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Julian Wiles, Founder and Producing Artistic Director
Marybeth Clark, Associate Artistic Director

October 27, 2008

Interview With Playwright Julian Wiles

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 1:16 pm

(The following interview was between Playwright Julian Wiles and Katie Ekozar, a Senior at the College of Charleston who is majoring in Communications and minoring in History) 

KE:  What inspired you to create this adaptation? 

JW:  We had done a version of Frankenstein 10 years ago that I wasn’t happy with and began looking for other adaptations,  None that I found really reflected the novel well, and they especially seemed to miss Shelley’s Creature.  So, last May I started my own version.

KE:  Could you please explain a little about your creative process, and what choices you made in creating this particular project?

JW:  I read 5 stage adaptations, the original novel, several books on the history of Frankenstein, its adaptations, watched the classic James Whale films and Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein, and then I set to work.  I had a great annotated version of the book that really helped.  In this case I wrote a scenario or treatment first (I don’t always do that, but since this drew on an original text I found it helpful).  I set a goal for myself, 5-7 pages a day.

When I got a rough draft together, I gathered the cast (I knew I was writing specifically for our resident acting company which helped) and we read it out loud.  There were discussions, I made a LOT of notes and began rewriting.

A few weeks later, I had another draft and we read that one too.  It was in these readings that the idea for multiple narrators came up and also the use of more shadowplay.

About this time the set was also designed, which led to some structural changes to make scenes flow easily from one to another.  Once we decided to have a curtain for the lab, I further expanded the shadowwork.

KE:  At the beginning of the project, what was your main purpose or “spine” of the project?

JW:  A few scenes I knew I wanted early on.  I knew I wanted to explain what drove Victor to create his monster . . . from the book comes how he was shaken by his mother’s death, the power of lightning.  These led to early scenes in the play.  I also have always loved science and the history of science and used that interest to build Victor’s experiments (which are based on real experiments.)

The spine though is the Creature.  When you read the novel after seeing other adaptations you see that Mary Shelley’s Creature is far more complex, intelligent and interesting and, more than anything, that’s what I wanted to bring to the stage, especially how he grows and develops over the course of the story.

KE:  What made you select the cast that you did?  What influences did they contribute to the project?

JW:  The cast was encouraged to make suggestions, talk about their characters, make suggestions for line changes.  We made HUGE numbers of line changes, often a word or two, different phrasings, etc. during the first few weeks of rehearsal.  Plays are written for “the hear” and it’s essential to make adjustments when you hear it out loud.

KE:  What inspired you to use the set that you did?  What made you choose the thrust-stage format?

JW:  We knew we would be in this new space and the thrust configuration (which I’ve always wanted to use, so the set was based on the space really).  The play was structured to fit it.   We knew the lab would be central and needed a way for it to disappear too.  The original ending was in the lab but I really wanted to go to the Arctic as Mary Shelley had.

KE:  Were there any major obstacles you faced in the project?  If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?

JW:  The biggest obstacle was not to let the special effects, elaborate sound and lighting design take over the play.  They are important and add so much, but they took a huge amount of time.  We worked very hard to have the play ready before we added the effects and that seemed to pay off.  In the writing, the challenge was to use as much of the original story but also to reference the famous movies (mainly through the Creation of the creature thru electrical devices—Shelley doesn’t tell us how Victor did it) and to condense the rambling plot.

KE:  What was the main message you wanted the audience to receive
from the project?

JW:  I didn’t really start with a message but ended up with one.  It evolved in the writing itself.  To me the message is that monsters are made in the way we treat them.  This may not always be the case, but it often is.  The Creature to me is a reflection of mankind with his capacity and urge to learn both good things and bad things.

KE:  Are you pleased with the final result of your project?  Why or why not?  And do you feel that the end result accurately reflects upon your initial purpose?

JW:  I’m very pleased with the outcome.   I wanted to illuminate the story in a new way, to get people to look at this Creature and to see themselves, all of us reflected in his flaws.  Audiences seem to leave discussing the Creature and how different he was from what they expected and to me that’s the best review.  As I said earlier, what the play means and has become happened in the process and didn’t necessarily come from preconceived notions or themes.  Writing for me is discovering, exploring and following where that exploration leads.

