Deconstructing Dracula

His legend was created in literature and over time bled onto the silver screen. The character of Dracula has haunted us for over a century; in fact this year marks the 120th anniversary of Bram Stoker’s iconic novel. is summer, we find him lurking in Niagara-on-the-Lake and on stage at the Shaw Festival, running from July 8 until October 14. To find out more about the making of this edgy production, I reached out to some of the key players both in front of and behind the curtain.

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EDA HOLMES – Director

You have been with the Shaw Festival now 15 years, have you ever directed a play of this nature before?

No, I have never done anything like it before at the Shaw Festival or anywhere else. It is a wonderful theatrical challenge that I am really enjoying. Gothic tales are defined by the mingling of anxiety and desire and that is very true of this adaptation of the novel Dracula. I am working very closely with sound designer/composer John Gzowski to create a truly thrilling, chilling and seductive soundscape for the show.

Is the double duty as both Dracula’s Director and Shaw’s Associate Director exciting, exhausting or a marvelous mix of both?

I’m always doing double duty here at the Shaw and I love it. is is such an exciting group of artists and I am happy to be involved with them in any way I can be.

How many actors are in the cast? Any upcoming actors to keep an eye on and what Shaw veterans can we expect to see?

It is a cast of 14 and a wonderful mixture of actors who have been here and worked with me many times, as well as people fairly new to the company. I am especially excited to have the chance to work with Allan Louis who was in the incredible production of “Master Harold” … and the Boys last season. He will be playing Dracula and we are all simultaneously scared of and attracted to him!

This story has an edgy, sexy theme, was it chosen specifically with hopes of drawing in a younger audience?

As with all the shows we do at the Shaw, Dracula was chosen because it is a great story told in a wonderfully theatrical way. It is one of the most famous stories of the Victorian era and has inspired spin-offs right from the moment it appeared in print. In the last few years vampires have become very trendy and so if that fact brings in a younger audience that would be a wonderful by product for sure. In the end we chose it because it is a really good play.

You have a very extensive background in professional (ballet) dance. Can we expect that you will incorporate some choreography into this production to help tell the story?

I think that my background in ballet shows up in my work whether I mean for it to or not. This piece is very episodic and I am hoping as we go from scene to scene, to create a real sense of the story pulsing and owing – like blood. I will draw on any part of my experience that I can to create the magic and thrill that this story demands.

In the past, you have been interested in bringing a voice to the minor characters, or those often overlooked. Will the audience hear this story told from a new perspective?

Liz Lochhead, the Scottish poet who adapted the novel, has approached the story from a very interesting perspective. She hints at the idea that the thing that we are all truly afraid of is our own sexuality – and Count Dracula is the catalyst that forces us to face our fear. But she doesn’t stop there – she uses the character of Van Helsing to challenge us to forgive each other for our desires – something that I think is an incredible transformative idea.

Why would the Shaw’s production of Dracula draw people out of the shadows, like the Count himself, and into the Festival theatre this summer?

Count Dracula himself makes the best case for coming to see our production of Dracula; when with wolves howling at the gates he says to Jonathan Harker, “Listen. Listen to the children of the night. What music they make.”

ALLAN LOUIS – Title Character/Dracula

This is your second season with the Shaw Festival; what did you learn from your first season that makes you better prepared for this upcoming one?

Last year I learned from performing “Master Harold” …and the Boys how much the audience was on my side if I allowed them to be, no matter the circumstances.

You have recurring roles on such television shows as NCIS, what do you enjoy what about theatre that you cannot find on television or film sets?

The audience is so close to you in the theatre that it forces you to be present on a cellular level.

Your theatre background spans stages from Toronto to New York and beyond, what makes Shaw different? What enticed and drew you back for another season?

Canada, and its unapologetic support of the arts and the artists. I was thrilled to be invited back to the Shaw Festival by our fantastic new Artistic Director Tim Car- roll. He’s awesome.

What are some challenges you are faced with when headlining one show, and taking part in another (Saint Joan), simultaneously?

The moment I realized the mental and physical demands of each role, I adjust my life to fit those demands.

Was it exciting to take on such an infamous character in literary history and embody his persona?

Being cast in the role makes me feel like I’m nine years old again. A time when I could be easily frightened out of my wits, and a dark room had a lot more mystery. I am honored to step into the cape.

