Oct. 13--It's a story many people have come to know. The scary tale of how Count Dracula moves from Transylvania to London and begins dining on people's blood, thus killing them.
But it's a story that is new to UW-Eau Claire. In fact, director Richard Nimke has never directed a horror story before, and the theme is new to the 14 university cast members. But when the curtain opens Thursday at Kjer Theatre for the opening night of "Dracula," there is no doubt among the cast and crew that the university's rendition will have audience members on the edge of their seats.
"Other productions of 'Dracula' go way over the top and we've toned everything down so it's really realistic," said junior Molly Wilson, who plays Lucy. "I still get goose bumps every rehearsal and we've been in rehearsals for over a month. The way we've toned it down make the story more realistic and it makes you feel emotions you feel every day."
When directing the play, Nimke didn't want the show to be too "hokey" or overly dramatic in its horror elements. Rather, he wanted the audience to experience the anticipation and suspense that truly scares people.
Although the whole script of vampires is a far cry from reality, Nimke and the cast wanted the audience to experience real fear and emotions. Therefore, instead of always throwing fear directly in the audience's face, the use of sounds and special effects are used to heighten the suspense.
"I think what I liked about this script is that it has elements of suspense," Nimke said. "It's almost an Alfred Hitchcock way of telling a story that things aren't always seen, but rather felt or heard. That's the way we're telling it. We've eliminated some of the blood and gore to make it less overt and more psychological."
Because Nimke and the cast was experiencing a scary production for the first time, there were plenty of challenges to overcome. The biggest challenge was the same one Nimke was concerned about with the audience -- making the unreal very realistic.
Nimke was nervous the cast would have a hard time portraying real fear, but he was pleasantly surprised that the 14 actors embraced the challenge.
"The biggest challenge from the get-go was just allowing yourself to be immersed in a world that's not real at all," said junior Seth K. Hale, who plays Dracula. "I found it very difficult to just scream in pain or do something that's just conceived in this story, but having to treat it as it's all real. You have to be OK with it and just believe it's really happening because otherwise no one else is going to believe it either."
To help the audience give in to the unreal plot, Nimke hired a colleague's husband to compose all of the music in the production. The crew also set up several secret stage entrances to confuse the audience and use the entire theatre setting to develop fear and anticipation.
"I think the use of sound and the use of the set in this production is unique to what I've seen in other theater productions," said junior Laura Schlichting, who plays Mina.
It is Schlichting's first show at UW-Eau Claire after transferring from UW-Fox Valley. "Everything we do and everything the crew has done helps set the tone we're trying to get the audience to embrace."
"Dracula" kicks off the 2013-14 theater season at UW-Eau Claire. And it's showing at the perfect time by beginning Thursday, just two weeks before Halloween, and running through Oct. 27.
The cast thinks this production is the perfect way to start the new season and encourages people to attend, especially if they enjoy scary shows.
"This production is a really cool chance to reshape how people see 'Dracula,'" Wilson said. "This is something that Eau Claire has never seen before and I don't think it's something they'll see again for a while after this."
Syrstad can be reached at 715-833-9206, 800-236-7077 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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