In Discussion with Terra Mysterium

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Chicago’s spiritually and steampunk inclined theatre troupe Terra Mysterium has released a video for “In the Observarium.” It’s the title track from one of their latest shows.

The performers took time to answer a few questions by e-mail.

1.How did you become involved with Terra Mysterium?

Keith Green: I’ve been involved with Terra Mysterium (TM) from the start.  Matthew Ellenwood and I were talking on the phone on Saturday evening, November 17, 2007, and he said that he wanted to put together a performance troupe that produced original works with pagan themes.  I asked him if there might be any room for me in such a group and he responded with “I wouldn’t be talking about it with you, otherwise.” The rest is history.

Petrucia Finkler: I met Matthew Ellenwood as part of the pagan and Earth spirituality community in Chicago. He knew I was an actress and invited me to be a part of an artistic project he was planning to birth. This was back in 2007, and so, I happen to be one of the proud founding members of the group.

Amy Christensen: A Pagan Group of whom I was briefly associated was looking for Pagan themed performers to sing at their final summer picnic. I had recently put together a collection of songs for a random collection of Goddesses I was studying and offered to sing them.  I didn’t think the group would be interested; it was just a tambourine and I, however they encouraged me to precipitate.  Terra Mysterium was also singing at that same picnic.  They announced that they were opening a new show at the 2010 Chicago Fringe Festival and had just had their auditions for it the day before the picnic.  I was thinking to myself “Wow! These people are amazing and I have to go see that show!”  It just so happened that they were unable to find the right soprano to play the role of the Goddess Persephone and after their set they all came to me and asked me to play Her!  To this day I cannot believe my good fortune.

Kat O’Connor: I don’t remember where I saw the audition notice anymore, but I saw it and submitted my headshot/resume for the October 2009 play, which I affectionately refer to as “Professor Marius Mandragore Explains It All for You.”  (Brownie points if you’re a big enough theatre nerd to know what that refers to.)  I auditioned for and originated the part of Amber McCoy, who later got “passed off” to Amy Christensen because I was unavailable for the remount at Oasis in the summer of 2011.  I’ve been with TM ever since.

The funniest part about this was that I had met company member Petrucia Finkler a couple years prior to the audition at a class at Act One Studios.  At the time we never found out we were mutually Pagan.  We fell out of touch for close to two years, and then I discover she is the one responding to my inquiry about auditions.  Still more, it took another year and a half before Matthew and I realized that we’d met each other before, eight years earlier, when he was co-leading an organization called Moonbeats.  Our meeting then had been brief, and he’d grown facial hair in the ensuing years, so we hadn’t recognized each other until he off-handedly mentioned his work with that group.

So I suspect some Fates were at play, here…

Song Marshall: I started with TM in August of 2010 as a Stage Manager for Finding Eleusis which was in the First Chicago Fringe Festival. After my work on that show and a couple of “run out” singing gigs, our Artistic Director Matthew Ellenwood informed me “That they would like to keep me for as long as I wanted to be apart of the group.” I gracefully accepted his offer, and when I returned home I promptly jumped up and down and squealed like a 13-year-old fan girl.

Debra Miller: I met Matthew Ellenwood close to 20 years ago now, and we have been in and out of touch all that time.  I have long wanted to work with him, but it took a mutual friend, Valya Lupescu, and The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame induction of Gene Wolfe to finally make it happen.  That was November of 2011. We did a staged reading of his short story “The Toy Theatre.”

Jessica Whitington: Well I was a big fan of theirs after I saw them about 4 years ago at Chicago Pagan Pride. Then I quietly stalked them from afar before giving them my resume at another Pagan Pride. Then they took me on for the Fringe Festival performance of The Alembic, for reasons still unknown to me.

