Quill Theatre’s ‘Dracula’ aims to recreate the horror and sensuality of the original
Since his inception in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, the character of Count Dracula has been a cultural constant, alternately a horror icon and a cheesy joke, but Quill Theatre’s upcoming production of Dracula aims to bring the horror and sensuality of the original novel to a modern audience.
Jan Powell, the Producing Artistic Director of Quill Theatre, wanted to produce a horror-themed play for the Theatre’s autumn lineup, and ultimately focused on the vampire genre.
“There has been such a dominance of the Twilight movies and there’s now a whole generation now coming into adulthood that grew up on that literature and the Bram Stoker novel is what started it all,” said Powell. “It was so chilling and sensual and different and exciting that it has lasted through all of these generations and spawned all of these other versions of these vampire stories. I started to get fascinated with the idea of bringing the vampire genre to a popular audience, but back to something that is rooted in the Bram Stoker story.”
Powell wanted to balance the power of the original novel with the sensibilities of a modern audience.
“I looked at all the variations on Dracula that are out there in published plays,” said Powell, who ended up going with playwright Steven Dietz’s adaptation because it was both close to the original but also “highly theatrical.”
Dietz’s script combines traditional dialogue, much of it taken directly from Stoker’s original novel, and a brisk pace. “You get little cameos, little vignettes, moments, and then something new happens,” said Powell. “It’s challenging to stage because it’s in a lot of different locations, but what [Daniel Moore, director of the play,] doing with it is highly imaginative.”
With so many transitory scenes in the play, the production needed to keep the tension high and the audience invested. Moore decided to maintain that suspense by cutting out blackouts between scenes and allowing the audience to see the story unfold before their eyes seamlessly.
“I want my actors to immediately to move into the next vignette, next scene, to keep it moving along,” Moore said.
In addition to a brisk pacing, Moore wants to ensure that the characters feel believable and grounded. “The actor who’s playing Dracula [Axle Burtness] and I, we’ve talked extensively about moving as far away as possible from the melodrama,” Moore said. Instead, they’re aiming to “[create] a Dracula that could be somebody that we could fear today.”
There is also a great deal of focus on the grounded portrayal of the human protagonists, such as Mina, played by Rebecca Turner. “[Turner]’s got a really brilliant way of taking a role that depicts a woman with a certain number of social constrictions because of her gender and bringing a contemporary sensibility to it,” Powell said, comparing Turner’s new role to another period-piece she performed over the summer, Jessica in Quill’s Merchant of Venice. In the Producing Artistic Director’s eyes, Turner’s character in Dracula, as well as Merchant, offers a very identifiable modern woman despite the Victorian-era tropes story adheres to. But those confines allow for unique chances and questions to be asked by both the players and the audience.
“No matter how much we evolve or want to evolve, those things are all still gonna be true in a society,” she said. “There are gonna be rules that you are expected to obey, and what do you do in that situation? How do you weigh the stakes, how do you play the power, how do you manifest your desires and your ambitions while taking into account the circumstances you’re facing?”
“I think Rebecca’s a genius at that.”
The unique elements of the performance space, the Dominion Arts Center in the Libby S. Gottwald Playhouse, also gave the production a number of exciting opportunities. Moore described it as less a technical theatre and more a “multipurpose room.”
“It’s large, it’s wide open, which makes it easy to envision an experience for the audience where things are coming at them from all different angles,” he said.
The Libby S. Gottwald Playhouse also has the advantage of certain vertically adjustable platforms, which are typically used to create and adjust for seating. For “Dracula,” however, these platforms have been adjusted to add a vertical element to the stage.
“We’re trying to make the horror of it all come to life around you,” said Pam Webb, assistant director. “It’s not going to be a traditional ‘they enter from the wing and exit in the wings’ and that kinda thing, it’s gonna be coming at you from a lot of different directions.”
“Dracula” will run from September 16th to October 8th at the Dominion Arts Center in the Libby S. Gottwald Playhouse. Ticket can be scooped up here.
The play contains violence and horror themes which may not be suitable for children.
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