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‘Thrilling Dead’ brings new life to campus

Andrew Coconato, assistant director of Osprey Productions, played the role of zombie Michael Jackson. A zombie dancer in black stands with Coconato, holding an umbrella, which was a prop used in her performance.
Photo by Katie Patterson

Under the full moon on a cloudy, chilly Thursday night, UNF students gathered around the Green to experience a nightmare in November. Smoke coming from behind tombstones tainted the air. Creatures dressed in black, with powdered white faces and dark eyes, stood in the center as their zombie brethren crawled on the grass to the center.

In the background, an anonymous voice quoted lyrics from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” The voice said, “Darkness falls across the land. The midnight hour is close at hand. Creatures crawl in search of blood, to terrorize your neighborhood.”*

On Nov. 6 at 10 p.m., students awaited the performance of ‘Thrilling Dead,’ where over 150 students participated in a choreographed number for the school, according to Andrew Coconato.

Coconato, UNF senior and assistant director of Osprey Productions who came up with Thrilling Dead, said students create pride in their organizations, causing a disconnect among UNF’s campus. “The reason why we’re doing the ‘Thrilling Dead’ is so we can take all of that entitlement away, put everyone on the same playing field,” Coconato said.

“And the cool thing about zombies is that if you put 100 zombies in one room, you don’t really look at them as black or white, gay or straight, republican or democrat, rich or poor,” Coconato said. “A zombie is a zombie and you don’t have any classification for it.”

Mirelle Smeen, office program assistant for Osprey Productions, was a coach for the event and in charge of teaching the “zombies” their choreography.

“‘Thrilling Dead’ is a production for students, alumni, faculty, anyone who would like to be a part of it,” Smeen said.

Coconato said they practiced one night a week since September.

“When they [the dancing volunteers] came to the first practice, I numbered them off from one to 13, and split them into groups so they couldn’t be with their friends,” Coconato said.

The show started with female zombies in black, who carried umbrellas and moved towards each other, while three female zombies in white danced in the foreground. In the background, the outlines of zombies were spread across the grass, moving forward as the ones in white performed.

The music picked up as zombie pallbearers walked across the lawn, carrying a giant coffin. They set it down and the crowd held their breath, waiting for the corpse of Michael Jackson to emerge. Instead, a faceless creature came out of the neon-green lit coffin, dancing wildly and contorting its body into positions.

“I did this because I’m a dancer and I love Michael Jackson,” Alexandria Thompson, freshman who played the dancing creature, said. “It’s a tribute to Michael Jackson and I get to dance, so it works.”

The music picked up, and the zombies crawled faster towards the center. Out from behind the crowd, a hoard of zombies slowly emerged and more than 100 bodies easily piled onto the green. Out of nowhere, Michael Jackson, played by Coconato, appeared as the leader of the zombie apocalypse, and the thriller dance commenced.

“I thought it was awesome, it was so sweet,” Regina Rinaldi, UNF alumnus said. “The Thriller dance was amazing. Like, Andrew Coconato did spectacular. He outdid himself.”

The crowd roared in approval during and after the dance. The crowd assumed the event had run its course. That is, until the sinister announcer said:

“What, and you thought it was over?”

Then, with the coercion of the cast, the entire crowd did UNF’s signature swoop with the zombies.

“The event was great, it was a smashing success,” Joshua Stephens, freshman and zombie dancer, said. “I was carrying the coffin and I had a panic attack. We did not expect this great of a turnout — it was crazy!”

Coconato said he hopes ‘Thrilling Dead’ will become a tradition for the school. “Everyone had fun, and that’s all that matters,” Coconato said after the show. “Honestly, the whole purpose was to bring students together and it did that. There were people that watched it, there were people that performed it. There wasn’t anyone here that was part of a specific organization that wasn’t UNF, and that was the whole purpose of it.”

Gallery photos by Katie Patterson

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*11/8/14 at 1:26 p.m.- Updated with added introduction.

*11/10/14 at 6:33 p.m. – Updated with video of the performance.

Email Erica Santillo at [email protected]

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