Dracula—Deconstructing and Reconstructing a Classic Horror Story

Retelling a Classic Horror Story
through a New Play

by Scott Dixon

As a playwright, one is often in search of that perfect word for a particular moment. It can take a while to find—experimenting with different words and variations of words. In times like these, my bookshelf copy of Roget’s International Thesaurus is my best friend. Right now, I’m searching for the best word to sum up my feelings about rehearsals starting for Commonweal’s world premiere production of my play, Dracula: Prince of Blood.

Ah yes, I think I have it…WAHOO! (I don’t think that’s over the top at all. I bet Paula Vogel and Tom Stoppard say the same thing at the start of a new rehearsal—even if it’s just to themselves.)

Opening night will, of course, be exciting and, like a kid before Christmas, I doubt I’ll sleep much the night before. But where Dracula: Prince of Blood is now, this phase of a new play’s lifecycle is my favorite. It all started with Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula. Then, a few years ago now, I came along to deconstruct and reconstruct this 19th-century classic horror story into a 21st-century play. During that time, the only creative voice in the room was my own—supplemented here and there with input from others with whom I shared my work-in-progress. But basically, I was the soloist.

Dracula - Prince of Blood by Scott Dixon, adapted from the Bram Stoker novel

           Lizzy Andretta and
         Jeremy van Meter in
       Dracula: Prince of Blood

Then Dracula: Prince of Blood gets selected for Commonweal’s 2018 season, and steadily more voices get added. A director is hired, and a team of design artists is assembled, to do their own deconstructing and reconstructing of my work through the lens of their creativity and imagination. And now the cast is gathered to add their contributions. I have gone from being a soloist to one member of a larger chorus.

And this is how it’s supposed to be. It’s true that I have a certain anxiety about giving up my total control, but that’s ultimately just a flash of ego. It’s natural and I let it pass through because what’s about to happen is simply amazing. It’s the lesson I learned watching a play of mine brought from page to stage for the very first time with Commonweal’s 2005 production of The Nutcracker & The Mouse King. I had the special experience of watching talented artists take the story I’d written and bring it to life in ways which were beyond anything I could have imagined for myself.

That’s exactly the kind of energy that’s in the air right now. I get to be on the inside and the outside at the same time—intimately knowledgeable of what this particular telling of the Dracula tale will be like, and yet being surprised by new discoveries in every rehearsal I watch. I’m already incredibly proud of this production. I hope to see you at the Commonweal where we can both enjoy the hard work and talents of so many.

Until then…all the best to you!

Dracula: Prince of Blood begins previews August 31 and officially
opens September 8 —> PURCHASE TICKETS.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you at the theatre—Jeremy.

Guest Actor Series #2: A Vital Part of the Professional Theatre Company

In this edition of Drama Unfolds, we learn more about Colleen Barrett. Colleen is an actress living and working in Minneapolis/St. Paul but graciously accepted our invitation to “drive south” to join the cast of The Clean House in the role of Ana. We are thrilled to have her as a guest/seasonal actress this year and sure hope you get the chance to meet her and see her gorgeous work on stage.

A Most Important Part of our Theatre Company

by Colleen Barrett

Guest Artist - Colleen BarrettDescribe yourself in a sentence.
—A work in progress.

Where is your hometown?
—I was born in Seattle, WA. Lived in Des Moines, WA, St. Paul, MN, New York City, Milwaukee and Saigon, South Vietnam.  My parents emigrated to America in the early 1950’s. I hold dual American/Irish citizenship.

From your short time as a guest actor at the Commonweal, what have you learned about the company?
—Passionate, engaged and dedicated people who excel at whatever they put their hearts and minds to.

Where do you live when not in Lanesboro?
—I commute back to a suburb of Minneapolis.

What is the best part about that place?
—We don’t have any airplane noise and there are tiny bright green frogs that attach themselves to the glass windows at night in summer.

As a child, did you have dreams of what you wanted to be when you grew up? What were those dreams?
—No. I didn’t dream. We had a tough time and we were very poor. I started working to help my family in 5th grade. Seven of us lived in a two-bedroom apartment and my Mom babysat two other little boys Monday to Friday 7am to 5pm on top of her five kids. Dad worked as a mechanic for Northwest Airlines on swing shift. We had a lot of serious challenges when I was growing up. I was supposed to go work in a civil servant job – but I always knew I didn’t belong there. I’m too quirky.

