Lyric Arts had a chance to interview Ali Close, who is performing as LucyWestenra in Dracula. Read on to hear what she has to say about her experience thus far.
LA: Where are you originally from?
AC: Stoughton, WI. It's a city a little smaller than Anoka near Madison, WI.
LA: Why did this particular play interest you?
AC: I've had a weird fascination with vampires ever since I was a little girl. Not in a creepy way. I have no desire to be one and blood actually kind of make me squeamish. And while I'll admit- and without shame- to being a fan of the romanticized vampire culture that is so popular today, it's really the history behind the myth of the vampire that I find so fascinating. Some form of vampire exists in just about every culture. It was a way for people to explain the inexplicable- plagues, droughts, body decomposition, even pregnancies out of wedlock- before science did. Bram Stoker took this myth and then connected it with issues of the Victorian Age- sexual mores, blood disease, imperialism. This play is probably the most faithful to the original of the version that are out there.
LA: For those that are unfamiliar with Dracula can you tell us about the show?
AC: It is the story that all the others vampire stories sprang from, but its surprising hard to summarize without giving away everything. Strange things start to happen to a group of closely knit Londoners, all involving encounters with a Count from Transylvania. After they discover that he is actually a vampire, they enter a battle to destroy him... I'm terrible at summaries.
LA: Talk about the character that you play in Dracula. How have you developed this character?
AC: I play Lucy Westenra. She's Mina Murry's best friend, the love interest of Dr. John Seward and Dracula's first conquest. Lucy has always been my favorite character in this story. This is technically my fourth time playing an incarnation of her. Over Halloween for the past three years I have been involved with a ballet version of Dracula in my hometown. I was Lucy in the original cast in 2009 and then reprised the role in 2010 and 2011. It's been both a blessing and a curse to have played her before because, while the sequence of events and basic character attributes are the same, there is so much more going on with this version of Lucy. It's a different medium of performance; spoken word brings out things that dance simply can't (and vice versa).
The playwright Stephan Dietz has done a beautiful job of making Lucy a very real woman with very real fears and desires, some of which she doesn't understand because of her age and her place in society as an unmarried Victorian woman. So often in versions of Dracula, Lucy is overly sexualized from the beginning of the story. Now, that's one interpretation and it's all well and fun, but she's not written that way in the novel. And she's not written that way in this play. Sure, she may say or do things that are a little more brazen and there's a touch of a flirt to her, but there is always a reason for it. I've loved trying to pick through her psyche and through that, I've found a lot that I relate to.
LA: Talk about your fellow cast. How do you see their characters developing? Any that you are particularly amazed at?
AC: Can I say that everyone has amazed me in some way without it sounding disingenuous? Because it's completely true. Everyone fits their role beautifully. Nissa has such a beauty as Mina, both inside and out. I felt an instant click with her- acting as if we are old friends when we've only known each other a few weeks couldn't be easier. Eric is tender and funny as Seward- he keeps me on my toes as an actor and gives me so much to work with. Chris as Van Helsing has probably had the biggest transformation from day 1. Each rehearsal the pieces of his already strong character fall into place. Ben's physical transformation from himself to Dracula is breathtaking. Just the way he holds his body and places his voice in his register makes him both incredibly seductive and utterly terrifying. Paul has such a determination and a gentleness as Harker and his scenes with Nissa are so lovely. It's been fun to watch Tim play with the fine line of sanity that Renfield walks and teeters on.
The four actors who play the vixens, maids, nurses, and attendants all help create the atmosphere of the show and make it that much more realistic. Michael is has us in stitches with his comments that lighten the rehearsal mood. Brandon was my original audition partner. He rocked then and his still rocking it now. Amber and Alison are wicked vixens, which is the complete antithesis of their true natures. The show requires a lot of trust between actors- mental trust, emotional trust, physical trust. I know they all have my back (both literally and figuratively in this show) and I have theirs.
LA: What are some of the most impressive elements of Dracula?
AC: We are just now starting to add all the spectacle elements of the show. I just got to try on my beautiful costumes. I've heard snippets of the sound that will be added. The set is starting to come together. The world that is being created is so amazing. It's lavish and simple at the same time.
LA: Why should people come and take a chance and see this version of Dracula?
AC: The script is beautifully written. The characters, even the mythological ones, are real and fighting fiercely for survival and love. It's more than just a horror story. It's a human story. And it's Halloween! What better show can you see to get you in the spirit?
LA: Being that you are performing Dracula in the Halloween Capital of the World, what is your favorite thing about Halloween?
AC: I love the fall- the cooler weather, all the holidays in those months, the changing leaves. And Halloween to me has always been about imagination. My family went all out. Our porch transformed into a graveyard complete with Styrofoam graves, cheesecloth ghosts and cobwebs. My brother, sister and I all had homemade costumes that usually went together. It was just such a fun day and I have so many good childhood memories.
And anything that allows me to wear a costume in public is ok by me.
LA: Who is your favorite Halloween character (e.g. Frankenstein, Dracula, Werewolf) and why?
AC: I'm a vampire girl. Always was. Always will be.
LA: Please tell us a little bit about yourself?
AC: I'm a Wisconsin girl who moved to the Twin Cities last November to get out of my comfort zone and explore life in a bigger city. I've been onstage since I was three year old, when my parents put me in ballet. I come from a very theatrical and musically inclined family. We all at one point in our lives acted, sang and played instruments. I graduated from University of Wisconsin- La Crosse with a degree in Theatre Performance and a minor in English with a classics emphasis (aka- it was an excuse to study Shakespeare). I've worked with too many companies to count, including Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN and Children's Theatre of Madison and Music Theatre of Madison back home.
Right now, I'm trying to figure out where life is taking me. I'll probably be going back to school to get my education degree to teach kindergarten, using the arts as my focus. Right now, I live in Saint Paul with my amazing and supportive boyfriend, Mike, and our two "furbaby" kitties, Pearl and Mina (yes, named after the character in Dracula long before I even auditioned). Theatre feeds my soul and I intend to do as much as I possibly can.