Dracula – Brought Back to Life!

Dracula_LOGO_FINALBY Patrick Mares

On a Tuesday night, February 2nd L.A. Theaterworks will be bringing a radio play rendition of Brahm Stoker’s Dracula to the Weidner Center. Much like the old-is-new growth in podcast audio fiction, L.A. Theaterworks brings literary audio to millions of listeners. Their productions are broadcast across the English speaking world, and even play daily on the radio in Beijing China.

We asked Associate Producer Anna Lyse Erikson what separates a L.A. Theaterworks’ productions from a traditional play.

“It’s like being backstage at a radio broadcast,” Erikson said “for instance the sound of Dracula biting someone’s neck is done by an actor taking a wedge of iceberg lettuce and crunching it in his hands, which is kinda fun. There are a lot of sound effects which are done by the other actors, doors opening and closing, lots of things.”

She said that actors in their radio plays also address the audience directly.

“Rather than scene partners kind of facing each other and sharing the scene with one another,” Erikson said “the audience, being this fourth wall, they see this interaction as the actors are actually facing the crowd and interacting with them as much as with their scene partners.”

The live audience adds an additional element to a radio play: visual.

There are of course a full set and actors garbed in costume. Behind the action is a screen, where animated drawings by Sean Cawelti, their video designer, help bring the play to life.

“There is a set and video projection projected on a screen behind the actors,” Erikson said. “Those are animated drawings that move throughout the piece creating a really cool setting for it.”

Often the troupe will record one version of the show for distribution and offer another version tweaked for local audiences. Since in this case the recorded tour had been captured prior to this season, the cast has been quite free to customize the showings for their live audiences.

This production is a mix of old and new.

LA_Dracula_20150930A_674_Matt-Petit“We chose Dracula because we wanted to do something that was appealing to popular culture,” Erikson said “and there’s so much being done about zombies and vampires right now.  We choose our tours, sometimes based on their social significance, and sometimes on their entertainment value, in the thought that this would be an entertaining and fun piece for the audiences.”

She said that while the costumes would be period, or at least an L.A. Theaterworks riff on that style: the animations, drawings of bats and wolves, and things that are very important to the story, are attuned, not to historical accuracy, but more modern sensibilities. While no one is pulling out a cell phone on stage, the company is more interested in presenting a truly creepy experience than historical minutia.

The production itself runs 90 minutes with no intermission.

“Which means like any video or stage production,” Erikson said “quite a bit had to be cut out of the book. The adaptation by Charles Morey focuses on Dr. Helsing. We discovered a great way of telling the story, because Dr. Van Helsing’s journals are really what shape the piece. And in a lot of ways we found that he is really the main character as much as Dracula.”

L.A. Theaterworks just celebrated its 40th anniversary last year. Their founding producer initially started out with an organization called Artists in Prison. Over the years it changed, evolving into a traditional theater company and then transitioning the radio plays they do now.

“We started recording plays for radio in the mid 80s,” Erikson said. “There wasn’t really another American company doing that at the time.”

Erikson herself has been with the group for five years, managing the casting, artistic hiring, play selections, rights acquisitions, and overall live production for L.A. Theatreworks’ live and in-studio recordings and tours.

L.A.’s recent productions have included “In the Heat of the Night,” “The Graduate,” and Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice,” but Erikson said there’s something special about Bram Stoker’s masterpiece.

“With the undead so in the public zeitgeist, we thought that this would be an entertaining and fun piece for the audiences of our tour.”

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