Happy Day-After-Halloween, everybody! (Or, if you prefer, All Saints Day or All Hallow’s Day, since the name “Hallowe’en” is a contraction of “All Hallows’ Evening,” and so “Day-After-Halloween makes as much as sense as referring to December 25 as the Day After Christmas Eve. But I digress.) Now that enough of our public activities have resumed for us to actually celebrate the holiday (I’m still bitter about last year), I hope you were able to enjoy the requisite parties and trick-or-treating, and that you’re working off your fun-sized candy-induced sugar coma.
Despite the return to in-person activities – seasonal and otherwise, theatrical and otherwise – there’s still plenty of stuff happening remotely. My monthly Sunday classics reading series, Dead Playwrights Society, elected to celebrate the holiday yesterday with a zoom reading of the screenplay to Todd Browning’s 1931 film of Dracula. I was all set to play a series of small roles – I had a whole backstory mapped out for the innkeeper at the start of the film. When one of the other actors needed to bow out at the last-minute, however, I received a rather significant upgrade. I was asked to read Count Dracula himself.
Dracula’s not actually a large part, either in the original Stoker novel, the Browning film, or any of the subsequent adaptations. There’s a lot of attention given to the supporting cast, and their efforts to figure out what’s going on, and then to combat the Count. And when he does appear, he’s frequently a silent, menacing presence, so it’s not like there’s a lot of text to wrestle with.
But still – Count Freakin’ Dracula.
And notice, I’m not talking about a specific interpretation of the role. I’m not sure that American actors have that sort of baggage anyway, in terms of living up to someone’s specific interpretation. British actors, for instance (at least those of a certain generation) seem to live their lives in Olivier’s shadow, wondering how they could ever possibly match the old master, but we Americans seem pretty sure we’ve got a Brando somewhere within us. But even if Lugosi’s Count is definitive, that obviously didn’t stop Christopher Lee, or Gary Oldman, or Frank Langella, or any number of accomplished actors with notable takes.
No, the daunting part of Dracula is – it’s Dracula. It’s incredibly strange to look at something like that – this outsized cartoon presence that’s been part of the culture since long before we were born – and try and treat it like an actual human being. To approach it like any role. To analyze the text and figure out a coherent psychology. To play something like Dracula – this grand, gaudy Halloween fantasy, this swirling mass of cape and fangs and a ridiculous accent – for real.
But then again, the entire point of being a actor is to try and present reality through a fictional story, no matter how grotesque the fiction. So in that sense, I was simply practicing my craft the way it’s supposed to be practiced. Or, to put it another way, I went as an actor for Halloween this year.
Which was fun.