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Molotov Theatre’s unique adult Literacy Project

By • Feb 10th, 2014 • Category: Interviews

Molotov Theatre Group (Info Web) is dedicated to the education, preservation and exploration of the horror and suspense style and aesthetic. In the past several years, Molotov Theatre has developed an adult literacy project. The project supports and promotes adult literacy as part of Molotov Theater’s charter to provide education and entertainment in the horror genre.

Founded in 2007, Molotov Theatre Group is a member organization of theatreWashington, ProLiteracy and the Horror Writers Association.

According to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults in the United States can’t read. This is equivalent to 14 percent of the U.S. population. 21 percent of adults read below a 5th grade level.

In a February 7, 2014 exchange with Alex Zavistovich, Co-Artistic Director and Founding Member, Molotov Theatre Group, ShowBiz Radio’s David Siegel learned more about the Molotov Literacy Project. The following is edited and condensed from the February 7, 2014 exchange.

Q (David Siegel): Why did Molotov decide to develop an adult literacy project?

A (Alex Zavistovich): For Molotov Theatre Group, which is DC’s only theatre company focusing on horror and suspense, it was a natural choice to create audio book and eBook pairings of the classics of English literature in the horror genre to support improvement in adult literacy – first in the nation’s capitol and eventually nationally.
 
The English language’s most historically significant and best-loved authors are particularly famous for their classics of horror and suspense. Some examples: William Shakespeare (“MacBeth,” “Titus Andronicus”), Oscar Wilde (“The Picture of Dorian Gray”), Robert Louis Stevenson (“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”), Bram Stoker (“Dracula”). Popular culture is seeing a significant interest in the horror genre, from the books of Ann Rice and Stephen King to television show like “American Horror Story” and “True Blood” to films like “I, Frankenstein” and “Paranormal Activity.” This is especially true among adults and young adults.
 
A survey presented in San Diego State University’s School of Education in 2010 showed that audio books, used in combination with printed text, resulted in a 67% improvement in standardized reading assessment tests by surveyed students. Average reading abilities increased seven months in reading comprehension levels after just four weeks. And 84% of students reported audio books helped comprehension, reading pace, pronunciation and word knowledge.
 
Q: Tell me about the Molotov Literacy Project.

A: The project has existed only since late 2012. In that time, we have created audio book and eBook pairings of “Frankenstein,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “The Picture of Dorian Grey,” collected short stories by Edgar Allan Poe, and “The Beast in the Cave” (a short story by HP Lovecraft). We’ve also just recently posted a YouTube movie of classic gothic love poems by Edgar Allan Poe, featuring “Annabel Lee” and “The Raven.”
 
We’re happy to work with local literacy specialists to select future volumes. For the time being, the selection of the appropriate works in the horror genre have been relatively easy to decide – particularly for Molotov Theatre Group, which itself specializes in the genre. That said, we welcome expert advice.
 
Q: Why did Molotov decide to connect horror genre with adult literacy?
 
A: As early as 2009, an article in the Journal of College Literacy & Learning indicated that the horror genre sparks literacy and critical thinking because engages readers on a cognitive and emotional level. The horror genre also offers greater diversity in student choices and a broader range of themes to foster creativity and imagination.
 
Combined with what we learned about the benefits of using audio books as listen-along companions to printed text in improving adult literacy – and the undeniable popularity of the horror genre in today’s adolescent and adult popular culture – it was an obvious choice to use Molotov’s expertise in horror and suspense not just to entertain theater goers but to improve reading comprehension.

Q: How does Molotov Theater Group gauge success?

A: At this early stage in the development of the Molotov Literacy Project, it’s a bit premature to describe successes. For the near term, it has been essential to create a library of classic works as audio book/eBook pairings, which we continually add to. Next in our plans is to collaborate with local DC-based literacy groups and educators. We’d like to be able to offer our material to the charter and public school systems locally.
 
Q: How did you decide upon Edgar Allen Poe’s poems for Valentine’s Day on YouTube?

A: There’s no disputing that Edgar Allan Poe is a master at combining romantic and dark, somewhat horrific imagery. The poems we included in our little YouTube movie collection are some of his best known – “Annabel Lee” and “The Raven,” along with the more event-specific short poems “Romance” and “A Valentine.” The canon is all there for the examining, and we selected the ones we deemed to most representative of his unique voice, while keeping the finished product brief. This was intended to be fun first; if people also gain the same education benefit we intend from the longer works of the Molotov Literacy Project, that’s great as well.

Q: Please tell me about the upcoming Molotov Theatre Group’s production of Normal by Anthony Neilson.

A: The play details the history of Peter Kurten, the “Dusseldorf Ripper” from the 1920s and 1930s, recounted largely through the eyes of the attorney appointed to represent Kurten in his trial after the capture that ended his horrific crime spree. Kurten’s life is said to be the inspiration for Fritz Lang’s movie “M,” considered to be a touchstone of German Expressionist filmmaking.
 
The play Normal itself combines naturalism along with extended periods of heightened language and movement, along with a critically important musical score. The elements combine to create at once a darkly humorous and dramatically affecting vaudevillian fever dream that takes a hard look at the “nature versus nurture” argument in psychological development.

Normal, by Anthony Neilson, runs March 6 through March 30, 2014 at the DC Arts Center in Adams Morgan. It was the first work by Neilson, who was long regarded the father of the “In Yer Face” movement of British playwrights in the 1990s.
 
Q: How can readers find out more about the Molotov Literacy Project?

A: For information on The Molotov Literacy Project email to: info -at- molotovliteracyproject.org

Interested in a free sample of the work of the Molotov Literacy Project, visit www.molotovtheatre.org. In the section of the site devoted to the project, they can download a free copy of HP Lovecraft’s “The Beast in the Cave,” in any of three supported eBook versions, by using the coupon code “freebeast” and following instructions for download.

Molotov created “A Collection of Dark Love Poems, by Edgar Allan Poe,” for Valentine’s Day and available on Molotov’s YouTube channel.

This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/10132.

is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on ShowBizRadio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, Alexandria's American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with Arlington's American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.

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