New Blood

Actors Theatre’s beloved ‘Dracula’ takes flight with an all-new cast

By Laura Ross

Get ready to grab your garlic, a wooden stake and some holy water and head toward Actors Theatre Louisville (ATL) for the annual fright fest of Fifth Third Bank’s “Dracula.” The production hits the stage Sept. 7 and runs through the witching hour on Oct. 31. This year, an entirely new cast will present one of Louisville’s most beloved Halloween traditions.

Based on Bram Stoker’s Gothic tale of the immortal Transylvanian count and his unexpectedly feisty human prey, ATL’s adaptation is directed by veteran director and fight master Drew Fracher. Fracher has worked on “Dracula” at ATL since the late 1980s in different incarnations, primarily as fight director. He transitioned to directing and is well known at ATL for his work with “A Tuna Christmas” and “A Christmas Carol.”

“This is quite a different production than my Christmas shows,” laughed Fracher. “But, we’re having a ball.  When I came on as director, I revisited the choreography and had to rethink direction. Audiences will see a bunch of new stuff.”

Fracher points to his collaboration with “Dracula’s” fight director, Jake Guinn. “I’ve known Jake’s father for years through our passion for fight direction,” said Fracher. “Jake has been sword fighting since he was four years old and has now grown into a terrific martial artist and certified fight master like his dad. I watched him grow up, and to now be working together as his – pardon the pun – non-blood uncle is an awesome experience.”

“Dracula” has thrilled and chilled audiences for more than 20 years at ATL. Keeping the scare fresh for audiences who return every year is a challenge Fracher enjoys. “The current version we’re doing is based on Bill McNulty’s adaptation of the story, which in turn, is based on one of the earliest adaptations of the novel from the early 20th century,” said Fracher. “This year, we’re making it much more physical. All the fights are reimagined and very exciting. We’ve spent months working on choreographing new fight scenes. The focus is on the action, and we chose new actors with serious stage combatant skills who can pull that off.”

Dracula is played by Santino Craven, a Chicago-based actor who is taking the stage at ATL for the first time. Fracher knew instantly that Craven should don the coveted count’s cloak. “We had conducted auditions in New York and thought we had our Dracula,” said Fracher. “But, we returned to Louisville and Santino came to the local auditions and he really knocked it out of the park. He has a great presence and comes off as extremely dangerous.”

Craven, said Fracher, has played Dracula previously and has a very physical presence. “He spent six years in the Navy and did three tours in the Middle East, so he’s definitely made for combat,” said Fracher.

The only cast member to return from previous performances is local favorite Neill Robertson, who returns as the notorious Renfield, a role for which he won the 2018 Arts-Louisville/Broadway World Best Actor in a Play Award.

“You just have to run into this role and throw yourself into it,” said Robertson. “Renfield is a crazy person and you can’t tiptoe around that. He’s horribly abused by Dracula, but he uses comedy to balance this loud, fast, funny style with a very damaged, terrified person underneath. It requires me to use all the tools I have as an actor. It’s liberating to play a role where you can just scream and flail about.”

Robertson compares the play’s new fight scenes to an MMA round. “This show is very fresh because of all the new people working on the show, and the fight choreography is very athletic,” he said. “You have to make sure you’re in good shape and prepared for being thrown around, falling off things, crawling up walls constantly. You need to drink your water, do your exercises and eat your Wheaties.”

ATL veteran Grant Goodman has the role of Van Helsing, and Rin Allen joins the cast as Lucy. Allen, who is making her Actors Theatre debut, is from New York City. Her character of Lucy is reimagined to be a much stronger, modern woman. “There’s always a little apprehension involved when you’re pushing the envelope on something with an established history and viewpoint,” said Allen. “Many of the women in the story are being portrayed as stronger, more powerful figures than in past productions. Lucy is involved quite heavily in the planning and physical fight against Dracula, which I think is a refreshing and fun change to the story.”

In addition to the show, Actors Theatre wants the community’s blood, too. The venue will host its annual Dracula Blood Drive in partnership with Fifth Third Bank and the American Red Cross  from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 5 at Fifth Third Bank’s location in Fourth Street Live. In addition to giving blood, donors will enjoy snacks, giveaways and visits from cast members, including the count himself.

“Since Dracula is always thirsting for blood, we thought it was a perfect way to give back to the community by helping to increase the blood supply for patients,” said Mike Ash, regional president of Fifth Third Bank Kentucky. “Since its inception, our collection efforts are credited with saving over 1,300 lives, and this is the second largest blood drive in Louisville each year.”

Other community events, which can be found on the ATL website, will happen through October, including a costume collection for children in partnership with the Americana World Community Center. Actors Theatre will collect Halloween costumes for immigrant, refugee, and low-income children Sept. 7 through Oct. 19.

ATL will also provide an accessible theater-going experience with an audio-described performance on Sept. 16 and an open-captioned performance on Oct. 6.

Why is Dracula such a draw every year? Good question, said Fracher. “It’s a classic tale in our collective consciousness,” he said. “It’s simply a good, old-fashioned, good-versus-evil story that people love. So many recent treatments of Dracula have morphed him into a sexy, brooding hottie, but that doesn’t fly for me. At the core, Dracula is a pretty awful, evil person. He’s dangerous and terrible and obsessed with power.

“For me, Dracula is about an addiction,” added Fracher. “He’s turning people on to something that might feel good in the moment and at first blush, but ultimately, it’s not a good thing. It’s not a happy life. It’s desperate and addictive.”

But, at the end of the day, it’s not necessarily always about teaching a lesson through a performance. “This is simply pure, unadulterated scary entertainment,” said Fracher. “There’s nothing better than the sheer fun of seeing people get the hell scared out of them. That makes me happy.” VT

Dracula Blood Drive

10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 5

Fifth Third Bank’s location in Fourth Street Live!

RSVP at redcrossblood.org. Enter Sponsor Code: dracula

Fifth Third Bank’s Dracula

Sept. 7 – Oct. 31

Actors Theatre of Louisville

316 West Main St.

Tickets begin at $35. Many shows sell out, so purchase early.

502.584.1205

actorstheatre.org

*Special ticket offers for groups of 10 or more are available by calling 502.585.1210.