Playing Literature’s Icons: A Different Kind of Challenge
by Jeremy van Meter
I just did an internet search for the names of the actors who have embodied the character that I am currently playing. Now, to be honest, I do not do the same search for every character that I play. That search is saved for only the iconic or the Shakespearean characters. And the man, so to speak, I am playing now is certainly one of literature’s most iconic.
My search resulted in seventy-seven other actors who have portrayed Count Dracula in some form or another. That search is specific to the film world which means that taking live theatre portrayals into account, that number most certainly reaches into the hundreds. Some highlights from my search:
Judd Hirsch of Taxi fame played the count in a made for TV movie entitled The Halloween that Almost Wasn’t.
John Caradine played the monster in Dracula vs. Billy the Kid. I promise I’m not making that title up.
Christopher Lee played Dracula in ten different films over the course of his career.
Robert Reed, the patriarch of The Brady Bunch, played the role in a vampiric episode of Fantasy Island.
Playing a well-known and iconic character is an interesting and fascinating challenge and, at times, can be an uphill struggle. I have known for quite some time that Scott Dixon was envisioning me as he was writing his title character in Dracula: Prince of Blood, an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. First of all, that is quite humbling and has made me take great care in how I created the character in rehearsal and how I play him in each performance. The other consideration was for all of those men who have played the role ahead of me. The one thing that I hope to never hear is that I am a reminder of Gary Oldman or that I sound like Frank Langella did when he played the role. The uphill climb of playing the iconic character is to find the specific nature and quality that makes the role “your own.” In so doing, I am being faithful to myself and my talent in not playing a carbon copy and I am being faithful to the vision of the playwright. An honest portrayal is my only task.
And speaking of iconic characters…my next role at the Commonweal is to play a radio actor playing George Bailey on-the-air in It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. The answer to your question is, “No, I will not be playing Jimmy Stewart.”
Dracula: Prince of Blood is now playing at the Commonweal through November 11.
We are thrilled that Ron Evenson of Houston Dental Clinic stepped forward to design and create original sets of fangs for our resident vampires in this season’s Dracula: Prince of Blood. If you were in the audience for the 2002 Commonweal version of Dracula by Steven Dietz, you may recall that Ron created the fangs for those creatures of the night, as well. In this edition of Drama Unfolds, Ron describes the behind the scenes process of creating that most necessary of vampire tools.
Vampire Fang Revival
by Ron Evenson
Kieran Dixon (son of the playwright) and the Vampire Vixens.
You’ve been designing and creating fangs for quite a few years. Tell us about that first incarnation.
— That began when I made fangs for myself for a Halloween party and the boys thought I should make them some also. Over the years, John (my son and dentist) and I have made various appliances for friends who knew we could do that sort of thing. Bugs Bunny teeth were popular!
When you heard Commonweal was doing another production requiring vampires, I understand you volunteered to make custom fangs again. What prompted you to do that?
— My wife, Rae, and I love the Commonweal! We have seen every production at least once every year since the beginning back in 1989 at the St Mane Theater, with very few exceptions. We actually had bit parts in one of the very early plays and really got hooked on the Commonweal. We like to do whatever we can to help out and promote the theatre. This is one way we can show our appreciation.
Ron Evenson sizing up Dracula…aka Jeremy van Meter
Where does one even start in the process of creating an original set of fangs?
— We start with impressions of the actor’s mouths so we can make models to see how the teeth bite together and also note the shape and size of the teeth and facial features that may influence the shape of the fangs. Then we make wax fangs on original models. When we are satisfied with the wax fangs, we duplicate them in acrylic resin.
I understand that you and John made the fangs for our 2002 production of Dracula…has anything changed about the process of making them 16 years later?
— The process is pretty much the same as in 2002.
What is the most challenging part of that process?
— The final fitting where we make sure the fangs fit properly and the actors are comfortable wearing them.
You basically donated the time and effort taken to create these pieces. Can you speak to that idea a little further?
— John and I both feel that endeavors in our area such as the Commonweal need the support of local people to be successful. And in turn, these endeavors are vital to the health and growth of our rural communities and to the quality of life we enjoy here. We are grateful that we have the opportunity to help where we can.
It must be great fun to work on. Can you describe that or offer any highlights?
— The highlight for me was being able to again collaborate with my son John just as we did in 2002. We both enjoy having used our skills to produce the fangs for both of these fine productions.
Seeing the amazing vampire fangs created at Houston Dental Clinic up close and personal at the Commonweal is just one of the many great things to do in Lanesboro. What’s another one? Take the short mile and a half drive out of town to visit Bob at Avian Acres Wild Bird Supply. This serene Scandinavian farm among bluffs and hardwood forests offers some of the best birdwatching and selection of supplies in the area.
Ruthanna Emrys is an author based in Washington, DC. Ms. Emrys recently had an opinion piece circulate through National Public Radio about how reading horror stories can actually help us to survive and make sense of our own horrifying world. We are all about the power and value of a good horror story right now at the Commonweal as Scott Dixon’s new adaptation of Dracula: Prince of Blood makes its way to the stage later this month. The timing of this article could not be better because, honestly, who doesn’t appreciate a good tale of things that go bump in the night?!
Reading Horror Can Arm Us
Against A Horrifying World
by Ruthanna Emrys
Jeremy van Meter as the Vampire Lord in Dracula: Prince of Blood
Tom Lehrer famously said that satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize. And yet here we are, still struggling to exaggerate the follies of power until power can’t get around us. Horror has much the same resilience. As terrifying as the world becomes, we still turn to imagined terrors to try and make sense of it. To quote another favorite entertainer, Neil Gaiman, “Fairy tales are more than true: Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” Horror, descended from those tales, tells us about more monsters — and more strategies for beating them.
The banal evils of the world — children shot, neighbors exiled, selves reframed in an instant as inhuman threats — these are horrible, but they aren’t horror. Horror promises that the plot arc will fall after it rises. Horror spins everyday evil to show its fantastical face, literalizing its corroded heart into something more dramatic, something easier to imagine facing down. Horror helps us name the original sins out of which horrible things are born.