Meet The Playwright: David MacDowell Blue

davidblue

David MacDowell Blue

GK moderates We The Infected, dedicated one of the most exciting vampire novels in years, Let The Right One In by Jan Alvide Lindqvist. A few months ago he interviewed the writer of this play about Carmilla and all sorts of things related to same:

You’ve had a long career in theater and a long love for this story – Carmilla. What caused you to write this play now? Was there some tipping point? Has this been something you’ve been working on – at least in your head – for a long while?
In a way, I’ve been trying to write this for over two decades! Or more! My first meager attempts at writing a play version go back to the late 1980s. But within the last five years I’ve rediscovered live theater in a big way by starting to review performances for my blog. And at the same time I’ve been writing more often than in years and years. With the upsurge of interest in vampire stories, just seemed inevitable I’d start work on a play version once more–but this time with less baggage, more skill and insight. Comes with age, I suppose. And tears. For example, when I first started writing Carmilla back in the 1980s I’d never lost anyone to death. Since then, I’ve lost both parents and a woman I loved. That tempers you, like a blade.

The play has an intriguing presentation in that the central character, Laura, is on stage in, well, two time periods at the same moment. I’m not sure of how to explain that or what the theatrical term for it might be. How did you come upon this – is this something you’ve seen done elsewhere – and do you see any risks for this will might come off?
Actually, I felt more-or-less inspired by Peter Shaffer and his his plays Equus and Amadeus, both of which do something similar. Quite simply, a character tells what happened, and events are acted out on stage to demonstrate. The added factor in my play is that the narrator (Laura) speaks to a specific other character (Captain Martin) with an agenda of his own. We see what happens, but we also see what Laura says happens–they don’t always match up. And we see Captain Martin’s reaction to same. When think about this kind of “flashback” isn’t so odd. Look at the Mrs. Lovett telling Sweeney Todd what became of his wife! Or for that matter Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. But having the narrator as part of events, that comes from Shaffer.

 How do you find the process of launching into a play, as a producer? You are the author here, as well, so that must play into it. Is it all-consuming, keep you up nights – or have you a means for keeping it from running you life for the next months?
Ha! The fact is, preparing everything proved more thought- and time-consuming so far. What helps most of all is that I’ve got help in a handful of folks aiding me, and the fact I spent so much time in preparation. Especially the last! In fact, I’d say that was key to any success we achieve!

Do you have a solid idea of what you want to do for sets, props, layout and lighting – or is this something that evolves as the play moves from the drawing board, through rehearsals and meetings and eventually to opening night?
Generally yes, but it will evolve. Always does. For example, we only recently decided that to highlight the historical background of events–Austria joining the Reich on the eve of WW2–to pretty much keep to the colors of the Nazi flag. Shades of black and white mostly, with specific dashes of bright blood red. Someone involved in the production wanted to somehow highlight that aspect of it.

And, of course I have to ask, is there any chance of you making an appearance on stage for Carmilla?
Only if something goes terribly wrong and I have to fill in one of the parts!

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Meet the Cast: Deneen Melody

introducing.madame

The narrator, Laura, lost her mother so young she cannot remember the woman. Instead she was raised by a governess, played by Deneen Melody.

Tell me about yourself! Who is Deneen Melody?
That is a very good question! I am still discovering who this Deneen
Melody person is myself. However, I suppose I can tell you that I am a
trained ballerina from Texas that made the plunge into the acting world a
few years ago. While I was living in Chicago, I became highly involved in
the independent horror scene, but since made the decision to pursue other
genres and acting opportunities. I have also been in Los Angeles for just
about a year.
Since my move, I began to become more interested in theatre, which brings
back my love for the stage and helps with my training as an actor. I have
been very fortunate to meet so many kind, genuine people in the Los
Angeles theatre community that have encouraged me on this journey.
On a random note, my favorite thing in the world is the fantasy genre and
I’m obsessed with things like Lord of the Rings, The Last Unicorn, and all
the dark fantasy films of the 80’s. Oh, and I also have a thing for Thor
and enjoy Renaissance Festivals.

