Meet the Cast: Lara Bond

introducing.laura

Lara Bond plays the lead in Carmilla, the young woman telling her tale of what happened when a beautiful visitor came to her father’s home.

First off, tell me about yourself. Who is Lara Bond?
Questions like this always befuddle me. I don’t quite know how to answer them. On paper, Lara is a young woman living in the late part of the 20th century, early part of the 21st century. She is a person of multiple backgrounds, giving her a unique view of the world and it’s people.

Though her passport is American, her hair-Moroccan, she will always be a Berliner.

She enjoys the arts and sciences, and doesn’t really care about much else. She loves animals and people—when they’re being civil.

And how did you come to be involved in this production?
I was cast in a production directed by Vanessa Cate, the actress playing Carmilla. I had seen her work on stage before and was excited to get to work with her. It was Vanessa that invited me to the auditions for Carmilla.

Were you familiar with Carmilla before this?
I remember hearing the title or name of the character over the years, but never read or heard the story. I was excited to find out that it was an inspiration for Dracula.

What do you think of your character, Laura?
I am fascinated by her isolation and calm, deep spirit. Also, her ability to open herself up so willingly to Carmilla, especially when she’s had such few people to connect with. Their relationship is a very mystical one.

Is there a particular challenge in your mind to playing this part?
I am excited to explore the idea of standing in different time periods during the play. How to be in the present time, recounting the past, and then be in that past story experiencing it for the first time. Also, the relationship between Laura and Carmilla is going to be an amazing challenge because it is so layered. It is a bond of friendship and sisterhood and yet has an otherworldly, seductive, deep love in it. There is a sense of these two being entwined by destiny. I think it’s important for the audience to feel this connection and perhaps to feel enwrapped in it with them.

Generally, how do you feel about vampires and vampire stories? Do you have a favorite?
I LOVE vampire stories. Everything about them, including the history of the folklore, the setting in eastern Europe, the idea of the undead, the immortal. All of it is fascinating to me. I’ve been a fan of vampire stories since I was a kid. I religiously listened to a German series of books on tape called The Little Vampire, a story about a young boy who befriends a young vampire boy. Most of my Halloween costumes growing up were vampire costumes, the occasional witch or Wednesday Adams, but vampires were always the trusty go to. Even in college…See below.

I really love the film Interview with a Vampire. I was about 12 when I saw it the first time and while it was gory and I was scared, I though it was so beautiful and really captured what it must feel like to be a vampire. I’m also a big fan of Coppola’s Dracula and Joss Whedon’s Buffy and Angel series.

Basically, I adore vampire lore but I do believe first and foremost the story has to be great. I think I connect more to vampires than other creatures in the horror genre because there is such an element of beauty and mystery to them. They’re not your average undead “monster”… But I guess a hardcore werewolf or zombie fanatic would say the same thing.

How do you want audiences to respond to Laura specifically, and to the production in general?
I want the audience to understand her and to feel her solitude. Even relate to it. The fact that Carmilla is the first person that Laura has gotten this close to, that they have a mysterious bond, I hope will be a journey for them, as it is for Laura. She’s not a victim of her circumstance but is, one could say, chosen.

Finally, is there any question you will I’d asked? And what would your answer be?
If you were given the choice to die or become a vampire, what would you do?  Vampire. Definitely. I’d try to get a job in special effects.

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Things To Avoid Adapting CARMILLA

Having watched all but two filmed adaptations of Carmilla (there’s a French television one from the 1980s haven’t tracked down yet, and a lost BBC version from the 1960s), I feel qualified answering this question: What should anyone adapting LeFanu’s work avoid?

