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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Costume Art Examples!

Carmilla is vastly fortunate to have as a costumer Katie Jorgenson. She very kindly shared some of her artwork regarding her designs.

Laura.costume.renderFirst, the lead, Carmilla’s love interest and victim:

For Laura I figure that her access to clothing and fashion would be somewhat limited so I based her look on late 1930’s sewing patterns that were widely available and figure that she and Madame Peradon would probably be making a  lot of their own clothing. The fabric is a warm grey with a very subtle floral Jacquard weave, and the contrasting fabric is a cream color with a woven floral motif.

Countess.costume.render

And then the mysterious woman who claims to be Carmilla’s mother:

For the Countess I found this really interesting metallic deep red printed fabric that looks almost black in certain light and then light red from other angles and is reversible to grey/black on the other side (which I used for the belt). It has a subtle floral/rose print to it that I thought would give her a sort of gypsy feel to her. I found a lot of images with women wearing fur stoles around their necks and I figured this would be an easy way to accessorize her and glam her up a little. (And I could make a faux one) Crazy hats were also prevalent so I thought a velvet black hat with some black netting would give her looks some added drama.

Carmilla_day.render

Finally, the title character:

So for Carmilla‘s daytime look I based it off of a late 1930’s dress that I found online but changed it to a deep red velvet. I thought it would be interesting if she wore all of the colors of the nazi flag between her two costumes.

Meet The Director: Mark Hein

mark.hein001Mark Hein recently starred in Its A Wonderful Life for Christmas. Before that he’s performed many times at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre as well as many other venues. He is co-director of Carmilla!

How did you come to be involved in Carmilla?
I stumbled on LeFanu’s story 20 years ago.  I loved the wicked genius of not only having a woman vampire, but having her seduce women.  I eagerly saw several of the movies made from it, but was always disappointed.  David was the first person I’d met who knew the novella, and when he said he was adapting it for the stage, I was intrigued.  At the table reading, it was clear he’d created a play at least as powerful as the original — so I was in for the ride.

What is your interest in vampires, lesbians and/or lesbian vampires?
Of course, as a youth I saw and loved the 1931 Dracula, and enjoyed vampire films when I could.  But back then, they were either at drive-ins or on late night TV — no VHS, DVD, or internet.  (And  no cons, cosplay or fandom.)  Decades later, a grad school prof asked which mythic figures had a presence in our lives, and I was stunned — for me, it was vampires. Largely because two lifelong friends had become major vampire novelists.  So I decided to research them … and found Carmilla.

As for lesbians?  Spending my first adult life as a teacher and therapist, I came to appreciate that people who grow up LGBT have fought and won their way into life.  So I’ve done whatever I could to be supportive, personally and publicly.  As an artist (in my second adult life), my passion is bringing to light what has been hidden or ignored, devalued or made taboo.
Lesbian vampires?  Two for the price of one!

Describe how you approach directing a play?
I’ve learned that imagining the play — the lighting and costumes, the set, the blocking — is the easy part.  The hard part is inviting people to become vulnerable and go deep, to find human truth and embody it — and then holding a safe place for everyone to do this dangerous and delicate work together.
I’ve also learned that a play grows constantly.  From the writer’s first envisioning, through the director’s re-imagining, then the actors’ and crew’s re-conceiving and presenting it, and lastly to the audience, who are the final authors.  As you hand it forward, you hope it will become something more than you imagined.  So I share my vision not as The Text, but trusting the company to find something — many things — that I couldn’t.

Are there any particular challenges you see in directing this play?
Oh, yes.  It’s always a delightful challenge to have such an elegantly crafted script.  You want to do justice to all its subtleties — the rhythms, the echoing themes, the beauty of the language — but you also want to sustain the tension and forward drive of the story, and its increasing horror.  In addition, David has followed LeFanu’s lead in creating a tale of extreme ambiguity.  Each character has a different point of view, and holds it passionately.  And there is no definitive reality for us to judge by  — not even our own.  So we’ll be working constantly at keeping each point of view as real and convincing as all the others, even when they flatly contradict.