October 24, 2008

Preparing for the Role of Victor Frankenstein by Resident Actor Andy McCain

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 5:34 pm

I am incredibly fortunate to be playing the role of Victor Frankenstein.  At this point in the early stages of my professional career as an actor, this role has been a dream.  In preparation, I read various publications for character development.  I looked at Frankenstein: A Cultural History by Susan Tyler Hancock.  From this book, I learned everything from the myths surrounding the experimentations within the book, to the difficulties in publishing the novel to the political symbols regarding the Monster

            By looking at Robert Barton’s, Style for Actors, I was guided through the period movement and the cultural beliefs of the 1820s-1830s, a.k.a. Romanticism.  The main theme I took from Mr. Barton was, “A true hero is often forced to stand outside society in order to live life as passionately and fully as it should be lived.” This pretty much sums up Victor Frankenstein for me.  Frankenstein attempted to show the world his great idea of creating new life from old; however, in the end, his experiment goes horribly awry.

I also came across fictional Secret Diaries of Victor Frankenstein. These journals contained true historical facts of what would have inspired Victor Frankenstein’s quest for reawaking life itself.  I read about ancient medicine, the scientific method, the theory of life, the beginnings of electricity, Science and God, and the scientific equipment and material used during the time period.  I was overloaded with so much information it drove me mad! …If that’s not melodramatic for you, I don’t know what else to do.

Finally, I viewed James Whale’s 1931 film of Frankenstein.  I must say I laughed a great deal of the way through the movie, mostly because this was considered the scariest icon in 1931 media, and when watching the Creature attempt to speak, I just found myself in tears of amusement. Seeing this film made me really appreciate Mr. Julian Wile’s script right away because the Creature evolves completely as well as Frankenstein.

Creating this character every day in rehearsal was a challenge, without a doubt, but I am so thankful for this wonderful opportunity. 

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(Resident Actor Andy McCain as Victor Frankenstein) 

October 22, 2008

BeWEAVE it or Not, by Resident Actor Brian Zane

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 2:52 pm

Being an actor, I constantly find myself in situations I would never be in if I had any other profession. These activities include: applying makeup, taking dance classes and, most recently, going to a salon to get hair extensions. That’s right, just when I was getting used to doing strange things I was thrown a curveball and told I needed hair extensions for my role as Henry in our current production of Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus.  The extensions were put in to emphasize a dramatic moment in a key scene.  The experience was very new and strange for me and as I stepped into the salon I felt like a contestant on an episode of the show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”  My head was washed and then long weird-looking hair extensions were fused into the front of my hair.  The stylists colored the extensions to blend with my actual hair and then even put me in one of those funny chairs that dries your head!  My new hairdo looks great in the show, but walking around in real life can be odd so… I wear a lot of hats now!  Ah, the joys of being an actor.

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(Resident Actor Brian Zane as Henry.  Can You See The Extensions?) 

October 21, 2008

From the Costume Shop, by Resident Costume Designer Barbara Young

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 4:58 pm

One would never think that a small 8-member cast would require so many costumes.  The number of costumes wasn’t as daunting as the fact of dressing for the Memminger for the first time – up close and personal.  Wow, now the emphasis is on detail and more detail. Research provided the ideas, swatching provided the fabric and Erin Cary (Costume Assistant) and I, along with volunteer Barbara McGarth and TheatreWings apprentices provided the labor.  And boy, we did labor!  Hours too numerous to count went into creating the 72 costume pieces for the show.

Rich or poor, each costume had to help the actor develop his character.  Glorious rich silks for Elizabeth (played by Resident Actor Sarah Claire Smith), earthy rough textures for Delacey (played by local actor Ross Magoulas) and scars for the Creature (played by Resident Actor Michael Lasris).  It is interesting to note that everything that an actor wears on stage is considered a costume, so, even the Creature’s make-up and hair is a part of his costume.

The setting of the play is Switzerland, so the villagers have a Bavarian look, which we took from ethnic costumes of the region.  The well-to-do Frankensteins have the look of the early 19th Century.  Challenges came with how to make time pass on stage while keeping the actors in view.  Major changes happened to the character of Elizabeth, because she was off stage most often and her changes made the passage of time seem real.

