Oct 122011
Authors: Courtney Riley

A society is represented by its stories, according to Lee Kaplan, the director of the Debut Theater’s “Dracula.”

Stories, such as Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” are passed down from generation to generation. They unite us and define us, she said.

“For something to be a classic, it has literary content that sets it apart from what might be popular of the day. It transcends time, and it transcends trends and fads. Beautiful words that can be conveyed by a well-trained human voice can be absolutely mesmerizing.”

People can easily go to the movie theater and be entertained, she said, but stories told through extraordinary dialogue are always going to hold a place as storytellers in live theater.

The Debut Theatre Company, which puts on shows solely based on classic literature, is premiering “Dracula” Friday at 7 p.m. at the Lincoln Center. Tickets cost $7 and can be purchased at lctix.com.

“Classics have amazing words and are timeless stories that have a purpose and a moral attached,” Kaplan said. “‘Dracula’ is a classic because it’s the story of good versus evil and ignorance versus knowledge.”

“It’s such a widely known story, and it’s community theater, so people will be excited that they can watch the play and enjoy it in their hometown,” said 15-year-old Jake Hattis, who plays Van Helsing. “And it’s a pretty awesome story.”What also sets the story apart is that Dracula is a very elegant monster, Kaplan said. He represents forbidden things that we are drawn to, but shouldn’t be involved with.

“He’s not a big, awkward thing that comes stumbling in. He’s very intellectual and very appealing,” she said. “It sets him apart from other creatures of gothic horror literature.”

And according to Kaplan, we all love to be scared just a little bit.

“The way that this story unfolds, you get to know who the characters are and what their relationships are in a non-frightening way.”

Then a “sinister force” enters their midst.

“You care about the characters; you see how it affects them. It’s exciting to cheer on the hero,” she said. “It’s a beautiful show being set in a time period of elegance and refinement that’s attractive to watch. It’s visually appealing. You get frightened, but there’s a happy ending. Good triumphs over evil, and it doesn’t get better than that.”

The Debut Theatre’s performance of “Dracula” celebrates the 20th year of the organization’s existence. Kaplan and her brother, who is the theater’s technical director, started the theater 20 years ago, thinking they’d be running the theater for maybe five years.

“Dracula” was its first performance in a store front, and it was performed again in honor of the organization’s ten year anniversary.

“This is a bench mark for us,” Kaplan said. “For me as a director, it’s very exciting to see a show I thought I knew well with a new set of eyes. “Directing every show is a different experience because in live theater you’re dealing with individuals and the style they bring as an artist, so you cannot recreate the same character between two different actors.”

The theater is made up of 17 actors and actresses ranging from the ages of 13 to 17, with most of them having acting experience of about six to eight years.

And while most theater companies are separated into groups of actors and technicians, the Debut Theatre serves as an institution in which the performers contribute to the sets and costumes as well. It is structured as a troop, in which everyone participates in all elements of putting on the shows.

“Debut’s hallmark is that the (members of the) troop are also the designers and creators,” Kaplan said. “They’re very unified in the vision they present. Seventeen people did everything. They made it happen from every costume to every element on the set. They’re really doing it all together as a team.”

“Every time I come in, I learn something new,” said 15-year-old Quin Smith, who plays Arthur Holmwood. “I’ve been with (the Debut Theatre Company) a long time, and I’ve gotten to know everybody. Everything that goes on is something that you did, so it’s your show actually. We have a great crew of actors, great lighting and special effects.”

From the set to the script, the troop’s interpretation of “Dracula” stays true to the traditional Bram Stoker story, Kaplan said.

“Some of the more modern interpretations of ‘Dracula’ have reflected our need for constant visual input, edits and images that are about gore or violence, as opposed to when it was written in 1897,” she said. “Stoker was writing a classic melodramatic tale of good versus evil, pulling in actual folklore from Romanian Transylvania.”

Everyone involved in the performance read the original story in June in order to prepare for Friday night’s show, which was written according to the original dialogue of the story.

“You’d be surprised how few versions match the original version perfectly. Ours is awful close, it’s not a rendition that is modernized, or trivialized, or goes into the direction of gore or sensationalism,” Kaplan said. “Our version, and my interpretation, is much more about the text and staying true to the original purpose of Bram Stoker.”

The troop became students of the literature, she said, and they researched the social aspects at the turn of the century, including art, music, technology and industry, learning what people’s everyday lives were probably like.

The story of “Dracula” expresses a fear of the unknown, a hesitation of what you might find when you reach out into unfamiliar territory.

“That reflects the society of that time period,” Kaplan said. “When the actors researched it, it added dimension (to the play).”

Despite the actors’ young ages, she said, the play is very professionally done.

“There’s a sophistication that’s developed in young people in the past 20 years. They express much more of a global responsibility.”

She said she is very taken with the size of their vision.

“They’re more inclined to talk about politics or what’s going on on Wall Street than they are about the prom,” she said. “It’s not about their selves anymore. It’s about their responsibility to the world.”

They feel as if it’s their job to preserve the excellence of live theater as an art form and keep it a part of our society, Kaplan added.

“They want to keep this active in families so this art form can not only survive, but thrive,” she said.

“They’re very emotional, aware of the world and aware of humanity. What greater way to learn about those things than creating a character and forwarding the stories that make up our history?”

Entertainment Editor Courtney Riley can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

  • What: Opening night of “Dracula”
  • Performed by: The Debut Theatre Company
  • When: Friday at 7 p.m.
  • Where: The Lincoln Center
  • Cost: $7
  • More information: www.lctix.com.
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