Care to offer any thoughts on the cast?
Gratitude, and trust.
As David has said, we were “gobsmacked” at the amazing array of talents we were offered in auditions.  It was a huge privilege (and almost a curse) to be given such lovely, difficult choices to make.
At the first read-through, they did it to us again.  This is simply a splendid cast.
I feel like a conductor asked to lead the LA Philharmonic.  I’m thrilled — almost terrified — but I know they will create marvels.

When audiences finally see Carmilla, what do  you most hope happens?
Well, because it’s a vampire play and a play about ambiguity, I’m hoping they go home debating. Talking over everything, from whether vampires even exist to whether we can ever know such a thing as truth, or even the truth of someone else’s experience. Most of all, though, I hope people feel touched personally by experiencing this play.  I hope it inspires them to feel and wonder about what it is to love, what death might mean, and what makes us human.

Finally–any questions you wished I’d asked? If so, ask the question and give the answer please!
“Do I believe in vampires?”
No and yes.  Do I believe dead people re-animate and drink blood?  No.
But we humans have, in all cultures and times, imagined such figures.  I believe it’s because they embody something important about our experience of ourselves.  Perhaps they carry some of our need for one another, the need we try so hard to hide.

They also seem to say something to us, for us, about whatever lies beneath and beyond the physical world — the super-natural, the meta-physical, the divine.  What exactly?  The best place to look for that is in the mind and heart of each person who comes to Carmilla.

Meet The Cast: Irwin Moskowitz

 

introducing.peddlerA character often omitted from LeFanu’s story is the peddler, the first to suspect there’s perhaps something odd about Laura’s visitor.

So tell me about yourself. Who is Irwin Moskowitz?

Growing up in Pittsburgh, I spent many Saturday afternoons at the movies.  And I watched every movie I could back in the day when there were only three channels.  Among the many films I watched were the early talkies including Dracula and Frankenstein.  I like to point out that the budget on the original Dracula was so small, it did not include music/soundtrack.  See it today and there’s no music, like Hitchcock’s The Birds.  But I digress.   A movie lover from the get-go, guilty as charged.

At the U. of Pittsburgh,  I majored in Psychology and Theater, getting great “college” theatrical acting experience including playing assorted characters in Spoon River Anthology and other roles both on the main stage at the Stephen Foster Memorial and the black box of its time, the Studio Theater.
I moved to Los Angeles as soon as I graduated from Pitt and hoped to land a big show business gig.  Still waiting for that to happen, I decided to be “practical” and got an MBA from UCLA.  My class had quite a few “artistic” students in the Business School, and we put on a production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.  I got to play Charlie Brown.  Sweet.  I put aside my acting career and worked in Marketing, Brand Identity, Real Estate and Banking.  I sat in the audience for years thinking what I shoulda, coulda and woulda but dinta.
Flash forward to four years ago when I became ill, so I became an extra.   Mostly awful work, to be sure.   I said we were potted plants the production was required to feed.  Real potted plants, unfortunately, got more respect than the extras.  But, I got to work on sets and see how tv shows/movies are made.  Very, very slowly.  Feeling better and with all my extra work (ha!) under my belt, I auditioned for theater productions in LA and got cast.  I had a leading role in A Big Gay North Hollywood Wedding which ran for six months.  Most recently, I played President Harry Truman in Presidential Suite in NOHO.  I love theater work.  It’s tough, yet wonderfully rewarding.   I liken the thrill of going onstage to what a skier must sense when he takes off down the mountain, only more dangerous.
Next up, Carmilla!

I already know the answer, but how did you come to be involved in Carmilla?

Answering an Actor’s Access call for Carmilla, I auditioned for the role of Laura’s father and other characters, including The Peddler.  Carmilla’s story has moved to 1938 Austria prior to the onset of WWII.   To me, The Peddler (“Carlsberg”), represents a minority figure unlikely to survive the war.   He must do what he can to survive in a hostile, cruel environment, yet provides some humor in the melodrama.  I like to paraphrase Stanislavsky…There are no small parts, only small paychecks.

Were you at all familiar with the story before this?

I was not at all familiar with Carmilla or its story line prior to my audition.  I’d seen countless productions of all types involving vampires, but this is my first time actually working in one.

Are you a particular fan of gothic or vampire fiction?