Sean Wilson: I first worked with Terra Mysterium last summer when I was cast as George Sorenson in The Alembic, which we performed at the Chicago Fringe Festival. I had such a great time that I jumped at the chance to play Conradin Fitzgerald in the following production of In the Observarium. After that, I figured I should become a resident member of the company because it was such a great troupe.

Jim Kollenbroich: I’ve been working Terra Mysterium officially for about a year. I’ve known Keith and Matthew for a number of years and had assisted the group with a

couple of shows.  Matthew asked me to participate in a dramatic reading at an event for Gene Wolfe in spring 2012, that TM was performing, and ever since I’ve been a part of the group.

Observarium Ladies2. What are your roles in the troupe?

Keith Green: I’m one of the writers.  I also act, sing baritone, and plunk out tunes on the mountain dulcimer.

 Petrucia Finkler: Acting and writing.

Amy Christensen: I have written a handful of songs featured in Terra Mysterium shows, but mostly I just sing.  I suppose my most notable and re-occurring character is that of Amber McCoy.  She has become my steampunk persona and it amuses me to no end when I am at various steampunk events and people ask me “Are you the real McCoy?”  My answer is a sly, “No, actually I’m not.”  The lovely Kat O’Connor originated Amber McCoy but I was a last minute replacement for her at an event she was unable to attend.  With Kat’s blessing, I entered the Miss World Steam Beauty Contest as Amber McCoy and I am pleased to say I was one of the five finalists.  I was also, incidentally, the oldest contestant, the others were nearly half my age.  With all the work I put into the contest and the Terra Mysterium Steampunk off-shoot, The Owen Society for Hermetic and Spiritual Enlightenment, Kat encouraged me to take over Amber McCoy permanently.

Kat O’Connor: Performer, singer, sometime vampire, and marketing wench.  Matthew and I tag team our social media, so much of what you see on our Facebook, Twitter, and G+ is me.  I also design (and often photograph) our promotional materials, and I am the monkey on Matthew’s back hassling him about making proper marketing plans and sticking to reasonable timelines.  Sometimes it even works.

Song Marshall: I am an Actress, Singer (Mezzo-Soprano), Make Up Designer, and I pretty much help out wherever else I am needed!

Debra Miller: Actress, although right now I am sewing sashes for our upcoming performance of In the Heart’s Core at Oasis.

Jessica Whitington: I’m the stage manager, and help with some vocals.

Sean Wilson: I’m a performer in the troupe. I sing, act, and will be assisting Matthew in composing the music arrangements for our upcoming piece The Lion and the Serpent.

Jim Kollenbroich: My function is mostly decorative. Aside from that, I act with the group.

3. What is your (character’s) back-story?

Keith Green: I’ve played several characters over the years, however, in the Steampunk community I’m known as Professor Marius Mandragore.  Marius is an English Victorian-era scholar and practitioner of the occult sciences.  He first made his appearance in our October, 2009 play Professor Marius Mandragore’s Salon-Symposium Regarding Spirits, Spells, and Eldritch Craft, in which Marius, whose home seems to appear at random times and places around the world, hosted a symposium in his private salon for several occult scholars/specialists from the current era.  Marius has been more or less permanently based in the Chicago area since early 2012 when he and his colleague Dr. Xavier Day (Matthew Ellenwood) founded The Owen Society for Hermetic and Spiritual Enlightenment, which meets at a Chicago pub on the last Sunday of each month.  What Marius and his extended household are doing in present-day Chicago at all is actually the subject of our upcoming play The Lion and the Serpent.

Petrucia Finkler: Professor Gioconda Strega is an Italian witch and a specialist in cryptozoology, the study of magickal creatures. She became fascinated with the subject after being victim to a horrifying harpies’ attack in her native town of Selinunte, Sicily, when she was fourteen years old. She is an avid collector of parts, remains and stories regarding phoenixes, leprechauns, curupiras, pookhas, mermaids, etc. Dr. Strega travels the world extensively on her gryphon, giving lectures and seeking evidence of the existence of those beings.