How would you describe your character? A villain, misunderstood antagonist, hopeless romantic or in your own words…

Dracula is a benevolent angel of light. Humans have been altering themselves with whatever technology provided since the earliest days of civilization. Tools, clothing, armor, and weapons are all ways that mankind has altered itself to be better suited to its environment temporarily. Dracula is a Transhumanist, offering up the possibility of modifying the fundamental yet weakest aspects of being human. Permanently.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a very romantic, sensual story at times; do you think the audience will be seduced by your Dracula?

I’ve worked with many directors in my career, however I think the audience will be seduced by Director Eda Holmes’ intoxicating vision of Dracula.

What feelings will you say the audience will come away with after watching this production?

It’s safe to say the audience will leave the theatre feeling a range of emotions although I think some of them will be very “private”.

Why would the Shaw’s production of Dracula draw people out of the shadows, like the Count himself, and into the Festival theatre this summer?

Come see Dracula because it’s sexy, funny and terrifying. It’s going to be a stellar season of entertainment at Shaw.

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MICHAEL GIANFRANCESCO – Set & Costume Designer

From conceptualization, drawing up drafts, miniature models to actual construction, how long is the entire process to build the various sets for this play?

We often start working as early as one year in advance. I start by having preliminary meetings with the director, doing research and finding inspiration, and then working on a model and drawings of our preliminary ideas. en the show gets costed, and final designs are worked out. It happens slowly over the year, as the theatre is working on multiple productions at one time. Each show has a slot to be built in, and over the course of the year the entire season comes together. As soon as one season is done, there is a small break before planning and construction for the next season starts. It is a continuous process.

How is designing sets for the Shaw Festival unique compared to other production companies for whom you’ve worked, such as Stratford and the Canadian Opera Company?

Designing sets for both Shaw and Stratford are unique because they are repertory theatres. One theatre may have 3 or 4 productions happening at the same time, and the scenery for all of the shows has to t into the same space. The scenery will get set up and taken down many times over the season and sometimes has to be built to come apart and go back together easily, while looking like it is one seamless piece. What is unique about the theatres at the Shaw Festival is that each one provides a vastly different experience – from the intimacy of the Courthouse and Studio theatres, to the large scale of the proscenium stage at the Festival theatre. So the scenery needs to be scaled and conceived to suit each venue. The opera is different in many ways, mostly in its size and scale. Most opera companies perform exclusively in large proscenium houses, and scenery is built to last for years as productions are put into storage, revived and rented to other companies all over the world. At The Shaw, most of our shows are seen during one season, and new work is created each year. We often re-use elements like floors, which get re-painted with new designs each season.

Each theatre holds multiple productions so each set needs to be somewhat easy to erect and deconstruct. How long does it take to dis/assemble each set?

When the season is in full swing, there will be a show at 2pm and at 8pm in the same theatre. Most shows are done after two to three hours, so there is about 2 hours to change over before the cast and crew arrive for the evening show.

There have been many variations of Dracula and specifically Bram Stoker’s story. From where did you draw inspiration for the set design and costumes for this production?

Director Eda Holmes and I had such a fantastic time doing research and conceiving our version of this story. We looked at many of the various Dracula films, paintings and photographs from the era the novel was written in, as well as ideas based in underground society and culture of the 1980s- when this version of the play was written, including nightclub culture such as what was happening at Studio 54 in New York. So it has become a blend of the late Victorian world within influences of underground nightclub style and dress.

Sometimes, the actors have minimal time to change costumes be-tween scenes; will there be any “crunch times” in this play?

A few of the characters have quick changes in the play. We plan this out before we start building the costumes as it affects how the garments get constructed and put together. Some characters are dressing on stage and the clothes need to fasten in a specific way that is suited to the period. For example, we will see one of the female characters getting laced into a corset and putting on a dress on stage. Items that get put on offstage, and in a quick change will be made differently so they appear to look correct to the period, but have snaps, Velcro or magnets as fasteners to help with getting in and out of the garments quickly and easily when there is little time.

Did you experience any challenges in creating any of the costumes or sets?

One of the biggest challenges will be the use of fake blood in the show. It is such an important part of the genre and the story, and we are working out many different ways for it to appear. Of course, it will be getting onto the costumes and we have to do many tests to make sure the fake blood will wash out properly after every show so that is a complicated task to figure out; to make sure everything looks fresh and new each time the show is performed.

Why would the Shaw’s production of Dracula draw people out of the shadows, like the Count himself, and into the Festival theatre this summer?

The story of Dracula is inherently a theatrical one, and I think it is going to make for a thrilling and entertaining piece of theatre. The script we are working with is beautiful and poetic, yet bone chilling with a heightened sense of horror and gothic atmosphere.


To learn more about the Shaw Festival and tickets to Dracula please visit

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