of how this was going to go, so I was prepared for a total disaster. My mind spiraled with all the ways dates can get awkward. I thought perhaps knowing the less-than-desirable outcome would be preferable to the uncertainty that comes with any real-life dating experience, but it wasn’t all that comforting. I have a hard enough time witnessing discomfort from a distance; cringe comedies make me want to hide. Here, I’d be an actual participant. In a panic, I came close to canceling.

I’m glad that I didn’t. I wouldn’t call my date with Emma good, but, despite her considerable baggage, I found that I sort of enjoyed her company. And the experience as a whole was illuminating in a way I hadn’t expected.

Emma and I met near a bar in Atwater Village, a cute and relatively low-key neighborhood. She asked if I wanted to get a drink or go for a walk instead. I opted for the latter — walking dates are underrated, as is walking in general in Los Angeles — and we strolled while getting to know each other. She wasn’t holding much back, but then, I’m an oversharer too. I’m also neurotic and Jewish and prone to talking too much about my mother, so none of the obvious “red flags” actually put me off much. I mean, I recognized them, but I tried to imagine how I’d proceed if Emma were a guy I was attracted to. I quickly decided that, against my better judgment, they wouldn’t have stopped me.

It was a bit tricky doing that kind of translation, but I felt like the experience would be most effective if I conceived of it as a real date, and I’m just too gay to do that with a woman. Sure, it took me out of things a bit, but that was always kind of inevitable. The problem I often have with immersive theater is that I can never really get out of my head. I’m not an actor, so I always worry that I’m not properly committing to whatever role I’ve been placed in. And just generally speaking, I tend to be overly insecure and self-conscious, so it’s hard for me to not constantly think, Am I fucking this up? That goes for real dates, too.

But none of that really mattered — and that’s what really impressed me about Red Flags. Because while I was very aware of myself and the fact that I was on a fake date, I also completely bought Emma as a character. That’s a credit to actor Lauren Flans and to writer-director Lauren Ludwig. Emma is a mess, but she’s a mess that I know. At my lowest, she’s a mess that I’ve been. The more she revealed about herself on our date, the more I felt compelled to be there for her. When her fear that everyone hates her kept cropping up — a nagging thought I know all too well — I just wanted to assure her that I didn’t. And yes, when she admitted that she worries she’s bad at kissing but no one will really tell her, I did want to kiss her. (I am a people pleaser; it’s in my nature to reassure.)

Red Flags is not so much about what Emma says as it is how you react — what do you consider to be red flags, and how do you react when you encounter them? Like so much of the best theater I’ve seen, Red Flags forced me to dig deep and be introspective in a way that was sometimes deeply uncomfortable. I came away from the play feeling like I’m agreeable to a fault, willing to give everyone too many chances out of a dangerous blend of compassion and guilt. Even when Emma revealed her darkest secret, the one that should send every sane person running for the hills, I gave her a hug and felt genuine concern when she abruptly bolted. I knew she wasn’t a real person; I just really wanted her to be OK!

I would never try to convince someone to attend Red Flags (and you might not even be able to because it’s currently sold out) — immersive theater is not for everyone, and the forced intimacy of a one-on-one show like this is especially confronting. But I’m glad I stepped outside of my comfort zone, because I do believe that theater should challenge you, whether that means forcing you to think more seriously about why you’re single or briefly making you question your sexuality. Sometimes it’s good to feel unsettled.

As I was walking away, I got a final text from Emma with the selfie she’d taken of us. I squirmed when I saw it; I look about as awkward as I’d felt. “I know we’re not getting married but here’s this picture anyway,” she texted. “Thanks again for a fun time.” I didn’t want to leave her text unanswered, so I replied, “You never know. Thanks, Emma.”

This Musical Is Replacing Its Lead With A Big Star, And People Are Conflicted

“This continues our show’s remarkable history of having great actors and singers see the show as audience members, only to tell us they are inspired to join the cast!” Kagan said in an interview with Broadway World on Wednesday. “Whenever possible we will accommodate them as we did here with Mandy and his Homeland TV schedule. Oak, who was scheduled to appear as Pierre for this period graciously agreed to make room for Mandy, and we sincerely hope that Oak will return to us in the fall or winter. He is a terrific Pierre.”