What did you know about the story Carmilla before becoming involved in
this production?
Actually, I was familiar with Carmilla and a few variations of her story
prior to becoming involved with this production. She is a character in one
of my favorite anime films, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, and I had played
a role similar to her in which I did a bit of research. However, it wasn’t
till I met David and Mark that I really dived into getting to know
Carmilla, Laura, and all the others involved. The story is certainly an
interesting take on vampirism and I’m excited for our audiences to
experience this particular telling of the story

Your character, Madame Perradon, is a romantic, fascinated with tales of
the paranormal. Does that strike a chord in you?
Absolutely. You are talking to a gal that is surrounded by all things
magical and supernatural. Light and dark. Where others may find it silly
and childish, I open up my heart and accept it. There are so many
unexplained things in the world…why should we choose to believe in some
and dismiss the rest? All stories come from some place, some truth.

How do you approach playing a role?
Every role is different, but I always find some common ground with each
and every character I portray. Even if I feel, in absolutely no way, that
I can relate to the character, I will read the lines over and over again.
I will reach into my very being and find something, anything, to connect
to. When I am performing, whether on the stage or in front of the camera,
I wish to be the character.
Being an actor is difficult, as are many things, of course. It is a
constant journey. As far as I am concern, I am always learning and
growing. I am a completely different actor now than when I first started.
I am a completely different actor now than a year ago. And I am a
completely different actor now than a performance ago.

Do you have any favorite vampires in fiction? Who? And why?
Well, as I mentioned above, one of my favorite anime films would be
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, and I have always had a soft spot for Meier
Link. He is tragic. At first you think he is this awful, dark being, but
then you learn the truth of his actions. It actually makes me sad just
thinking about it. He delivers my favorite quote from the film, too, in
which he says to the woman he loves: “I don’t want you to worry about
these wounds of mine. They will heal, and then we shall go to the City of
Night and distant stars. When we go there we can be alone, and free to
love each other.”
More recently, I enjoy the character of Eli in Swedish vampire novel, Let
the Right One In, written John Ajvide Lindqvist. I first saw the original
version of the film and was enchanted by Lina Leandersson’s performance.
From there, I read the book, and was instantly fascinated by the
character’s history. It is a different spin on what many people think of
vampires, especially with things like Twilight and those CW teen shows. If
you have yet to read the book or see the film, it is one I highly suggest.
There are so many ways to interpret who the character of Eli is and what
her true motives are, which can actually be said the same for Carmilla, in
my opinion.

(Note: Lindqvist has confirmed Let The Right One In was to some extent inspired by LeFanu’s Carmilla)

What do you personally hope for in terms of the audience, both for the
play and for your performance?
To be honest, I hope the audience comes out of the experience with their
minds racing. I hope they are as intrigued with the story as I am, so much
that they discuss the story and characters with each other. Who is good,
who is evil? Why is that character the way they are? What is the truth? To
me, anything that can create curiosity within an audience is a very, very
good thing.
On a personal level, this role is going to be such a challenge for me. To
play a character that is physically older than myself, well, it should be
interesting, especially when I tend to play younger than my age. With that
in mind, I truly wish to bring something interesting to Madame, something
that others may overlook. There is certainly more to her than meets the
eye, and I hope I will be able to bring that to our audience.

Finally, is there a question you wish I asked? If so, what would the
answer be?
You didn’t ask if I believe in Unicorns. And the answer is, yes. Yes, I do.

Is Carmilla Evil?

from 'The Blood Spattered Bride'

from ‘The Blood Spattered Bride

A friend of mine recently ranted about a dichotomy in modern vampire fiction. On the one hand we see the Byronic immortal longing to find true love. Then we find the human-shaped sharks with just enough humanity to be cruel. Easy to find examples, really. Look at Edward Cullen from Twilight, Barnabas Collins in all the many incarnations of Dark Shadows, Countess Marya Zeleska in the film Dracula’s Daughter as well as the title character in Varney the Vampyre. Then take a gander at The Lost Boys, at the creatures in 30 Days of Night or From Dusk Till Dawn.

