Monday, June 17, 2013

Interview with Robbie Robertson of "Satan in High Heels"

By Byrne Harrison

Robbie Robertson is a playwright and screenwriter and a graduate of both the University of South Carolina and UCLA’s professional program in screenwriting. Robertson’s first play, Mina Tonight!, was published by Samuel French Inc. and has been consistently produced in regional theatres across the nation. He created the musical comedy The Twitty Triplets and brought '60s TV to life by directing a staged version of “Gilligan’s Island” at Trustus Theatre.  Robertson’s screenplays have placed in several national contests, including his latest comedy, “Sweet Child of Mine” being named one of the top 12 comedy scripts in the 2010 Austin Film Festival’s Screenwriting Competition. He is currently developing several independent television and film projects and will be mounting a workshop production of Satan in High Heels this fall in NYC.

I recently attended a reading of Satan in High Heels presented as part of the TOSOS theatre company's Chesley/Chambers Playwrights Project reading series.  I had such a good time that I had to talk with Robertson about the play and how it came to be.

So I'm guessing that you are a fan of B movies and exploitation films?

You know, it’s funny, I do love exploitation films but my tastes run wildly from camp to classics. And when judging these films solely on their screenplays, what many people consider B movies of the past have at lot in common with independent cinema of today. That said, I do love a fun, low budget trashy movie and “Satan in High Heels” is my all-time favorite. “Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill” is a close runner up. And “Kitten with a Whip.” Anything with Ann-Margret makes my list.

When did you first see the film "Satan in High Heels"?

Meg Myles
I first saw “Satan in High Heels” about 15 years ago. It was on a videocassette loaned to me by this cool old gay guy in the deep south who collected obscure celebrity autographs. He was a big fan of singer and pinup girl Meg Myles who was the lead in “Satan” and he kept telling me I had to see this film. Little did I know, it would become my favorite obsession.  On the first viewing, I was especially thrilled to see Grayson Hall from the original “Dark Shadows” TV series playing a lesbian nightclub owner named Pepe. Doesn’t get any better than Dr. Julia Hoffman.

What was it about the story that made you interested in it?

What I loved most about the movie is the lead character, Stacy Kane—a carnival stripper turned nightclub singer—is totally amoral, a sociopath with no redeeming qualities except she has a killer body and can carry a tune. The film almost plays like a horror movie in that Stacy, the sexual predator, takes out her victims— one at a time—as she bed bounces her way to the top.  It’s just great fun to see everyone fall victim to her charms—repulsed and turned on at the same time.

Did you have a "Eureka!" moment when you decided it should be brought to the stage?

Absolutely. Upon repeated viewings, I kept shouting out lines I wished the characters would say. Then I started imagining new scenes and plot twists that would make for a more satisfying ending. As a comedy writer and a playwright, I knew the film’s theatricality and melodramatic tone would translate well to the stage. My adaptation definitely plays up the unintentional irony and humor of the original film but I also worked hard to beef up the overall story arc  with new and rewritten scenes, character development and dialogue rewrites. 

How long of a trip was it from film to stage?  What did you need to do along the way?

I started on a stage version of the film about 8 years ago with some friends of mine I met at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. They were interested in collaborating on a musical version of the film but life got in the way. But after leaving a day job corporate gig, I realized I wasn’t getting any younger so the only person to execute my vision was going to be myself. So I finished a new draft about two years ago and then I did a staged reading at Trustus Theatre in Columbia, SC  directed by my pal Tim Gardner, an in-demand commercial film director. From there, my friend (and playwright) Kathleen Warnock asked to read the script and she suggested it be part of TOSOS’ Chesley/Chambers new play reading series in NYC. 

As you know, I attended that staged reading of your play.  I thought it was a lot of fun, thanks in no small part to the talented cast.  I understand you'll be bringing most of them back for this fall's production.  Who will be involved?

How cool is our cast?? Karen Stanion is playing Stacy Kane and I could not be more excited to have her in the lead role. She is absolutely ravenous in this part and she looks awesome in high heels! Brett Warwick plays Stacy’s drug addicted husband, Rudy, an ex con turned pulp fiction writer. Ron Bopst is a dynamo as Arnold Kenyon, the shady businessman with a penchant for S&M, with Paul Caiola as his naïve son Larry Kenyon. Virginia Baeta is playing nightclub manager Pepe. Jacqueline Sydney is jaded barfly Felice and Robert Locke is bitchy, piano playing Paul, one of the only people in the cast who doesn’t sleep with Stacy! I'm leaving a couple of people out but suffice it to say we have a dream team of actors who not only get the era but the style and tone of the piece.

And who do you have directing? 

Mark Finlay will be directing and I am so really fortunate to have him at the helm. He is a big fan of the original source material and I instantly had an incredible rapport with him. With an evolving piece like this, the writer/director relationship is crucial and I lucked out with one of the nicest and most accomplished stage directors in NYC.

What would you say to your potential audience to get them to see the show?

Sex, drugs, booze and murder in a cabaret setting…this one has it all! And for lovers of B movies, I think you’ll get a good buzz from the laughs of this staged adaptation.

Are there any other B movies you'd like to see turned into plays or maybe even musicals?

I think “Kitten with a Whip” would be awesome on stage. Think we can get Karen Stanion to wear a red wig? That and the women’s prison movie “Caged.” I want Kathleen Warnock back on stage playing the Agnes Moorehead role!

If you could give some advice to the Stacy Kanes of the world, what would it be?

Always remember, bruised strippers get lousy tips. My favorite line from the play!

Follow the progress of the play on Facebook at or on Twitter @SataninHH.

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