When last we checked in with Bryan Enk, co-creator of the wildly popular late night theatrical series, Penny Dreadful, he was three or four episodes into what was originally intended to be a year-long monthly serial that concluded in November 2008. Since then, Bryan and Matt Gray have altered the plan considerably, dividing Penny into two six-episode mini-seasons. Doing so gave them the luxury of taking last summer off and planning the rest of the series. It also means, as of this writing, they are still doing the show.
On the eve of the penultimate episode of their cult smash, Bryan stopped the ol’ blog to give us an update on life in Penny Dreadful and a sneak preview of how he and Matt are going to wrap things up. Enjoy…
Since I last interviewed you, Penny Dreadful has undergone a bit of a transformation: it morphed into two six-episode seasons instead of one continuous twelve-episode season. Why the switch?
By Episode 6 (April 2008), Penny had become something of a runaway train. Money was flying out the window with every episode and we weren’t quite sure where we were going creatively, so we pulled the emergency brake. It ended up being a blessing on many levels – it allowed Matt to get married and go on his honeymoon in the beginning of June, it allowed The Brick to concentrate on its summer festivals without juggling Penny with an already crazy schedule, and it allowed Matt and I the time to figure out what we wanted to do, where we were going and what needed fixing.
We threw a fundraiser and Season Two party in mid-September. I thought we had been away too long and that interest in Penny had fizzled out, but over 75 people showed up on a Monday night and we raised enough money for the first three episodes. I’ve been very happy with Season Two so far – and, much more importantly, I think the audiences have, too.
By the time the series finishes up its run, taking into consideration breaks and time off, you and Matt will have been working on it for something like a year and a half – unheard of in Indie Theater terms. What has it been like working on something for that amount of time?
It’s been a lot of hard work, and it’s been so much fun to see this story unfold month by month in its episodic structure, work with a group of recurring characters and work in one-shot historical characters, like Nikola Tesla and Aleister Crowley. Each episode is part of one big story, but each individual episode is a unique experience in and of itself. It’s been a joy to see it build such a fan base to the point that we’re selling out every Saturday night performance and playing to a very full house on the Sunday matinees. Of course, that means we’ve had to up the ante with every episode, keep the audience on their toes and try to make the next episode even better than the one before it. Penny really is a full-time gig – there hasn’t been the time or the resources for any other projects while it’s been going on.
When we spoke last winter, Penny Dreadful was just three or four episodes in. Now you’re quickly approaching the last two installments. Do you and Matt have the conclusion all mapped out? If so, what can audiences expect to see?
I would say we have most of the conclusion mapped out. You always want to leave some room to allow for audience reaction to the previous episode before locking down the next one completely. We have some surprises in store, including one HUGE surprise that I hope will throw everyone for a loop. Every plot point will (hopefully!) be wrapped up – some nice and neat, some a little more sloppy, but this story will end completely with Episode 12.
Penny Dreadful has built up quite a large and loyal audience, one that will even brave subzero temperatures at 11pm on a Saturday night to come see it. What’s your secret for luring them in and making sure they come back?
I got the most amazing compliment from someone who became a fan of Penny with Episode 8. He says he looks forward to the next Penny episode with the same baited breath with which he waits to see what’s going to happen next on Lost and Battlestar Galactica. I’m personally not very familiar with either series (though I know Matt considers both of them an inspiration to Penny, at least in terms of structure), but I certainly know their popularity and the size and passion of their fan base, so to be compared to them is very flattering.
I would like to think Matt and I have written an interesting story set during an exciting time in American history that’s always moving forward with its many twists, turns and subplots, filled with interesting characters, always changing and evolving. I think the fans are very much attached to these characters – you could feel everyone’s heart break when we killed off The Amazing Viernik (Fred Backus), who had been the heart and soul – and something of the Shakespearean fool – of Penny, in Episode 10. But with the deaths of both Viernik and Etta Place (Dina Rose Rivera), I think we set up an “all bets are off” kind of vibe for the last two episodes that makes it even more exciting. And there are still many questions left to be answered.
How tired are you and Matt at this point?
Not at all! Do we look tired? It’s funny you should ask that – we took a photo together after the matinee performance of Episode 10, and looking at it I can only think about how tired we look. Amused, but tired.
Are you both going to take a nice long vacation after the run finishes, or are you guys going to jump right into another project?
Definitely the former. We’ll see where the day takes us after that. A lot of projects have been put on hold after Penny proved itself to be an all-encompassing creative endeavor, so we’ll see what gets taken off the shelf first.