What’s most interesting, though, are those undead characters about whom folks argue. The ones who don’t seem totally one way or the other. At least, not to everyone.

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Let Me In

An obvious recent example–Abby in the motion picture Let Me In. This is the English-language adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s brilliant novel Let The Right One In about an eerie and somehow touching relationship between a misfit little boy and the child vampire who moves next door. The American film starred actress Chloe Grace Moretz as Abby, the vampire.  Reviewers almost immediately drew up into two camps about her character. One saw Abby as a lonely child who hated being alone and found a friend/love/companion in Owen (played by Kody Smitt-McPhee). The other looked at the exact same performance and saw an immensely clever animal, a manipulator of vast skill pressing all the right buttons to recruit a new slave.

600full-scars-of-dracula-screenshot(Lindqvist confirms Carmilla inspired his own vampire story, not incidentally.)

Dracula himself has seen the same debate played out. Some insist the Count must only be a vicious predator of great charisma, much as Christopher Lee portrayed him in all those Hammer horror movies. Others prefer a more tragic characterization, far more like Gary Oldman in the Francis Ford Coppola film.

So which do I prefer? More importantly, which choice did I make when writing my own version of Carmilla?

Essentially, both.  One of the problems I have with most versions of the story is how they see Carmilla herself as an unremitting predator and really nothing

Nightmare Classics

Nightmare Classics

much else.  Apart from anything else, that surely makes for the least interesting choice possible. More, I would posit the story itself does not back that up. Consider how Carmilla resists feeding on Laura for nearly a month after she arrives. If you examine the times given, you’ll learn Carmilla did not wait so when targeting Berthe, an earlier victim. More, she even suggests leaving early, before starting to drink Laura’s blood! Seems like a case of mixed feelings to me, between conflicting desires.

Something else to consider–an issue LeFanu brings up in that subtle, intriguing way he has. When Carmilla is not visiting young women to feast upon their blood, where is she? She’s evidently not alone. We know she has an older female companion who says she’s the girl’s mother, complete with coachman who seem unpleasant in a quite visceral manner. The Polish television version actually hints

German play

German play

they might be dead people (a nice touch). Certainly they do not seem very pleasant company.

Might it not make sense Carmilla feels lonely? Might long for some more congenial company with which to spend the centuries?

Frankly, this leads to another question, at least as far as I’m concerned. Compare in your mind’s eye how the visit to Laura’s home might seem to Carmilla as opposed to where she usually spends her time? A beautiful home, with pleasant company, everyone treating her exactly like an ordinary human girl. She can pretend to be alive. Can brush the hair of this girl she evidently finds so very attractive.

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Drusilla and Spike

At heart–and I’ve seen this even in the process of collaborative writing–I don’t agree with the premise of “Oh well, she’s a vampire so she must be evil!” For one thing, what a vague concept! What does one mean by evil? I usually get the impression they presume vampirism infects people with sociopathy.  This even makes some kind of sense sometimes, as in The Strain where the entire nervous system restructures itself–or Buffy the Vampire Slayer where the soul leaves the victim to be replaced by a demon. But even then, the most interesting vampires nearly always end up those who retain or regain some aspect of their humanity. Drusilla is still mad, after all. Spike makes for a far more fascinating character than The Master.

So that governed how I wrote the title character. Yes, she’s a vampire. A monster who preys upon other human beings. A predator who must have found some way to emotionally ‘live’ with her means of survival. Certainly capable of great ruthlessness. Yet…also capable of affection, loneliness, regret, even love. I also frankly suspect has a deep melancholy streak that surfaces when the funeral of her victim strays into view.

“Everyone must die! And all are happier when they do!”

That line speaks volumes, or at least it does to me.