Amy Christensen: I literally could go on for days.  You can read all about Amber McCoy actually on the Terra Mysterium blog.  I’ll try to be brief.  Amber McCoy grew up in Arizona and discovered she could read auras and specifically, has an uncanny ability to spot when people are lying.  She then used this ability at the poker tables and secured for herself a livable fortune and traveled the world as a professional card player.  Marius Mandragore just happened to be visiting the American West and caught Amber at the tables.  He was of course able to realize that her gift had little to do with the cards in her hands and he invited her to become one of his time traveling apprentices; an offer she couldn’t refuse.  Amber’s raw magical talent comes with a huge helping of arrogance that the professor overlooks due to Amber additional skill as a sharp shooter.

Kat O’Connor: Penelope’s past is shadowy and obscure, just the way she likes it.  The broadsheets prattle on about a notorious con artist and sometime airship pirate they’ve dubbed “Penny Dreadful,” as her aliases all seem to have Penelope as the given name.  She doesn’t think much of the moniker, and of course there’s no guaranteeing the accuracy of the speculation of journalists who are fond of sensationalizing.  Seemingly many people complain of being foxed by Penny Dreadful, which is clearly suspect since with a name so infamous, you’d think that these supposed victims would be wise to such grift before it succeeded.

Certainly the people who know Lady Penelope Whitmore, Penelope Summers, and Penelope Dunn intimately have found no cause for suspicion.

Song Marshall: I have a couple of characters that frequent The Owen Society Meetings and other Steampunk affairs. The First, Delores Dion, made her first appearance in the 2011 reboot of Professor Marius Mandragore’s Salon-Symposium Regarding Spirits, Spells, and Eldritch Craft, as an apprentice. Impressed by how intelligent, powerful and eager to learn the arcane mysteries, Professor Mandragore saved Delores from an ill-fated arranged marriage by taking her on as his first female student. She has been a part of his household ever since.  Because of her studies, she speaks French, Creole, Latin, and Hebrew. She enjoys challenges and her studies immensely and does everything “by the book”. She also enjoys reading, music and “proper” dancing. Because of her Confidence in her knowledge and magical prowess often flirts with arrogance she doesn’t always mesh well with others.  Her turbulent relationship with fellow apprentice Amber McCoy is a prime example.

The Second is Donna Belle DeCarabas a French Creole American from Louisiana is actually a “descendant” of Delores’s. Although I haven’t quite worked out how just yet,  she has many of the same skill sets of her English ancestor with none of the social awkwardness. While she is also highly educated and well respected she is very much a people person and the life of the party.

Debra Miller: I actually don’t have a Steampunk persona…yet.  So far, I have played The Countess of Desmond in In the Observarium and am playing Mina Bergson Mathers in In the Hearts Core, both historical characters.  As to who I will be in the following Terra Myserium project in the fall, well, you will just have to see the show to find out.

Jessica Whitington: Aria Healy was born in Oxford, England, in 1867. Her father was a Chemistry professor at Oxford University. While she studied science with him, she was also trained in the metaphysical arts by her mother’s side of the family who are primarily gypsies from the Southern France. Aria is a medium by nature with a penchant for blood magic.

She met Marius through her father at one of the alumni dinners at Oxford. After attending a few of his symposiums, she decided that he was in need of a secretary and gave herself the position.

Sean Wilson: My character is Hildebrandt ‘Ranty’ Wilberforce. New to the otherworldly, this young man is a video blogger and troubadour who stumbles upon, and becomes obsessed with, one of Professor Marius Mandragore’s books. I don’t want to give away too much, more of his character will develop in The Lion and the Serpent later in the summer, and he will become more active as the performance dates approach.

