Trust, danger, and haunted houses: an interview with Cristina Pitter

For Decent Company October: secrets, Cristina Pitter will be telling a good old-fashioned ghost story. Cristina sat down with Decent Company producing director Josh Boerman to talk about her instinctual response to danger and how it affects her life.

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JOSH BOERMAN: When I sent out the thing for fear, you pretty quickly turned around and sent me a very brief (Cristina laughs) but very evocative couple sentences about a sort of paranormal experience, where you created a magic circle and left it open.

CRISTINA PITTER: Paranormal indeed. We’re talkin’ about those demons, and not the ones inside your soul, my friends. Yeah. It was so immediate for me. Like, there was not a question. It was like, “Fear? Oh, mm-hmm. Yep.”

And I think folks will come into it thinking, oh, it’s gonna be a scary story night. No. And that’s what I appreciate by having so many different definitions of what fear is, and that it’s more than just a scary story. It’s more of, like, the lesson. What do you learn when you’re approached with fear, or—

JB: But not a Saturday morning special, either.

CP: But not— it’s— oh, I’m so excited. Yeah. I’m a witchy woman. I love a good demon story. (laughs)

JB: A good forest ceremony.

CP: I wanna go in a cabin in a woods and tell scary stories, but no one wants to do that ’cause they’ll think they’ll get killed or something. They’ll be fine. (laughs)

JB: And this is what you’re doing in your story, is you are telling something very real that happened, and probably somethin’ that when a lot of people, when they hear about it, would be like, “Well, did that really happen?” 

CP: I mean, I think it’s easy to be cynical and to shut yourself off from thinking that other beings exist aside from ourselves. And whether or not you believe in God or spirits or what have you, I think it’s important to keep yourself open.

‘Cause you never know, and to think that there isn’t anything beyond us is kind of ridiculous, and dare I say— what’s the right word? Not self-righteous. Just assuming we’re the end all, be all.

JB: Presumptuous?

CP: Yes, thank you. It’s very presumptuous and holier than thou. But it will be interesting to engage with that dynamic in terms of having people in the audience who can be skeptical and cynical, and knowing that that’s a part of myself as well, and that imaginations can run wild. And it’s easy to project things that we are afraid of or want to see. That’s a very real thing.

JB: And that’s part of what leads into this story as well; you were telling me about spending untold hours playing Diablo, the classic Blizzard PC game.

CP: I love Diablo. It’s so good. (laughs) It’s so good.

JB: Lot of spooky things goin’ down in that game.

CP: Oh, God. “Fresh meat.” Oh my goodness. I could play that for hours. I need to download it for my computer. Yes, Diablo. It’s great. That game is magical, but also further proving, like, yes, I did a lot of research in investigating my curiosities of the paranormal. And things that I had natural instincts in, and inclinations about.

And you’re young, and your imagination runs wild. And you’re getting so much information. But I’ve always listened to my gut, even from when I was little. And before even knowing what that meant, “listen to your gut.” Like, I keep coming back to the same feeling about something, so I’m gonna follow it.

And taking things at face value, and knowing that I was not twelve years old and on drugs. I was very much twelve years old and had a regular old day comin’ home from school with my baby sister, and hey, how’s it goin’, demon?

JB: Face to face with a regular ol’ demon.

CP: Just, you know, usual shenanigans after a day at school. Like, what? No. Yes. Very real. Very real. And I can leave it at that.

JB: And going back to what we were talking about a little bit earlier, this night is exploring a lot of different kinds of fear, and yours is one of the ones that’s really exploring true terror. That feeling, it goes beyond fear. It’s, like, a very physical reaction, right?

CP: Yeah.

JB: And I’m curious if you can just tell me a little bit more about how that manifests itself for you, how you feel that, what that means for you, your interaction with that, with the feeling of terror. Do you seek it out?

CP: The feeling of terror, I believe, is rooted in not being able to have control. So when I’m brought upon a situation that really leaves me open and vulnerable and seemingly with no escape or solution, that’s terrifying. The state of our union is terrifying, for instance.

Like, there’s only so much control you have, as opposed to seeking out terror. It’s more of a thrill when seeking it out. Like, how– I’m gonna put myself in these very specific situations to see how far I can push myself. Almost, like, conditioning myself to more and more scary things.

And I know that I like to think about life or death scenarios and means of escape. It’s so ingrained in me now, but every place that I go to since, I dunno, maybe I was nine or ten years old, I look for exits. I look for possible weapons within the room.

Like, really scoping out, if shit went down, this is what I would do. And also giving up to some kinda absolute thing of, there’s really no escaping this building if anything happens, but okay. All right.

JB: So you wanna see what your defenses can be so that you won’t experience terror if an extreme moment strikes.

CP: Yeah. Yeah.

JB: Because terror is a paralyzing thing, right?

CP: It is. It very much is. You can prep all you want, too, but ultimately, when you’re in that moment, it either paralyzes you for a moment and you then react, that fight or flight. I tend to fight. (laughs)

JB: And you can’t fight without a good weapon, so.

