Puttin’ the dread back into Drac
Rockport — Vampires — they’re everywhere, played by Johnny Depp and a legion of younger men keeping the hair product trade in good order. Some of them even sparkle, for crying out loud.
“Dracula is like Sherlock Holmes in a sense, a fictional character who has taken root in people’s imagination — talk about the undead!” said John Burstein, who is directing a stage adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel that will open Halloween night at Rockport Opera House.
Burstein wants to bring the well-trod vampire trope back to its bloody roots and is pulling out the multimedia stops to do so. From movie-quality effects makeup and black light to video projections, sound effects, score and more, his is one decidedly terrifying telling of the time-proven tale.
“I want to scare the wits out of people! If we get some screams out of the audience, I’ll know it’s a success,” he said a couple of weeks before the show’s opening.
Burstein comes to his cinematic approach honestly. Perhaps best-known as the entertainingly educational Slim Goodbody, the Lincolnville resident spent 40 years producing television programming, videos and DVDs, Discovery Channel segments, curricula and traveling live shows. In 2010, he returned to the stage in Everyman Repertory Company’s “The 39 Steps”; the following year and again in 2012, he played Ebenezer Scrooge in the “Christmas Carol” adaptation by John Bielenberg of Belfast. He plucked talent from both casts for his “Dracula,” which marks his debut as a theatrical stage director.
Burstein thought it would be a great idea to do “Dracula” around Halloween and that partnering with an organization to stage it as a benefit would be a great way to fill seats. He approached Penobscot Bay YMCA with the idea and a match was made. Proceeds will benefit the Y’s teen programming and the new LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program for cancer survivors.
In connection with these causes, the Friday, Nov. 1 performance has been dubbed Teens Only Night and will be supplemented by student-made zombie short films; and Saturday, Nov. 2, is a special 21-and-older event evening featuring music by Bay Chamber’s Odeon Symphony Orchestra, appetizers by Primo, wine and Bloody Marys.
“And we’re having a blood drive,” said Burstein; the Red Cross will be taking donations Thursday, Oct. 31, from 1 to 5 p.m. at the opera house.
A $3,000 grant from athenahealth has helped cover some of the production costs, which include everything from fake blood to lumber. The latter will help stage designer John Bielenberg address a Rockport Opera House problem when it comes to theater.
“Originally, we were going to do it at the Y, in the gym area, but it didn’t work out. It’s always bothered me at the Rockport Opera House how high the stage is. But John’s done a great set design with two levels, stage and on the floor — we’re going to bring the actors to the audience,” said Burstein.
That being the case, the actors have to look right and they will, thanks to period costuming by Elaine Bielenberg and makeup design by Rob Fitz, a professional makeup artist Bielenberg met over the summer at Maine Media Workshops and brought back up from New Hampshire to, among other challenges, turn David Troup of Rockland, a Farnsworth Art Museum staff member and karate instructor, into Dracula; and Marie Stickney of Belfast, a librarian at Camden Public Library, into primary prey Miss Lucy.
“He’s done all kinds of movies and came up with designs for the major characters,” said Burstein of Fitz, whose approach includes temporary teeth and special effects contact lenses.
“It’s quite the challenge for David in particular. How does he find his own Dracula? But he’s done a wonderful job. I think I have the best cast in the area,” Burstein said.
Joining Troup and Stickney in the show are Everyman’s Paul and Jen Hodgson, Scott Anthony Smith and Hanna DeHoff; Robin Jones, who was in last year’s “Christmas Carol” and Camden Civic Theatre’s “The Fantasticks”; and David Greenham, former producing artistic director for The Theater at Monmouth. They will be stage managed by Keith McKenzie, assisted by Faith Stevens; and illuminated by lighting designer Tom Sadowski.
“Dracula” was first adapted for the stage in 1927; in the 1970s, it was revived first on Nantucket and then on Broadway in a Tony-winning, Edward Gorey-decorated show produced by Vinalhaven’s John Wulp. Burstein has done his own version, cutting out the original’s lengthy expositions — “We don’t need it, everybody knows ‘Dracula!’” — to keep the show moving … and taking every opportunity to highlight the horror.
“I love how in movies, the music really adds a lot, so I wanted a score and thought, what else can I bring in?” he said.
What else indeed. Burstein’s “Dracula” uses rear-screen projections throughout the show, including weird imagery during hypnosis, which figures in Stoker’s plot quite a bit, and a set of truly horrific images to accompany Lucy’s dream sequence.
“We’re using black light, blackouts, lightning bolts and scary stuff — I want to make people jump!” said Burstein.
Ticket sales are already jumping for “Dracula,” which will be presented Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 31 through Nov. 2; and Friday and Saturday, Nov. 8 and 9, at 7:30 p.m. at the Rockport Opera House, 6 Central St. Tickets are $18, $12 for children younger than 18, with the exception of the Nov. 2 special event, which is $50. For tickets, stop by the Y, 116 Union St. in Rockport; call 236-3375; or visit penbayymca.org.
A&E editor for Courier Publications, LLC
(207) 594-4401/4407, ext. 115
Dagney has been providing Courier coverage of the local arts scene since 1985 and has helmed the multi-paper A&E section since it debuted in 2003. She has been a local performing artist, community and professional, for almost 30 years and spent a decade writing, producing and announcing on-air for several Midcoast radio stations. When not in the NewsNest, Dagney likes to be in motion.