Actor Riana Duce on rehearsing Dracula: The Untold Story
Actor Riana Duce reflects on her time so far making her first project with imitating the dog:
‘Being the newbie in a company is always a daunting prospect. You know you’ll end up spending at least the first week desperately trying to make a good impression and trying to be useful. Throw a whole load of COVID-19 restrictions into the mix and it’s an even more nerve-wracking experience.
On arriving at my first week of rehearsals for Dracula: The Untold Story, however, I entered a room of people already in the thick of creating, of problem-solving and story-building. A tight rehearsal schedule, a brand-new script to finalise, and delays due to covid meant there was no time to worry about myself, or to dwell on my own insecurities. I just had to get on with it and get stuck straight in with the hard work. That’s what I’ve most enjoyed about working with imitating the dog so far on Dracula. It’s a different way of working to any I’ve encountered before.
In my career I’ve certainly worked collaboratively many times – I’ve rarely turned up to a rehearsal room where there’s a ready-to-go script and a director who simply tells me where to stand to deliver my lines. And that’s no different with imitating the dog. The way we’ve worked has been completely collaborative: everyone expected and encouraged to pitch in with no judgement, and everyone’s ideas feeding into the final script.
But with ITD, the collaborative process I’ve always thrived on has been pushed even further. I’ve never worked on such a technology-heavy production before. Instead of the usual timeline that I’m used to – a tech week after weeks of initial rehearsals – with Dracula we’ve been in tech rehearsals from day one. The first thing I was taught on arriving for my first day was how to use the cameras with which we would be filming one another on stage. These images are then fed live onto the screen behind us to generate the graphic novel narrative of the production. This backdrop forms the main part of our set, with a pair of green screens to play with on either side.
My main challenge with this was trying to wrap my head around how the images we made on stage would translate onto the screen. I observed as my castmates, Adela and Matt, stood at opposite ends of the stage on different cameras, in front of their respective green screens, but appeared together on the flat behind them as part of the graphic novel, as though conversing only inches apart from each other. This physical distance not only helps with insuring us against the ever-changing covid guidelines (that WILL be the last time I mention those!), but also gives the audience a double whammy of exciting stage pictures to take in. As soon as I got to grips with the cameras and green screens (with many thanks to Matt and Adela’s onstage guidance as ITD seasoned pros), I had tons of fun figuring out how to make the contrast between our onstage and onscreen pictures as interesting as possible for an audience.
Speaking of onstage vs. onscreen, aside from grappling with the tech elements of the show, as an actor my biggest personal challenge has been finding the balance of giving a convincing performance for the cameras whilst maintaining a stage presence. This is the first time I’ve ever been in a production that uses live projection. Acting for screen is typically much “smaller,” more contained than stage performance. It takes far less to convey an emotion when the camera is capturing just your face than it does when performing to an audience member who might be sitting on the back row. This is often the case in Dracula: The Untold Story – we are projected in close-up onto the screen via our cameras. I’ve never had to give this kind of screen performance onstage before – remembering to keep it contained and not go all in with the theatrics once we have our first full audience in a year and a half will be a new challenge!
As a Gothic literature lover who grew up on summer holidays to Whitby every year, endlessly in awe of the Abbey that inspired Bram Stoker’s original Dracula, it’s a bit of a dream come true to be playing Mina Harker in this epic new version. I feel so very lucky to be taking on such a powerful, much-loved role in a whole new chapter of her life. I hope our new tale shocks and excites our audiences as much as it has done me!’
Production Photograph by Ed Waring