Cheaper by the DozenDo you recall the moment or set of circumstances that led you to the stage?
—Sr. Raphaella cast me as the Mother in the play Cheaper by the Dozen in 8th grade at St. Philomena’s Grade School in Des Moines, WA. She didn’t audition us, she just assigned us our parts. I was very quiet and shy. When I came on stage in the school cafeteria for the first performance I felt completely at home.

Tell us something about you that might be surprising.
—I’ve worked tons of jobs. Kitchen assistant in a retirement home; burger stand; record shop; chairlift operator near Mt. Rainer; janitor; follow spot operator; manager of a high-end women’s clothing store in NYC; assistant buyer on 7th Ave in NYC; studied dance in NYC for 5 years; terrible waitress; dresser for the Men’s Chorus on Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables at the Ordway; a slimer on a fish processing boat in Alaska; flight attendant for 2 regional airlines; over 20 years experience as an on-camera talent and voice actor in the midwest.

You love theatre. Why?
—The professional theatre world called me and I knew that I loved acting with a passion but didn’t know how to pursue it. There wasn’t a clear pathway when I was growing up. I just kept stumbling along trying to learn what I could and to study with people I respected.

Why did you take the role of Ana in The Clean House?
—I knew and respected The Commonweal Theatre’s work. Many actors I admire have worked for the company. I have also had the good fortune to work with Adrienne Sweeney in the past and jumped at the chance to work with her again.

I found Sara Ruhl’s writing a river of inspiration about the complexities of love, memory, time, parents, children, husbands and wives, lovers of any age, siblings, myth and “things that come in unannounced.” How could I say no to two beautiful roles? I get to play two women who are so very different from me and are passionate and romantic! I am a “mature” actress and who knows if I will ever be offered the chance to play those kinds of roles again!

I’ve lived long enough to know that when the Fates offer me a gift… I’d be foolish to say no.

Seeing Colleen take the stage in The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl is just one of the many things to do in Lanesboro. Hungry for another idea? Go for a hike, tackle the high ropes course or simply get back to nature on the beautiful grounds of Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center
The Clean House plays through October 22 —> PURCHASE TICKETS
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you at the theatre!—Jeremy

A Never-Ending Friendship

This season is one full of farewells. This week we at the Commonweal we prepare to say goodbye to Megan Pence as she moves to Tallahassee, Florida to become a Seminole and begin work on her Master of Fine Arts Degree in Directing. Words cannot express what Megan has meant to this company nor how proud we are of her and happy we are for her. In this edition of Drama Unfolds, Megan reflects on what she will miss the most about life at the Commonweal—friendships.

A Friendship Built to Last

by Megan K. Pence

Megan K. PenceWhen I first came to the Commonweal as a Directing Apprentice back in 2011, I imagined that I was going to come to Lanesboro, do some stage managing and assistant-directing work, direct the apprentice capstone project and be on my merry way. Never have I ever been so glad to be so wrong.

The Commonweal—between its ensemble of incredibly talented artists and its beautiful community of patrons—have taught me so much over the past seven years. I have never experienced a professional theatre company where the artists would not only interact with their patrons but would create deep, lasting relationships with the people who see their shows. And now as I prepare to leave, that synergy of artist and audience, those relationships—friendships, really—are among the things I will miss the most.

And speaking of friendships, I cannot begin to say how much this ensemble has taught me, about my art and about myself. I am a very different artist and person than when I first arrived, and the gift of growth that the Commonweal has given me is immeasurable.

Megan Pence in Woody Guthrie's American Song, 2015Since I am much better with other’s words than my own, I will leave you with these from Woody Guthrie from Woody Guthrie’s American Song (one of my favorite shows here!):

I have heard a storm of words in me. But I know these words are not my own private property. I
borrowed them from you, the people that I owe. I borrowed words from you same as I walk
through the high winds and borrowed enough air to keep me moving. I borrowed my life from the
works of your lives. Your works and my works hold hands, and our memories never will separate.”

With love and gratitude for being a part of my story.
Afar, but not apart,
Megan

Megan’s legacy lives on with the run of her directorial swansong, The Clean House, running in rep with The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee through September 24th, and then with Dracula: Prince of Blood through October 22. 
Get tickets for the fabulous 2018 lineup —> Performance Calendar
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you at the theatre—Jeremy