Who doesn’t love vampire and gothic horror stories/films?  I’d seen the early B&W films on the Late Late Show, called Academy Theater in Pittsburgh, during the dark ages.  Also saw the Hammer films of the sixties, with Christoper Lee, for one, in living color.   The vampire renaissance likely started in the Seventies with Anne Rice’s Interview With a Vampire, but the number of films, et. al., about vampires since then are countless.  And now they’re on TV/cable and popular.  If anything can distract most people from their daily lives/grinds, it’s vampires.  What if?  If Only?  Wouldn’t that be_________________________?  Fill in the blank.  Plus, vampires are sexier than most antagonists so they’ve got that going for them, in addition to living forever.  You call that living?  No days, only nights.   Can’t imagine they make a Serta PerfectSleeper to fit a coffin.  You have to imagine your hair looks ok because you can’t see your reflection in a mirror.  And, although most everyone likes garlic, let’s be reasonable.   And who delivers blood when you’re hungry/thirsty?  You have to get your own!  Or have “people” get it for you.  Like assistants.   It’s gotta be a tough life, or whatever.

You’ve made an interesting contribution to the script itself since being cast. Care to tell that story?

Getting cast as The Peddler, I suggested that he have a name.  To my great delight, David Blue chose “Carlsberg” as his character’s name.  Not only does a name enable an actor to create a backstory, this character represents a vast number of individuals preyed upon, tortured and destroyed by people and situations worse than vampires.  Austria in 1938 was unlikely a center of fine art, culture and waltzes, certainly not to people like Carlsberg.
Describe your reactions so far to this production.
It’s exciting to be part of a world premiere production of an original play based upon literature more than a century old.  I’d heard of LaFanu and there have been films/plays based upon his work.  That’s a trip.  So looking forward to it!
Finally, is there any question you wished I’d asked? If so, what is it? And what is your answer?

No.

Meet the Cast: Elyse Ashton

introducing.countess

Elyse Ashton portrays The Countess, arguably the single most mysterious character in the entire story. LeFanu created a very unsettling atmosphere, in part by not answering certain questions. One of these remains the identity of the woman who claims to be Carmilla’s mother.

Tell us about yourself. Who is Elyse Ashton?
As an actress, I lean towards the classics and the bizarre. Some of my fondest theatrical experiences have been working on productions with the Grand Guignolers and Classical Theater Lab.Very different approaches and aesthetics!  I’m an old goth and this girl loves to dance! It’s fun to work those elements into performances  Theatrical life chose me, and every time I get discouraged and want to make a change, I am furiously swatted around by fate. My college degree was in French literature, and my studies led me to seek out and to love more literature written in my native tongue! I am a voracious reader and researcher. Languages, poetry and books fascinate me. As a woman… I like to remain a bit of a mystery!

Were you familiar with Carmilla before becoming involved in this project?
I  am a a big fan of Lefanu’s writings and that’s what drew me to audition for this project.  Lefanu’s home in Merrion square is one of the first places I visited in Dublin. Eighteenth and nineteenth century literature is my escapism, my happy place.  I adore faithful film versions–and sometimes even the bad versions— of these books as well.  In the 80’s I saw a crazy version of Uncle Silas starring Peter O’Toole on Masterpiece Theatre and knew I must search out and read Lefanu’s books. I never thought that Carmilla was done properly on screen, so I have developed very high hopes for this stage production after reading the excellent script.

So what do you think about vampires? Any favorites?

