Just me talking about costume-y kind of stuff
My friend and fellow Aggie Player Christie Vela, recently became Theatre 3's new Associate Artistic Director. For their first show of the season, a brand new adaptation of Dracula was created with her friend and fellow Terror and Tacos podcast host, Michael Federico. They are also currently producing a horror film together entitled Final Dress. If you are interested in checking out any of those things there are links below:
My History with Dracula
My husband and I are huge fans of the novel. My favorite interpretation is the Copolla film with Gary Oldman and costumes by Eiko. My husband loves the original Universal picture with Bela Lugosi. Between us we have seen dozens, maybe even a hundred interpretations on stage and film and even the bad, cheesy ones are enjoyable in their own way. In fact when I was in college, I was in a terrible adaptation of Dracula in which we simply didn't have enough men to cast all the roles, so our Van Helsing was a woman, Ginny Green. Our director, Robert "Coach" Wenck welcomed the cheese so much so that the climactic staking of Dracula scene was underscored with "Chariots of Fire" music as everyone moved in slo-mo. Our curtain call music was "Ghostbusters". Christie saw this version but swears that Van Helsing being a woman was entirely Michael's idea. So believe me when I tell you that the Theatre 3 version may be the best thing to have happened to Stoker's novel since it was first published.
Notes on the script and Casting
I saw Dracula on Saturday night and was completely blown away by the production. Vela and Federico's feminist adaptation focuses on Mina as having agency rather than being a helpless victim who needs to be saved from an evil monster by all the men in her life. Federico's dialogue makes reference to the many historical female vampires like Lilith and Lamashtu, to the new law allowing women to own property. Lucy even asks if Mina is now a suffragette. In this version both Dracula and Van Helsing are played by women-- the sultry Allison Pistorius as Dracula and the sassy Gloria Vivica Benavides as Van Helsing. Another interesting casting choice is that all three of Lucy's suitors--Dr. Seward, Arthur Holmwood, and Quincey--are played by a single actor, Josh Bangle. I'm including both the dramaturgical notes as well as the director's notes so you can read them for yourself. All three photos are enlargeable so hopefully you can make them big enough on your device to read the tiny text.
I was lucky enough to be granted an interview with the creative team (it helps having gone to school with half of them). Here are their thoughts.
From the director, Christie Vela:
"As far as directing the piece, we really wanted to stick to the original story as closely as possible, but focusing on Mina's arc way more than the novel; Michael and I talked a lot about what would be the Legacy of Dracula if Mina really had agency; we both felt that Dracula just offered her a better deal. As we delved deeper into that, it was just a no-brainer that some things about how Dracula is traditionally portrayed would have to change, namely, that Dracula would so obviously be played by a man. We didn't want to straight up change it and make Dracula a woman, but we did want stay in line with the notion in the book about Dracula being whatever he needed to be in order to survive--a mist, a fog, a swarm of beasts, and so on. However in Victorian England, what's the best way to navigate the world without drawing attention? Well, that would be a rich man. It was never mine and Michael's intention to define Dracula's gender, that's the audiences' business. And to us, Allison was the best actor in town to do it, Michael wrote the role [Dracula] for her. Also, honestly, we really wanted to have a super sexy Dracula, violent and scary sometimes, but we weren't interested in watching a male actor do that to a female actor. For me context is important, so it would not have mattered in Dracula, because we're talking about a monster, but to many people I think it would have been uncomfortable and we wanted it to be fun."
The playwright, Michael Federico:
"The only thing I’d throw in is that in researching vampire folklore, most of the oldest stories surrounding them (Lilith, Lamashtu) are about women. For me, in this adaptation, Dracula’s true form is female. It’s why she couldn’t be a “proper heir” for her family. Like Christie said, she has chosen to move through the world as a man, because it affords her a level of ease. I think the last time we see Dracula (in the Dragon dress), we’re seeing her in her true form."
Christie Vela: "It’s super interesting to me that as much as we’ve talked about it, and as much as it was important to Michael [for] Dracula to be revealed as female, as a director, I didn’t focus on that as much. It wasn’t important to me as much I guess, also the text and the costume took care of that for me, but it’s not like we disagreed about it either. I think it’s just a meta example of gender being important and arbitrary at the same time. It’s important to be seen, but it also shouldn’t define."
Michael Federico: "To me, the important thing is that in the end, Mina doesn’t have to hide who she is, regardless of gender. She doesn’t have to do the things Dracula did in the past. She can just be the thing she is."
Notes from the Designers
Scenic Designer Jeffrey Schmidt
Costume Designer Holly Hill
Lighting Designer Aaron Johansen
Sound Designer John Flores
Here's my not very good photos of the set pieces that I took from our seats before the show started.
Here's what it looked like under lights with no audience in the seats.
"From a lighting aspect the goal was sexy and spooky! Also, I needed to help tell location as much as possible. I tried to stay dark and shadowy during Dracula’s scenes and bright and full in the scenes that didn’t involve Dracula. I also used color to try and reference back to a location that we had been to before. Some of my favorite moments are the Renfield scenes because he was confined to that little space. Also, Dracula bites Lucy and his Brides attack Harker because both of those moments were done with a single red light. Simple lighting tends to be the most beautiful lighting in my opinion!
"Christie and I had many discussions [about the sound design]--our old school love of Hammer Films, the style and feel of the wild vampire shows back during the Day of the Dead shows of Teatro Dallas, very melodramatic, highly stylized, cinematic, moody, playful and fun. "Sexy Nightmares" began to form as the signature aesthetic. But what was more important as the sound developed was to also find the right balance, while spirited, spooky and fun, it was important to not "send up" the story but rather the idea was to become more lost and awash in the dreamy beautifully dark 'revelation' of who and what Dracula IS. Melodically, we were drawn to many avant-garde modern Romanian, Polish and other European musicians [and] composers such as Iancu Dumitrescu, Zbigniew Karkowski, and the collective Art Zoyd, as well as traditional Romanian music composers such as Lelita Saftita, just to name a few. Also we had a moment of last minute inspiration: After the 1st read of the script, after the very last line is spoken the stage direction calls for "electric modern music begins to play into the Blackout". I leaned over to Jeffrey Schmidt [the Scenic Designer] who was sitting next to me and said, "and cue: cover of "Bela Lugosi’s Dead" by JIM/JOHN MAKE NOISE. JIM/JOHN MAKE NOISE Is an experimental electronics outfit made up of myself and my friend Jim Kuenzer, and we've been composing all sorts of crazy strange music for ourselves and theater productions for the last several years. For this rendition we reached out and collaborated with a celebrated new wave artist in town, Sammy “RAT” Rios, and her vocal stylings and artistry were not only incredibly resonant on their own, but also symbolically potent--the vibrant, wickedly haunting female voice wailing out "Bela Lugosi's Dead" heralding the death of the traditional iconic male representation of Dracula, ushering in a new voice, a new spirit, a new power, this new Dracula.