Washington native and college professor for television and film production Erik Sprowls is putting in the work to get his name out there with his newly created “chiller theater” style show “Dead and Buried Treasures.”
“Last year my niece said to me, ‘you spend so much time making everyone else famous — when are you going to do something for you?’” he said.
That thought stuck with him, and last year when he visited the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival on pirate weekend, he decided to go all out and dress to the hilt as a pirate.
“The Steelers were playing and there were different places where you could get an update, so every time I heard an update, I took it upon myself to walk around and yell ‘hear ye, hear ye,’ and then announce the update. If they were winning, I would yell ‘huzzah’ and right away 30 people or more would yell it back.”
His character was so well received, an idea began to formulate with Sprowls on creating a show and using this character.
While a professor at California University in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Sprowls and a colleague Harry Metz created a show there called “Fright Night Friday.” In keeping with that same ‘Chiller Theater’ format, Sprowls kept the pirate character in mind to create the new show.
Chiller Theater, was a late-night horror and science fiction movie program on Pittsburgh’s NBC channel that aired from Sept. 14, 1963 to Jan. 1, 1984.
It was hosted by Bill Cardille, known to fans as “Chilly Billy.” In between films, and at random times during the films, breaks were taken for skits such as reports from the “PSS” (Pittsburgh Subway System).
So Sprowls went to Bethel Park TV and asked station director Dave Cable if there was any way he could produce a show.
With a “yes” solidified, Sprowls began to create the show “Dead and Buried Treasures” and its many characters, including himself as Captain Calico Drake; “The Siren” as the voice of a message in a bottle; “Dirty Gertie,” “Davie Bones” and “Jack,” his co-host cockatoo who is also the first officer of Captain Drake’s ship.
“Dead and Buried Treasures” airs classic horror films or science fiction films that are in the public domain, and as with “Chilly Billy,” at random times throughout the film, Sprowls and his crew put on little skits focusing on the theme of the film being shown in that episode.
“During the movie, we cut in eight times in a two-and-a-half to three-hour period,” Sprowls said.
Sprowls has taken advantage of the advances of technology since his days at Cal U 20 years ago, and soon realized that he could shoot his material with a green screen in his own home.
“No one can possibly imagine the artistic creativity that goes into creating this show,” he said. “You deal with green screens, and you have to be a little cracked to truly understand all of it.
“For example, there’s one scene in our Halloween show where I have to be on the screen playing two characters at once — the host, Captain Calico Drake, and my great-great-great-great-great-grandson Reginald,” Sprowls added. “In order to pull just that 10-second scene off, you have to have an enormous amount of timing, a great amount of patience, make-up, costuming and above all else, imagination.”
Sprowls said he has to imagine himself talking to this other character who is not there while simultaneously not breaking character in his own skin.
“And then I have to put myself in to those shoes on the opposite side of the screen and do the exact same thing on the other side of the coin,” he said. “It takes an enormous amount of focus and energy to pull something like that off, particularly when you are your own crew, director, actors, make-up artist and wardrobe provider. But hey, I guess that’s why I’m the producer too.”
Cable said Sprowls “really puts a ton of effort into producing and creating a show.
“He’s doing a great job, and you can tell from the productions that he puts in tons and tons of work, but it’s clear that he’s enjoying what he’s doing,” Cable added.
Husband and wife team Rich and Dana Cange of Canonsburg both contribute to the show.
Rich Cange is the co-host with Sprowls of the pre-show “Walk the Plank” where the duo signs in about a half hour before “Dead and Buried Treasures” for an impromptu, off the cuff dialogue segment.
Dana Cange plays “Dirty Gertie” on “Dead and Buried Treasures” with Sprowls.
Rich Cange said he met Sprowls through a mutual friend’s (Fiore Mastracci) birthday party.
“I told him I had an actual bat cave in my house and he geeked out and asked if he could see it and then said he wanted to work that into one of his shows and would I be interested,” he said.
And so Sprowls used footage from the bat cave to film his show around Vincent Price’s “The Bat.”
Through that interaction, and after Sprowls’ original co-host for the pre-show moved out of state, he asked Rich Cange if he would be interested in being the co-host.
“We’ve been filming since July or August and it’s just a lot of fun,” Rich Cange said. “I’ve never done anything like this before. Erik (Sprowls) is very professional with writing the scripts, and he’s given me editing pointers and helped me to grow in that respect.
“Our chemistry together on the pre-show is very natural,” Rich Cange added. “A lot is improv and we just roll with it.”
Dana Cange said Sprowls approached her about playing a character on the play and when he found out that she was a huge “Scully” fan from “The X-Files,” he created Dirty Gertie, who is a “pirate meets scientist/professor” on the ship who has the persona of Scully.
“It’s a fun thing and an absolutely good time,” she said. “It’s not like work at all.”
Sprowls said he’s enjoying himself despite all the work.
“It’s a labor of love, but I’m also doing it for my video portfolio,” he said. “I wanted to do something on my own to see what I’ve got.”
It’s been picked up on a number of public-access cable channels throughout the region, and it is available in Uniontown, Brownsville, Bethel Park, and Peters Township.
The show airs between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays on BPTV, at various times (sometimes at midnight and sometimes at 2 a.m.) on Fridays and Saturdays on PCTV and anywhere from 8 p.m. to midnight Thursdays on CUTV (California University’s station).
CUTV is channel 17 on Atlantic Broadband Cable or 61 on Armstrong Cable. BPTV is on Channel 7 and PCTV is on Channel 21 with their respective cable carriers.
Sprowls said he hopes within the next year that the show will be broadcast on different channels all over Southwestern Pennsylvania.