From Elizabeth’s wonderful garments to the Furs of the Artic, we snipped, pricked and sneezed our way to the finish.  But in the end, it was worth it; our costumes bring the script and character to life.  With the generous help from Stuart Lawrence Salon and Michael Christensen, Frankenstein’s Creature brings the prefect touch to the Halloween season!

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 (Resident Actor Andy McCain as Victor Frankenstein and Resident Actor Sarah Claire Smith as Elizabeth)

 

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(Resident Actor Sarah Claire Smith as Elizabeth) 

October 20, 2008

Staging Fight Scenes, by Resident Actor Andy McCain (Victor Frankenstein)

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 6:16 pm

At our first rehearsal of Frankenstein, I volunteered myself to be fight choreographer and fight captain. Thankfully, Mr. Julian Wiles said YES! I have always loved stage combat, in every shape and form, ranging from unarmed to rapier sword to basic household objects being used to attack or defend a character. In Frankenstein, the most complex fight scene features the Creature (Michael Lasris), myself as Victor Frankenstein and Henry (Brian Zane).  Other combat scenes to note are between Justine (Viveka Chandrasekaran) and Stefan (Sonny Kong). Stefan is constantly pursuing Justine in any way he can, leaving all forms of being a gentleman out of the picture.  I wanted to make sure that Justine would show no hesitation to defend herself from the crude and obnoxious Stefan.  When choreographing a fight scene I tend to do what most movie directors do: create a storyboard.  I visually picture each part of the fight as a frame in film and try to make each moment as exciting as the next.  During a typical fight call, which happens 30 minutes or so before the house opens.  Actors gather on the stage and we review the fights that contain pushing, strangling, head banging, etc.  Any other forms of struggle in the production have been observed and polished, but some don’t require a fight call because the combat cues have been set in stone.  Usually we begin each fight at 1/4 speed, which is basically walking through the moves.  This normally includes articulating with the body all poses during the actor’s particular fight. These poses operate as visual cues to the actor playing the attacker or the victim.

What I look for mostly in a fight call as the fight captain: (1) Eye contact is always established with the actors and they are comfortable with what they are doing on stage and to each other. (2) Making sure the actors are doing the proper fight choreography I blocked for them. (3) Cues are hit every time at the same time. Finally, clear and projected reactions are made, the victim’s reactions sell everything in stage combat.  Once those are set and appear safe to me, we move into half speed/show speed.  Most fight choreographers suggest all actors involved with any type of stage combat take any fight at 1/2 speed for the live performance.  The reason for them to take the fight at half speed/ show speed and not at full speed is because of the adrenaline that actors have when they’re on stage.  There’s an audience, we’re excited and we want to look cool for you. When the fight is taken at half speed the actors are in control and not injuring themselves, therefore, no hospital!  After each fight is taken at “show speed” I give the actors friendly reminders about making sure they react more, struggle sounds are heard to keep the fight circulating not only through the audience’s mind, but through the actor’s mind as well, keeping the scene fresh, alive and safe.

Overall, the experience has been an honor.  Everyone I worked with was very open to peer direction, which made the fights on stage much easier to create.  I had a blast!  See you at Memminger!

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 (From Left to Right:  Resident Actor Brian Zane as Henry and Resident Actor Andy McCain as Victor Frankenstein Experiment with Electricity)

 

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(Resident Actor Andy McCain as Victor Frankenstein and Resident Actor Sarah Claire Smith as Elizabeth Embrace While Danger Lurks in the Background)

October 18, 2008

Frankenstein Makeup, by Resident Actor Michael Lasris (The Creature)