Jim Kollenbroich: Within the shows, I play a number of roles.  Sometimes more than one at a time. In the Steampunk community, I am Eitel August Wilhelm Adelbert Oskar

Joachim Viktoria, Graf von Pappenheim (Count of Pappenheim). I have performed with this persona at various public events and panels that TM has held. The Count is an expert in ancient evil manuscripts and offers assistance to Marius Mandrigore in training his apprentices. He also offers his services to anyone willing to pay. As the count of a defunct state, I must use my title and skills to acheive whatever financial and social security I can in whatever way I can.  It’s not always pretty, but one must do what one must do.

Observarium Ladies4. How do you and your character differ?

Keith Green: In lots of ways. Marius knows a lot more than I do about a great many things.  For example, he is fluent in at least 3 or 4 dead languages (I only have a passing familiarity with two), and he speaks French.  He appears to have an inexhaustible supply of money (to date, I have not figured out where he keeps it stashed).  He also swears a lot less than I do on a daily basis; I think he’s much more patient than I am.

Petrucia Finkler: I don’t have a gryphon.

Amy Christensen: Amber and I are more alike than is comfortable for many people.  Unlike Amber’s ray gun however, my gun belt sports a live chamber.  I’m a police officer when I’m not with Terra Mysterium.  My no nonsense police approach to life is often labeled as arrogance.  However, my secret truth is that I wish I had Amber’s confidence.  She believes that she is capable of anything and I often doubt my abilities and myself.  What the Owen Society advocates however is developing a steampunk persona who is an “ideal self.”  Amber has actually helped me embrace and enjoy some points of personality I originally thought I should bury.

Kat O’Connor: She’s very mercenary and very much about looking out for number one.  While not necessarily a bad person, she is basically amoral.  The ends justify the means, she makes “friends” (or more accurately, alliances) based on how useful she thinks they can be to her, and her interest in knowledge and the occult is primarily about learning how it can be manipulated for her own gain.  Beyond that, she doesn’t stop to care or consider too much.  She’s perhaps more of a thrill-seeker than I am — or maybe just has more opportunity to indulge it.

 Song Marshall: My characters are much smarter than I am! LOL!  Delores is much more confident in her work and abilities than, also I am much more crass than Delores would ever be!  While I love languages, I only have a cursory knowledge of French and I don’t speak Creole, Latin or Hebrew either sadly but I would love to! Donna Belle is definitely closer to me in her personality, while I do love languages and challenges and learning in general. I love living my life and having fun as well!

Debra Miller: I have never laid a curse on anyone.

Jessica Whitington: For starters, Aria is a great deal more confident than I am. She’s been studying magic for much longer than I have. And in my mind, she’s very much a proper English lady, so she’s very serious and has a good mind for etiquette. Which is not at all who I am.

Sean Wilson: Ranty is a rockstar. Or, at least he wishes he was. At times where I would be humble and back away from a topic, he is persistent.  He is braver than I am. He sometimes needs taming. We have not lived together long, so I’ll let you know more as time goes on.

Jim Kollenbroich: I am not any where near as opportunistic as Eitel is. Though I am

interested in dark magical topics and find them fascinating, I am much more squeamish than than Eitel and would not quite so nonchalantly venture into the realms in which Eitel likes to play.

5. What’s next?

Keith Green: TM wise:  On the evening of Monday, June 10, TM is performing In the Heart’s Core, a play written by Matthew Ellenwood about the four great female magicians of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn – Moina Mathers, Annie Horniman, Florence Farr, and Maude Gonne.  It is part of Earth Traditions’ weeklong, annual spiritual retreat, Oasis.  Our next play, which I am currently in the process of finishing, is The Lion and the Serpent, which is due to come out in late summer.  It will provide the full back-story for Marius and his household, as well as introducing a couple of new characters in TM’s Marius-Steampunk universe. Personally:  With all the work I’m doing for TM, I am kind of surprised to find that I actually do have a life.  I will be teaching a history class on the Crusades at Illinois Institute of Technology this summer, as well as an introductory class on runic divination and magick out of my home.