CryptV10The most obvious two things to avoid are pervasive in pretty much every single film version ever made. First, giving Laura a suitable male romantic interest. Why not? First and foremost, it completely alters the dynamic of what happens. A lonely girl growing up surrounded by much older adults in an obscure part of a foreign country must become a different person if she has a boyfriend. How not? Part of the seductive power of Carmilla herself lies in how she remains an outsider. Laura cannot help but feel the same way–she has no siblings, no playmates, not even a mother to teach her how to become a young woman. LeFanu’s description (through an unaware Laura’s eyes) tells of a home equal parts empty yet suffocating. Anyone functioning as a Prince Charming alters this. Instead of escape then, Carmilla becomes nothing but an invader, diminishing the layers of ambiguity. Yet that very ambiguity gives the story its power! Power here is key. Laura has none. But a brutal truth which explains something of the attraction Laura feels for Carmilla is that, in love, the one who loves least has all the power. In this case, that one is Laura.

vampire_lovers053Mind you, were Laura more-or-less betrothed to someone against her will, that might work very well. Providing her would-be paramour remains not her choice. On the same basis, we the audience need to understand why she doesn’t want this person. Which means creating an entirely new character (or altering an existing one–turning the elderly Colonel Spielsdorf into a younger man for example). I’m anything but opposed to that. But–does it achieve anything worth the trouble?

Possibly. However, that becomes a different topic.

The second most common mistake made is essentially to rob Laura of a personality. This highlights why Carmilla remains (at least in my humble opinion–okay, not soooo humble) a feminist classic. Western society assigns certain traits to different genders. Allowing women, for example, to display traditionally masculine traits becomes thus ground-breaking. Bravo to Buffy The Vampire Slayer! And Clarice Starling, River Song, Lara Croft, etc.!

Angel-Buffy-Shows-vampires-15859991-610-745On the other hand, therein lies a trap (one addressed by Caryl Churchill in one of my favorite plays of the XXth century, Top Girls). If we value women only when they behave like stereotypical men have we really accomplished much? Laura in Carmilla is by no stretch of the imagination a tough grrrrl or A-type personality. One might easily call her a waif. This invokes the stereotype of “mindless doll” which, in turn, degrades a big percentage of the human race. Male as well as female.

Writers do face a dilemma with Laura. She seems to take little or no action. Emphasis on “seems.”

This dilemma vanishes once you accept an essential fact about the story–the “action” consists of Laura’s emotions, just as the “setting” is Laura’s mind. Her feelings, her awareness of events, her reactions to people and events–this makes up the stuff of the story. When about ourselves, it also makes up the bulk of our own. How not? But then we face another dilemma–isn’t fiction supposed to be more exciting that real life? Yes, it should. Hence emphasizing the mystery and eroticism of the tale is the way to go, rather than artificially stapling onto Carmilla all kinds of action-adventure tricks.

617183_475726369125722_1254493957_oThat, not incidentally, makes for yet another trick to avoid in any adaptation–what I call copying Bram Stoker (or James Bond) . In a nutshell, folks who want to fit the story of Laura and Carmilla into a different kind of dynamic than the one it already is! Instead of drama, romance, addiction, mystery, eroticism and subtle horror they look for thrills and chills, action and adventure, heroics and daring-do. Consider Crypt of the Living Dead as well The Vampire Lovers, both of whom focus on the menfolk rushing against time to find the vampire’s lair and destroy her, thus saving the ingenue from a fate worse than death! Blood and Roses at least mixes this up a bit by having them fail, but never realizing it. One very cheap adaptation adds the thrill of Laura’s sister and husband trying to flee a small New England town transformed by Carmilla into a nest of the undead (very Salem’s Lot).

What none of these do is tell the story in LeFanu’s novella. He has Laura recount what happened about a decade after the fact (to whom remains unclear, but internal evidence suggests an older woman from a city). Doesn’t take much to realize she’s an unreliable narrator given her (subtle) contradictions and omissions. In the Victorian Era, what we see as little more than mild hints they viewed as akin to hardcore pornography. Much as with The Turn of the Screw, Picnic at Hanging Rock, even The Usual Suspects, a huge amount of background remains tantalizingly unclear. The major mistake folks generally make in adapting this story is avoiding the heart of what the author originally created.

Mind you the Polish television version from the 1980s and the upcoming independent film Styria (that I’ve had the good fortune to see) manage to avoid these mistakes quite neatly.

Hopefully, so have I!