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 2:24 pm

While this show is challenging on many levels, one particular aspect has proven to be far harder than any of the rest: the makeup. Having never needed extensive prosthetic makeup before (aside from my Stage Makeup class in college), this entire process has been a new experience for me! Here’s a typical pre-show schedule for me in creating the makeup for my role as “The Creature”: 5:45pm: Arrive at the Memminger Auditorium.  6:00pm: Clean face and apply the prosthetic pieces with Spirit Gum (a glue-like adhesive)—one covering my forehead to my top lip and cheek, one on my bottom lip, and one across my neck.  6:20pm: Begin blending edges of prosthetic pieces into my skin with creme-base makeup.  6:30pm: Fight call, where my makeup is tested for strength.  6:45pm: Reapply pieces that fell off during fight call (because SOMETHING always falls off).  7:00pm: Finish blending makeup from prosthetics into my skin. Also, the house is open.  7:15pm: Add bruises and char marks across neck, chest, and face with the creme makeup.  7:30pm: Get into microphone and costume. Also, the show starts now.  7:45pm: Add bruising on hands, spray face with makeup sealer and run onstage for the Creation scene.  This doesn’t include the re-application of makeup that falls off or the addition of a knife slice during intermission. Luckily, I have the help of our costumer, Barbara Young, and propsmaster, Mike Christensen, and occasionally Andy McCain (Victor Frankenstein) to make the process go smoother. Yet, even with four people, the makeup process takes about two hours! Although it is long and hard, the end product makes everything worthwhile—I love looking like the Creature, regardless of the damage that three weeks worth of makeup does to my pores J 

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(Right:  Resident Actor Michael Lasris as “The Creature”) 

 

October 14, 2008

Stage Managing Frankenstein by Stage Management Intern Bessie Edwards

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 4:23 pm

When West Side Story closed a few weeks ago, I was relieved, thinking that my job would get slightly easier with a cast of only 8 compared to 32, no musical numbers, and no dream ballets- boy was I wrong! Frankenstein has turned out to be one of the most technically challenging productions I have ever worked on.  While the cast is small, there are nine crew members, dozens of props and furniture pieces, 2 ships, a lab, and over 100 lighting and sound cues…oh and fog, lots of fog.  Preparation for this show has been epic because of all of the props, furniture pieces and shifts that occur.  Lists including all the props and where they need to be set for the top of the show had to be made, and a 7 page shift sheet that includes not only props and furniture, but fog machines that need to be moved around during shifts, setting sails, and making it snow.  With the help of the Wings apprentices, this tech process has gone more smoothly than I could have ever anticipated for a show that has so much.  Though it has been a long endeavor, every bit of effort has been worth it!  I can’t wait for the public to see this show!!! 

October 9, 2008

It’s A Jungle In Here by Marybeth Clark

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 9:44 pm

We have weekly acting classes for over 150 students each week. Our theme for this semester is “Songs From the JukeBox”.  We are using song lyrics as ideas for plays and add instrumental music to help create the mood and inspire our movement. Here my kindergarten and first graders, along with Resident Actor Sonny Kong and Stage Management Intern Bessie Edwards, get to work on some wild characters to go with the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”.  For more info on upcoming classes check out http://www.charlestonstage.com/education/classes/index.php.

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October 7, 2008

Load in: Dr. Frankenstein’s Lab Takes Shape

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 8:32 pm

Load in for the world premiere of our all new version of Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus began this week at Memminger Auditorium.  In this photo, Mike Christensen and his crew begin work on Dr. Frankenstein’s lab.  Center is the creation table where Dr. Frankenstein’s monster will come to life.  Still to come is a working waterwheel, sparking Jacob’s ladders, beakers of bubbling nitroglycerin and all sorts of buzzing and humming electrical devices.   

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October 6, 2008

Frankenstein! A New Point of View for Charleston Stage by Julian Wiles, Director/Playwright

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 5:19 pm

When most of us in Charleston go to the theatre we think of it as if we are in the audience looking at a picture frame stage— we sit on one side and the performers act on the other.  At the newly renovated Memminger Auditorium audiences will view performances from an all new perspective.  For the first time, audiences in Charleston will be able to see a show from a new point of view, for at Memminger, the audience will sit on three sides of the action,  placing them closer than ever to the action.  Some audience members will be only a few feet from the performers.  Seating at Memminger is also stadium seating which means you will easily be able to see over those in front of you.  Along with this new performance environment comes new challenges as well.  Actors are now performing not just for patrons on one side of them, but on all sides.  It’s been very exciting for me as a director and for our great company of actors as we began to explore this new arena.  FYI, have no doubt that audiences will find performances on Memminger’s thrust stage to be much more realistic.  It’s as if the audience and the performers are in the same room.  No longer are the actors ” up on stage”.  Now, they’re right in the middle of the very same room with the audience.  This perspective and its new intimacy should make the thrills and chills of Frankenstein, even more chilling. 

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