The Rise and Fall of Dracula is world premiering at the Hollywood Fringe Festival on June 9th. However, this isn’t your typical retelling of Dracula. Cadame Company has incorporated striking elements from Bram Stoker’s novel and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla to create a novel and innovative narrative. It’s “a dance-based, immersive, reimagining” of the legendary vampire’s story told from a female perspective.
Cadame Company, the group behind this fresh reimagining, is comprised of Cassandra Ambe, Melissa Ortiz, and David Kayser. Leveraging the strengths of each member, Ambe works as the choreographer, Kayser as the composer, and Ortiz as the director.
Drawing from an accessible and classic story allowed the group to flex their creative muscles and prove that they can reimagine something in their own style. “I love the idea of taking familiar characters and putting a different twist on their story.” In doing so, they plan to surprise their audience with a Dracula reinterpretation they are not expecting at all.
Playing with expectations has always been a factor for Cadame Company. A lifelong love of seeing how twists on an understood narrative can affect the delivery and reception of an experience are part of the group’s DNA. By reinterpreting a classic, they’re able to surprise the audience and allow them to “experience something totally different in art.” Their first brush with reinterpretation occurred when Ambe and Ortiz worked on a school production of Doctor Faustus together and Ambe played the part of Mephistopheles, which is traditionally played by a man. It allowed Ambe and Ortiz to recognize how making one alteration could change the fabric of the whole show. As Ambe explains, “I like creating something I wasn’t expecting and never being able to see it ‘the regular way’ again.”
The Rise of Dracula
This performance will build on this very concept, and participants will never be able to see the famous vampire in the regular way again.
In The Rise and Fall of Dracula, Dracula is a woman.
This is where the idea of making a change and seeing how it plays out comes into focus. Ortiz sets the stage, “Our Dracula has vastly different beginnings than Stoker’s, so her goals are different, but the theme of power is central to our piece.” Stoker’s Dracula wants to reclaim the power he once had, but Ortiz had a different view of her Dracula. Instead of just seeking power, she realized, “The journey became more about Dracula needing an equal.”
This meant that Cadame Company had to find the right woman to bring Dracula’s power, mystique, and allure to, well, not life, but you get the idea. Years earlier, Ortiz and Ambe had watched a staged version of Dracula together. They felt like the performance missed the mark in more than a few ways, chief among them: the casting of Dracula. Even by intermission, they were left cold by the lead actor. Ortiz joked with Ambe, “If I were ever to create a performance of Dracula, I would cast you as Dracula.” As their “long brewing” project began to take shape, Ortiz realized that her earlier joke wasn’t so off the mark; it was actually the right direction and choice for their show. They decided Ambe was a perfect fit for their vision of Dracula.
An Immersive Experience
With the narrative and the casting in place, Cadame Company had to decide how and where to stage their show. While they had thought about making the show immersive because they felt it would be more interesting for both them and the audience, they hadn’t completely settled on the idea. Their top priority was finding a space that felt right for their first show together. As they searched for venues, they found most were either black box or standard theaters.
Everything clicked when they found the Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre. Not only did the theater provide “interesting architecture,” it offered them a variety of rooms to work and play in. Cadame Company “were particularly excited about Stephanie Feury’s back rooms and wanted to use them in their story,” which would mean that the audience would move through the space with the actors. With that, they were settled on taking a step into the immersive realm with this show.
The Rise and Fall of Dracula will guide up to thirty-six audience members through the Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre. Throughout their time with Dracula and her cohorts, the audience should expect, “their role to constantly shift throughout the piece.” We don’t want to spoil what that means, so you will have to step into Dracula’s world and experience it yourself. What you can know though, is that the show will be guided through the theater and all of its rooms. It will also feature interactive elements as the audience moves along with the characters during the show’s seventy-five minute run time.
An Original Score
The Rise and Fall of Dracula will also feature original music composed for the show by Kayser. As Cadame Company began to work on this show, Kayser “was inspired to write one or two compositions.” As work continued he wrote another piece of music, and then another, until he found he had composed enough for the whole length of the show. Throughout the process, he worked closely with Ortiz who helped him capture the perfect atmosphere and feel for each song, “while giving him his creative freedom to interpret what a scene needs.” Together, Kayser and Ortiz worked with Ambe as she choreographed the show, tying together the strengths of the three founders of Cadame Company.
For the Bold, the Curious, the Strange
To help sell their show, Cadame Company designed a marketing campaign around personal, handmade letters. Ambe admits that a “weird” obsession with paper and a love of handwritten letters led her to the idea, which has featured the various missives dropped at interesting locations in the Los Angeles area. To really help sell the letters, the envelopes are sealed with wax, not only differentiating them from normal postcards, but also making them far more enticing to open. The letters themselves are addressed to “The Bold”, “The Curious”, and “The Strange” and feature writings that help set the tone for what’s to come in The Rise and Fall of Dracula.
What’s Next for Cadame Company?
Ortiz, Ambe, and Kayser already have ideas bouncing around for their next few projects, but are waiting until after Fringe before they dive into something new. Some of those projects may be theater-based and some of them may be film-based, but they’re still waiting to decide. One thing all of Cadame Company is agreed on is that they’d like to explore the idea of remounting The Rise and Fall of Dracula as a, “full two-hour experience” in the future.
The Rise and Fall of Dracula premieres at the Hollywood Fringe Festival on Friday, June 9th and then runs periodically through June 24th.