Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Road to "Stoker's Dracula" Part 2

"Dracula" seemed to be a natural choice for a solo adaptation.  The novel is already told through the points of view of different characters, using their diary entries and newspaper clippings.  I knew there had been one man versions of "Dracula" before, so how could mine be different?  I decided to use the original text as Bram Stoker wrote it, and only the original text.

Bram Stoker's notes for "Dracula" are at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia.  I went there one day to go see them.  I was looking for some insight into why Bram Stoker wrote the book in the first place, what he wanted to achieve with it.  I asked the curator at the Rosenbach if there was any material like that in the notes, and she said no.  I was excited anyway.  The curator asked me why I wanted to view Stoker's notes, and I told her that I was writing a one man play of the novel that used only Stoker's text.

"Oh, that's never been done before," the curator said.  I knew I was on a good path.

I was alone in a reading room with Bram Stoker's notes.  I held them in my hands (covered in protective plastic of course).  It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.  Bram Stoker planned out "Dracula" for seven years, something he never did with any of his other work.  I could literally feel his excitement pouring out from the pages, he knew that he was creating something very special.  Stoker was originally going to call Dracula Count Wampyr, and on the page below, you can see him come up with the name Dracula for the first time.  He crosses out Wampyr and writes Dracula, then at the top of the pages he writes "Dracula, Dracula, Count Dracula."  Like someone in love.

The thing that I really took away from the experience of reading Stoker's notes is the amazing imagination the man had.  How he created a story in his mind, planning it carefully, and then released it out into the world.  The book was well-reviewed, but never became famous during Stoker's lifetime.  He never lived to see the monster he created.  It galvanized me to finish writing the play, and gave me a purpose in performing it.  I wanted to honor Bram Stoker's creation, and do justice to his words, and maybe encourage people to go back to the source and read the book.

Since June 2011 I have performed "Stoker's Dracula" at many venues around Philadelphia, in theater festivals, museums, and people's homes.  It is a great honor to perform the play at Curio Theatre Company, where my love of solo performance began.  And to do it tonight, on Halloween, in a dark theater . . . what could be better than that?

Before every performance I talk to Bram Stoker, wherever he is now.  I ask him to let me tell his story well, and honor his work.  I thank him for the gift his work has given me, a solo piece that is my own, and that seems like it has enough blood in it to keep running for a long time.

Happy Halloween!

Become a fan of "Stoker's Dracula: A Solo Tale of Terror" at

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Road to "Stoker's Dracula" Part 1

 This is the first part of a series about how I came to write and perform "Stoker's Dracula," which is coming to Curio Theatre Company October 26 and 27 at 10:30pm, and October 30 and 31 at 8pm.

I have always been fascinated with Bram Stoker's "Dracula."  I first picked up the novel when I was about eight years old.  I got about halfway through the book then, up to the point when the stake is driven through Lucy's heart.  It's a graphic, bloody, and disturbing scene, and it was all the terror I could stand at that age.  I stopped reading.  I still have my first copy of "Dracula," and on the back cover there is a blurb that scared me almost as much as the words inside:

"The reader is warned that he who enters Castle Dracula may not escape its baleful spell, even when he closes this book."

It was right.  I've been caught in the spell of Stoker's masterpiece ever since.

Eventually I worked up the courage to finish reading the book, and over the years I sought out every film version of "Dracula" that I could get my hands on.  I became obsessed with it.  I have a few that I love very much.  The original silent "Nosferatu" feels like a documentary to me.  It feels like it really is Dracula's castle, and Max Schreck embodies the Count more than any other actor ever has or will.  I try to base my physicality for the character of Dracula on Schreck's performance, because he just stands still and scares you to death.

Bela Lugosi's performance is equally iconic, and the thing he really created was Dracula's voice.  When anyone decides to imitate Dracula, it's Lugosi's unique vocal inflections that come out.  For most people, Lugosi simply is Count Dracula.

Werner Herzog's 1979 remake "Nosferatu the Vampyre" has a terrifying atmosphere that starts with the opening credits: a slow pan along a cavern with hundreds of dried up mummies of men, women, and children, their mouths open in silent screams.  I always imaged there was a room in Dracula's castle like that, and seeing it on screen was eerie beyond belief.

I think Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 "Dracula" is the most faithful (for the first half anyway), restoring a lot of the novel's text and structure.  I also have a soft spot for Gary Oldman's performance as the ancient Dracula.  He gets closer to the complexity of the character than anyone else.

And if you love Dracula, how can you not find "Dracula: Dead and Loving It" hilarious?  The cast includes Leslie Nielson, Peter MacNicol, Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman, and the movie is worth seeing for Anne Bancroft's gypsy woman cameo alone.

But in all the movies and plays I devoured, I never found a Dracula that lived up to what I saw in my imagination when I read it. 

I started working with Curio in 2008, when I played K in "The Trial," directed by Jared Reed.  The following season I was in Conor McPherson's "The Weir," which is one of the best scripts I've ever worked on.  It was all about storytelling, especially telling ghost stories (I've also been a tour guide for the Ghost Tour of Philadelphia for six years).  The next show after "The Weir" was Jared Reed's one man version of "A Christmas Carol."

It was brutally cold the night I went and there weren't very many people in the audience.  And it remains one of the best pieces of theatre I've ever seen.  I was captivated by the idea of one person telling the audience a great story, allowing you to use your imagination to fill in the blanks while seeing the author's actual words skillfully interpreted.  Jared's performance took a story I thought I knew and made me see it with new eyes, and see it much deeper and more honestly than I ever had before.  It kind of changed my life in some ways.  It made me discover a passion I didn't even know was there.

As I made my way home from that performance, I kept thinking "I want to do that.  That is exactly the kind of work I want to do."

Around the time I started working for Curio I also began creating a Victorian theater program at the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion in Germantown.  It's an amazing house to do theatre in, beautifully restored and also a gem of a museum.  We have a Dickens Christmas Party event every December, and I proposed doing my own one man version of "A Christmas Carol."  My adaptation is different from Curio's, it is more of an abridged version for one thing.  I can never forget Jared's performance, but I feel like I made it my own.  It was received very well, and I'll be performing my adaptation for the third year in a row this December.  I love telling that story so much.

But it got me to thinking.  I discovered that I loved being a solo performer, and I wanted to do another project.

Then I remembered "Dracula."

To be continued . . .

Friday, October 12, 2012

Tech Weekend - The Runner Stumbles

Last weekend was Tech for The Runner Stumbles.

Which means this weekend is Previews!

This time next week Curio's Season 8 will be in full swing!!

We're so excited we don't even know what to blog about!!!

How about some photos from Tech Week:

Steve (Rivard) in Jail
Costume Parade part 1
(L to R: Ryan, Paul, Liam, and Rachel)
Costume Parade part 2 - So Many Hats!!
(L to R: Harry, Meridian, and Rachel)
Rachel (Erna) at the Witness Stand