With what little time I have left over, I intend to hit the gym, play Frisbee golf, catch up on reading and, oh yeah… sleep.

Petrucia Finkler: As I’m currently living in Sao Paulo, Brazil, my participation with the group has been much more limited. However I am thrilled to be flying up to play a Sibyl in In the Heart’s Core, our new show, this June, and will probably help somehow in the development – hopefully also in the performance – of  The Lion and the Serpent later this year.

 Amy Christensen: Well next week we are headed off to Earth Traditions Oasis, a weeklong festival where we will perform In the Heart’s Core.  In July we will be at the Eclectic Affair conference in Campaign Urbana.  Terra Mysterium will be performing In the Observarium.  I’m not in that particular show but I will be presenting at panels as Amber McCoy.  Then I believe in the fall the talented Keith Green is writing a new show that will feature Marius Mandragore and maybe some of his apprentices.  I know it will be brilliant and I can’t wait.  To be honest, I still am marveling at my good fortune.  The talent and intelligence of the people who are Terra Mysterium boggle my mind.  It’s an honor to stand beside them.

Kat O’Connor: With TM, I will be playing Maude Gonne in our midsummer play, In the Heart’s Core.  In the fall we will produce The Lion and the Serpent, where our audience will meet Penelope for the first time, and learn how she came to be acquainted with Marius.  And fighting.  There will be fighting.

Personally: I have just published a book, a little horror story, and am working on promoting it.  A film I was in last summer has just completed post-production, and after a private screening at the end of June, it will hit the festival circuit.  I am also part of a horror/thriller web series about an unscrupulous, shadowy research institute, currently seeking a new filmmaker/editor/producer.  (Know of any? Let me know!)

Song Marshall: Personally, not sure. I have been enjoying catching up on reading, knitting/ crocheting, baking and trying out new recipes! Also, continuing my spiritual growth, and learning about myself and widening my perceptions of the world. And doing some research for our panels at Teslacon ! ;)

 Debra Miller: We just finished the music video for “In the Observarium”, and have been rehearsing In the Heart’s Core, a short play about the four women who were instrumental in creating the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.  In the Heart’s Core will enjoy only one performance, at Oasis, and then we will be working on The Lion and the Serpent for the fall- although, stay tuned, In the Observarium may be remounted at a Steampunk convention soon.  Outside of Terra Mysterium, I currently tour as Mary Todd Lincoln in With Lincoln Productions’ original play Visiting the Lincolns, and we will be at Railroad Days in Galesburg, Illinois at the end of this month. I also tour as Jane Austen, and am currently writing a one-woman show featuring Louisa May Alcott.

Jessica Whitington: Personally: I’m currently studying under Matthew Ellenwood, which is a large part of my focus and time. I’m the manager at Architectural Revolution, and I’m working on making it more pagan/wonderful as the months go on. With my little bits of spare time I’m going to try to write some stories, laze about at the beach, and listen to a lot of music.

Sean Wilson: Most of the company will be performing In the Heart’s Core at the Oasis spiritual retreat on June 10th. As for me, I am looking forward to working with Keith and Matthew on The Lion and the Serpent and grooming Ranty for upcoming Steampunk conventions.

Outside of Terra Mysterium, I love playing guitar. I’m currently working on a solo set. Other than that, I just plan on enjoying the beautiful summer in Chicago. Biking, disc golf, and I plan on doing a bit of camping as well. Anything outdoors.

 Jim Kollenbroich: TM will be performing In the Heart’s Core a play about the early female members of the Golden Dawn written by Matthew Ellenwood on Monday, June 10, as part of Earth Tradition’s Oasis retreat. I will be playing George Bernard Shaw. In late summer we will be performing The Lion and the Serpent. a further look at the life of Marius Mandrigore written by Keith Green. I will be playing a couple of roles in that. Otherwise, I will be working too many jobs and getting too little sleep.


The “In the Observarium” single is available at iTunes at

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