In 1985 I would face my biggest challenge theater wise. It was to audition and win the role of Count Dracula ,the Fall play at a local community theater. Now, I had done multiple appearances during Halloween as The Count promoting the Jaycees haunted house attraction. I had cut numerous radio commercials, but his would be different.
Having only one production to my credit I went to the auditions with a killer hangover. I had forgotten about the auditions on Sunday and spent Saturday night partying. There were even more people reading for this play than the previous one and doubt in my abilities began to creep in. I stood on the fire escape smoking and chatting with a few other hopefuls while I waited for my name to be called.
There were a couple of male actors also reading for the role of The Count and both did a damned good job but they all lacked my voice and height.. My confidence was fading fast when I was finally called to read opposite one of the other guys that had done a great job reading for Dracula.
At the end of the first two paragraphs this guy said to the director, “Can I read for the role of Renfield? I can't beat this guy’s voice."
While waiting to be called up again. I wandered around the theater and found the pictures of the actors and actresses for the last play. Among them was a stunning dark eyed brunette. The male that decided to read for Renfield walked up and asked.
“What ya got there?"
I showed him the picture along with comments of what I'd like to do to her. He looked at the picture and then handed it back to me.
"Oh, that's just my sister," he said in a depressed voice.
I apologized and said if he slugged me I would understand.
"Naw, "if she wasn't my sister I'd want to bang her too," he replied
I laughed out loud and was forced to apologize for interrupting the tryouts. About an hour or so after I got home I received the call saying I had won the role of Dracula.
The following Sunday we had a read through at the producer's house. It gave the cast members a chance to meet each other as we read through the whole play. There would be a new wrinkle to this production that was not in the last show, "special effects".
Dracula had to vanish and appear on stage a few times as well as the final scene where a stake is hammered into his heart.
The rehearsals for Dracula proceeded without a hitch, and the set was built within a two-week span so we didn't have to contend with chalk markings on the floor to indicate doorway and walls. One of the scariest moments for me would be my first vanish on stage.
I was giving instructions to Renfield, my line was, "You are to obey and nothing more, should you fail to obey the punishment is death."
At that point all the stage lights go out and a small trap door built into the flat opens and I had to literally dive for it as the lights would only be out for two seconds.
The first time I tried it I slid on the floor backstage and head first into the railing post to the stairs that led down to the makeup room. I let out a very loud " shit" and the director who was in the back of the theater yelled,
"Where is that in the script?"
Everyone had a good laugh but me; I had a violent headache. The stage crew padded the railing after that..
The second vanish was relatively easy. As Van Helsing, Harker and Dr. Steward rush in I run to the balcony and spread my cape and disappear in a flash of smoke and flame. The secret? There was a long u-shaped strip that held a charge of flash powder running along the top stair.
As soon as I opened my cape one of the stage crew ignited it and poof, no more Dracula. The momentary flash and flame surprised the audience and all I did was step to the side. To this day there are people who will swear that I was dropped through a trapdoor or had wires attached to me or and was pulled up.
The third vanish was also easy. Dracula is rushed and grabbed by the intrepid three as he attempts to run to the balcony. There is a struggle and when his back is facing the audience they suddenly drop my cape and I'm not there.
The cape and collar had a heavy metal rod that ran through it; when the other actors rushed in I slipped out of the cape and crawled through another trapdoor that was opposite where we were standing. It took numerous times to ensure that no one seated in the audience was wise to this ruse. By the final dress rehearsal the effects looked great.
This was a very large set that extended from the apron to within one foot of the back wall. If the doors to the balcony were closed you could pass from stage right to left with no problem, but if they were open you had to crawl combat style to reach the other side.
It happened to me one night when I did not hear places being called. The curtain went up for the second act and I had to enter from the left. Try crawling on your belly wearing a full tails tux and cape. The producer got stuck stage left once and she had to do it in an evening dress while holding her heels.
The final effect of course is Dracula's demise. Van Helsing hammers a stake into Dracula's chest as Mina is held by Harker. The coffin the producer obtained from a professional theater supply house was beautiful, but when I laid down I was invisible to the audience.
So she brought in a pink satin pillow that was a gift to her husband when he was recovering from surgery. The front was tufted pink satin and on the back was a pair of tits.
Well, one night I slipped out and got into the coffin and one of the stage hands slipped the pillow under my head right before the lights came up. From the wings I heard, "Oh my God, the boobs are showing".
Now, the actress playing Mina was a very modest thing. At this point in the play her character is under Dracula's influence and it is reflected in her dress and mannerisms. As she was wearing a black, tight-bodice gown cut to the navel. The wardrobe mistress had to sew in a panel of black lace to satisfy the modesty demands of the actress.
She overhead the stage crew comments and believed that it was HER boobs they were talking about. As she went through her lines to me one hand went slowly to her chest to ensure that she was not having a costume malfunction.
Those in the wings were treated to the humorous sight of the back of my head nestled between a pair of breasts. The audience was never the wiser.
Next came the staking. My father had heard all the horror stories of actors being injured and killed while attempting this effect. Being an old-school tool and die maker, he built a chest piece out of scrap stainless steel with a long neck that was slipped under my shirt prior to climbing into the coffin.
I puffed out my chest and Chi breathed, so when I played dead nothing moved. Nothing short of a Teflon bullet could ever hope to penetrate the base The actor playing Van Helsing could see the opening of the device as he stood above me. He simply inserted the pointy end of the stake and struck it with a hammer, Dracula hissed and expires.
The play was such an overwhelming success and got such high praise from the audiences and reviewers that the demand for tickets sky rocketed. We were required to add an extra weekend to meet the demands.
The houses were always full, but by the closing night of that extra weekend the whole cast was pretty much burned out. As much fun as it was it was time to close. We had made new friends and sharpened our acting skills. What more could you ask for?
There is one more incident that needs to be added to this story. It seems that even the Prince of Darkness can be put in his place. As I said we were playing to full houses every night, and the demographics could not be easily measured
It was intermission and I was in the makeup room standing there with my cape across my arm smoking a cigarette (ah, the great days before the smoking ban) when the producer came in. She was a stunning woman that always dressed to the nines and she had a young girl of about 12-13 years of age in tow.
It seems that despite all the scary movies she had seen on TV and in the movie theater she was really frightened.
"Dan, would you please tell this young lady that you are not really Dracula?"
I looked at them and gave them a faint smile.
"Why should I lie to the child?" I replied in my Dracula stage voice.
Now, despite all my years of martial arts training I did not see it coming. I got a pointy female elbow in the stomach that caught me by total surprise that left me coughing and sputtering for air.
"No kid, I am not really Dracula. I'm just an actor in make-up," I managed to get out in between gasping for air.
"Thank you," the Producer said in a very sweet voice before she exited the room. The rest of the cast was in tears.