The following is an interview with playwright David MacDowell Blue and director Mark Hein from the currently running production of Carmilla with The Actaeon Players in Los Angeles, CA. In this interview, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor Barbra Dillon chats with MacDowell Blue and Hein about the inspiration for the show, why The Actaeon Players provided an ideal home for the production, how you can get tickets for Carmilla, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: A new production of the play, Carmilla, recently began its run with The Actaeon Players in Los Angeles, CA, earlier this month. David, as the playwright, what originally inspired the concept of the show?
David MacDowell Blue: Obviously, Le Fanu’s original story most of all, plus my desire to see a version faithful to that classic story. I’ve loved Carmilla since reading it for the first time at age 13. Longed to see a faithful adaptation, one that captured what grabbed my own imagination. At last I decided to write my own. From that came two important decisions. One was to change the setting in terms of time—from Austria in the mid-1800s to the same nation in and around World War II. Because in the 1800s, everyone knew Austria was a police state, where civil liberties simply did not exist. People held up Austria as an example of everything the English-speaking world aspired never to become. How to re-create that background? Well, rather than explaining it, I simply used Nazis. Easy! My second choice was to recreate the character Laura as a narrator—namely, she is telling someone what happened. Which meant I had to give her a listener, someone with their own agenda. Once I had those two concepts, the rest of the writing flowed.
BD: For audiences who may be unfamiliar with the show, how would you describe its premise?
DMB: Well, the basic plot is one of tragic love—Laura meets and falls in love with someone (another girl in this case) who ends up being a vampire. The essence of a gothic romance, really! But, look a little deeper and more disturbing, more powerful ideas emerge. In fact, the novella abounds with ambiguities and hidden tensions—between the young and the old, for example, as well as male versus female, rational versus mystical, love versus its true opposite, which is not hate but callousness. Not that Carmilla is some kind of pretentious essay in which characters debate philosophy (at least I hope it isn’t), but those kinds of things exist in the subtext of what happens between the characters. To give an example—what if your vampire hunter is a genuinely evil man? And, this genuinely evil man feels actual grief, longs for justice in a way we can all understand? Yet he himself does many times more harm than the vampire he seeks?
BD: Mark, as the director of Carmilla and the Artistic Director of The Actaeon Players, what intrigued you about the play and enticed you to stage your own production of the show?
Mark Hein: I love the novella, and when I heard David’s beautiful script read, I just had to be part of bringing it to the stage. It’s a perfect example of what Actaeon’s about – a story told from a woman’s point of view, a story of love between two women in which lesbianism isn’t an “issue,” a vampire story that isn’t heroic . . . all these unheard voices, all these assumptions overturned.
BD: You have quite a talented cast and crew working on the production. What can you tell us about their creative process in bringing Carmilla to life?
DMB: Well, as the playwright what I most remember is the cast members asking questions—and sometimes my only offering options. I kept in my own mind a clear idea of what we in fact know as part of the play’s events, and what we can only surmise. Thus, all kinds of details remain open to interpretation, while others (some of them subtle) make for some pretty clear clues. Even the real identity of one character remains uncertain—because LeFanu left it that way and I followed suit. So, lots of wonderful questions, with me clarifying a few things and the cast themselves coming up with their own (often amazing) answers.
MH: For me, the joy of working with our cast – and the many people who helped – has been watching a story I know well transform into something I’d never seen or imagined. We said at the start that we wanted to tell it in a more abstract, less realistic way. Then, we watched as the cast and their coaches found each piece, each moment. Although we had the script as a spine, the whole body of the play – the way we tell the story – was a discovery.
BD: What do you hope that audiences will take away from the show?
DMB: I dearly hope they’ll find themselves moved, but also that they’ll find the story they’ve just seen a bit difficult to judge. I tried very hard to avoid easy answers. Hopefully, viewers will find it impossible to simply label one person the good guy and somebody else the villain.
MH: I hope they experience the love within this family and between these two people, and come away with some doubts about heroic visions of good vs. evil and the damage such visions can do. For me, that’s more important than whether they think vampires are real.
BD: Carmilla will be playing through November 8th. What is the best way possible for our readers to garner tickets to the performances?
MH: Go to www.brownpapertickets.com and search for Carmilla, or show up at the Lyric-Hyperion Theatre & Café in Silverlake. We’ll get you in.
BD: Are there any other upcoming shows or projects that you would care to share with our readers?
DMB: Well, I’ve got an original play with a few more edits needed. It is titled Noah’s Cove, a modern Southern Gothic ghost story which may or may not involve an actual ghost. Then, I want to work on a second draft of an adaptation of The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen, another 19th gothic classic.
MH: We in Actaeon are very excited about two or three other new plays in the pipeline, which we’ll be developing next year in readings and workshops. They’ll be open to the public, so we’ll be sure Fanboy Comics knows about them.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Carmilla and The Actaeon Players?
MH: Go to www.ActaeonPlayers.com . . . and check Amazon for David’s The Annotated Carmilla, which has the original novella and about 400 explanatory and historical notes.