CP: Yeah. So I need to do my research and prep myself. But oh man. It’s a pride thing, too. Like, “yeah, I can do this.” If someone walked in here right now, I would know how to react. But also knowing, ultimately—

JB: If someone dangerous walked in, you mean?

CP: If someone dangerous walked in here, I dunno. Okay, so we have one, two, three points— we’re at a table. Instantly, I would shove you to the ground, and we would both be under tables.

JB: That would be very easy to do. (laughs)

CP: Just shove you to the ground. (laughs) I don’t know. I don’t know what about me always wants to be prepared for battle, like I am some low level, I dunno, agent that needs to just constantly be aware of dangerous surroundings and how to battle against them. Crazy. I’m rambling. But terror, yeah. I like being prepared for terror while I simultaneously like having control taken away from me.

JB: Yeah. And I think one thing that I’ve heard a lot while talking about fear with people is the link between fear and control. Other people are doing pieces about anxiety, and the way that the anxiety and the fear are interlinked, because that strikes when they feel like they’re out of control of a situation.

But I think there’s a degree to which we, in a “controlled” setting, we like to have some control taken away from us. That’s why we go to, like—

CP: Haunted houses.

JB: —haunted houses, and watch scary movies, and play scary games and stuff like that.

CP: Yeah. And it’s also fun to think about, have I conditioned myself so much that I’m not scared of this particular thing anymore? Curious. But there’s a greater power. I’m not terrified of the spirit realm or demons. I think there is a level of respect of other entities, and I know I’m like, “Cool. I just crossed onto some of your territory. Thanks for the visit. Yep.” (laughs)

JB: Yeah, I’d like to talk about that too. Because one of the things that I take away from this piece, and that I think the audiences will take away from this when they see it as well, is just the importance of always having caution and respect when you’re dealing with the unknown.

CP: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

JB: Because there’s so much potential danger out there.

CP: So much, so much. So stupid. Don’t be stupid. (laughs)

JB: And I think that applies to both the paranormal and just real life.

CP: And real life, yeah. Be informed. Be informed about what you’re getting into as much as you possibly can. Make better choices before going into the unknown, or things that you do not have control over, ultimately. Or you do not have the upper hand over, ultimately.

JB: I mean, it also kind of ties into Neil’s piece, what he’s doing this month a little bit too. About how you never know about the potential danger that might be out there in terms of individual people who are seeking to do you harm.

CP: You don’t know me. I mean, yeah, you know me, but do you know me? I’m off the rails. (laughs)

JB: Well, you don’t know me either, Cristina.

CP: Josh. I can’t scream in here. (laughs) But that possibility. I think people are so quick to forget that, or let down their guard enough to assume that people are always good or that— you would never suspect something. Shock and awe. Shock and awe can come to anyone, and from anyone.

JB: Because there’s a certain trust component to it as well, right? Like, I go to this haunted house. I trust that no one in this haunted house is actually going to kill me.

CP: Yes. Yes.

JB: So they can pretend like they’re gonna kill me and it will be fun, and I’ll be okay with that.

CP: Uh huh. As opposed to— (laughs) going to a haunted house and there actually being serial killers there. And, you know, that’s a possibility too. I prefer not to think about that.

JB: That’s actually my haunted house concept. (laughs)

CP: Oh my God. You might wanna edit that out of there so you’re not on anyone’s list of potential criminals. (laughs)

JB: I’m curious; other than experiences like this, where you encounter something that clearly means you harm, what else scares you?

CP: I don’t know if it meant me harm, which is something that you’ll see in the piece. You can decide for yourself.

JB: Okay, I’ll amend that.

CP: That has the threat of potential harm.

JB: There you go.

CP: What actually scares me aside from that? I jokingly said it earlier, but all jokes are based in truth. The state of our nation. Truly. I shouldn’t have to fear, or live with a undercurrent every single day, of wondering whether or not the next interaction I have with a person of the law, be it a cop or what have you, is going to result in my death or my brother’s death.

It’s outrageous, it really is. It wrecks me. It wrecks me. That is the one true fear, that we don’t have the same opportunities and liberties to pursue happiness in this country because of these racial biases and lack of training and accountability in our law enforcement and these people that are supposed to protect and serve us.

And that’s what I fear. For my friends, for my family, for myself. And it doesn’t matter if I am a smart, capable woman who knows how to quote-unquote “handle herself” in situations. None of that matters.

JB: Because we’ve seen examples of other people who were for all appearances handling themselves just fine.

CP: Yep. Respectability gets you killed. And you wonder why people riot. We can’t do this? We do one thing, we do anything, we’re fucked. And that’s terrifying. But you go day by day.

JB: Scarier than leaving the circle open?

CP: Much scarier than leaving the circle open. ‘Cause you’re leaving your entire life open.

To purchase tickets for Decent Company October: fear, click here.

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