Oh…yes! Since the notion of vampires evolved into the more romantic, well mannered, rake and less the decaying, dirty, stinky versions of the myth over the last two centuries, there have been some lovely vampire characters that send me swooning. I have to go with Tim Power’s The Stress of Her Regard as one of my favorite vampire stories, because he includes some of my beloved romantic poets and even weaves in Lamia by John Keats.  Baudelaire’s The Revenant  is among the poems I recite  before every stage performance.
How are you approaching your role as The Countess?
There isn’t much in the original text, so I am letting my imagination run amok. I like to do a very thorough background. She must have qualities that Carmilla values:  loyalty, seductive charm and the noblesse which allows her to interact credibly with the sort of people with whom Carmilla wishes to make her temporary home.  Perhaps she was an aristocrat without the money to continue her way of life.  The setting of the play, between the wars, makes that a logical back story. She must have been left quite on her own, possibly losing her family in the Great War.  She also has to be a creditable actress.
In the original story, The Countess’ identity remains a total unknown. She claims to be Carmilla’s mother. But what is she? A vampire? A ghost? Some kind of witch allied with vampires? Do you have a theory? 
I haven’t made all my choices concerning The Countess yet. She isn’t Carmilla’s mother.  Carmilla’s mother is a distant memory and would have held some sort of sway over her daughter, which The Countess lacks. there is a line in the story about how the Countess looks at Carmilla with an emotion that was not affection. No maternal bond.  If she were her Carmilla’s mother, they could both insinuate themselves into households and work their spell.  That would be a totally different story!  There is an element fear, I believe, for the Countess in her dealings with Carmilla.  The Countess is dependent upon Carmilla’s favor.  I have not decided yet on the elements of her relationship with the supernatural.  Her powers do not equal Carmilla’s, and I believe there has to be some hope of gain or benefit attached to the Countess. Of course, one meeting with the director and all these theories could go right out the window!
When the audiences leave the theater, how do you hope they’ll be changed?

I hope they’ll be lured into reading Lefanu and other writers of the period, especially after the unsettling yet glorious dreams which Carmilla  is sure to inspire and then come back and see the show again.

Finally, is there a question I didn’t ask you wish I did? If so, what would the answer be?
Were you born in the wrong time?  On the wrong continent?  Yes.  Absolutely! But I’m sure the ideal gorgeous European centuries of my imagination bear little resemblance to the reality. I treasure my modern human rights, medicine, plumbing and technology…but I still like flounce around in frou-frou dresses and tiaras when given the opportunity.

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.

Meet the Cast: Vanessa Cate

introducing.carmilla

Vanessa Cate qualifies as a triple threat. Not only an extremely fine actress, she’s a playwright in her own right as well as a gifted director. And we are very fortunate to have her play the title character.

First off, tell me something about yourself. Who is Vanessa Cate?
I am a California native with a passion for the theater. I work as a writer, director, and actor. I’ve been working mainly at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theater, but have also recently started my own theater company ‘True Focus Theater’ and am in the process of planning its first independent production, ‘Cat-Fight’.
What kinds of roles have you played before now?
All types. For awhile I was playing a lot of strong, crazy women. And for the past few years I’ve been doing a lot of horror and a lot of cabaret. I think Carmilla will be a good culmination of aspects from all that.
I already know the answer to this, but how did you come to hear about this production of Carmilla?
The writer approached me with the idea – very enthusiastically, by the way – as he was still writing it. Lesbianism and vampirism are two things I’m into, and hearing that he had me in mind for the title role, well it was flattering at the very least.
How are you approaching the idea of playing a 200-year-old lesbian vampire?
I suppose when you put it like that, I have quite a lot to live up to, haha. Vampires have a lot of power, but they don’t have to flaunt it. And Carmilla tries to blend in with the humans around her as much as possible. Much of it will be nuance. And this ain’t her first rodeo. I think she is used to a lot of what happens around her. She’s seen how people react to her before – it’s almost scripted in a way. But what surprises her is Laura, and as a vampire can feel certain sensations in a heightened way, I think a sense of companionship, mingled with a feeling of desire and even hunger that only a vampire can understand, I think that will be the most challenging and interesting aspect. So the connection with Laura will be my focus. 
For that matter, what do you think of vampires in general–especially as characters on stage or screen?

I adore vampirism, and have always had a fascination. It has influenced me in many ways, from the make up I wore in high school to my writing. Whenever the subject matter is a vampire, I am instantly into it. The idea of a predator that could kill you so utterly, and yet you are drawn to it. That’s sexy. And tragic. Though vampires are entering into a strange period where pale heartthrobs somehow don’t need human blood and fall in love with teenage girls, I think we’ll evolve out of that. 

When the audience leaves after each performance, what do you hope they’ll feel about your character?

I hope to have seduced them. 

Finally, what question would you like me to have asked about this role or your performance or the play in general? And what would be your answer?

I think it was perfect the way it was. Some things have to remain a mystery.