“Fresh Meat,” which opens next month as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival, is the tale of a dalliance with cannibals and furries, and what happens when one small algorithm goes awry.
It is also a tale of coincidence and serendipity in which a California State University, Northridge English graduate student’s class assignment brings together a talented group of theater professionals to put on play, and along the way they discover that all but one of them are Matadors.
“We didn’t start out producing a play in which nearly everyone working on it is linked to CSUN, but that’s how we ended up,” said CSUN graduate student Karen Casady, who wrote “Fresh Meat” as the result of a class assignment. “It’s pretty amazing. We’re essentially CSUN at the Fringe.”
The play’s director, Eric White, who graduated from CSUN last year with a bachelor’s degree in theatre, agreed.
“I’ve always felt that when it comes to the arts, CSUN is kind of a hidden gem,” White said. “Now that we have this play, I want people to look at what we can do. We — from the playwright to the actors to the director, and even our costumer and set designer and stage manager — all learned our craft at CSUN.”
The idea for “Fresh Meat” grew out of a class assignment. Casady — who enrolled at CSUN in 2016 with an eye toward getting a second master’s degree in creative writing after spending more than 30 years as a business journalist — was asked to write about something she thought was the “most opposite of humanism.”
“Don’t ask me why, but cannibalism popped into my mind,” she said. “Cannibalism is pretty much as opposite of humanism as you can get.”
She quickly envisioned a scene in which two cannibals are arguing about their favorite body parts: “Elbows are my favorite.” “No, I really like the upper arm.” That scene evolved into “Fresh Meat,” a dark comedy set in a dystopian society in which people are sentenced to be eaten when convicted of a crime.
Once the play was written, faculty in the Department of English encouraged Casady to get it produced, and she decided to turn the production of the play into her master’s thesis. She turned to the Hollywood Fringe Festival, which offers basic support, including finding a theater and some marketing, to people who want to put on a play.
She then had to find a director. Casady, 67, reached out to faculty in CSUN’s Department of Theatre, who referred her to White.
“When we met, we just clicked,” said White, 25. “I knew we could work together. I like doing theater that isn’t conventional. And this story definitely defies convention.”
Eager to direct what he called “dystopian vaudeville,” White spread the word that he was looking for actors to appear in a play for the Fringe Festival.
“I asked a ton of people, and the ones who said ‘yes’ were all from CSUN,” he said. All except one, actor Taylor LeClere, who knew White from their time at Pierce College.
When they got to the theater, White and Casady were surprised to learn that the facility’s stage manager, Stacey Abrams, was a CSUN alumna. The other CSUN alumni taking part are actors Jessie Robertson, Sarkis Bakalyan, Nathaniel Culpepper, Erin Cholakian and Harrison Seeley, and costumer and set designer Sarah Kline.
“It was entirely a coincidence, but a pretty fortunate one,” said White of the Matador connections. “‘Fresh Meat’ is pretty much a CSUN production.”
The Matadors, plus one, will be exploring what happens when a cannibal’s butcher discovers someone familiar in his latest “meat” delivery, through the month of June at the Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre at 5636 Melrose Ave. The times and dates of performances of “Fresh Meat” are as follows: 8 p.m. on June 3, 12:30 p.m. on June 10, 10:30 p.m. on June 13, 9:30 p.m. on June 17 and 12:30 p.m. on June 23. Tickets are $12.