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Reflecting on 'Frankenstein' with Hampstead Stage Company

So, here I am about two weeks removed from Frankenstein, back in New Orleans and felt compelled to write a reflection on my two-month contract with Hampstead Stage Company. I suppose the best place to begin is at the beginning:

BEFORE FRANKENSTEIN
Leaving Orlando is always difficult, but even more so when my incredible girlfriend, two days before I left, surprised me with a party filled with a huge group of my faithful friends and former classmates who still reside in or were passing through Orlando while I happened to be in town before tour. So many warm embraces and recounting of memories of days that are not too long ago but nevertheless feel so due to heavy (legal)(sometimes) collegiate intoxication. It was one of those nights that simultaneously highlights how little justice social media does to make one feel connected with such a large group of people, and, reminds you that, although the industry can feel incredibly lonely at times, you are not the only one carrying the weight of the actor struggle. Carrying that weight is a laughable task and it is a commendable task all at once. But ultimately I fell asleep the night before I left for tour with my heart full and my head in the right place to be content while being away from so many loved ones for the next two months.

 

THE ROAD TO FRANKENSTEIN

Our four-day road trip to Barnstead, NH was met with more UCF Alumni who were hospitable enough to take us out for drinks when we stopped in Atlanta and to house us in New York City.

Come to think of it, hospitality was met nearly everywhere we went, even when we camped for a night near Shenandoah National Park in Virginia for a night. There we took a hike to see what I believe to be the most underwhelming “waterfall” I may have ever seen, but, the hiking scenery alone was enough to separate us briefly from the modern world and allowed us to take in the incredible changing nature and simplicity of what life must have been like when Mary Shelley first wrote Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus that gloomy summer she and Percy spent with Lord Byron. (The only place where we felt wholly unwelcome was entering and exiting the freeway in NYC, but that is something just comes with New York toll booth workers . . .)

Underwhelming "waterfall"

Underwhelming "waterfall"

But the people we encountered aside, on the road, Robert Wright III and I would talk politics, conspiracy theories, life, theatre, film, and would listen to music and stand-up comedy routines for a while and then every couple of hours one would ask the other, “You want to run lines?” and the other would say, “Sure,” and we’d spend the next hour or two rehearsing the incredibly succinct thirty-three page adaptation written by Vincent Hannam, another UCF Alumnus. At the end of that journey, the car smelled of stale breath and day-old fast food, but I truly couldn’t have asked for anyone better with whom to spend four days on the road.

 

THE TOUR OF FRANKENSTEIN

The greatest and most cherished element of our touring performances I think were the talk-back sessions we had with audiences after every show. It was always a great relief to shed Victor’s troubled and often feinty persona to talk with the crowd about our process, about our set, and about Frankenstein itself.

REHEARSAL. One of the things that people were surprised to hear is that we only had eight days of rehearsal before our opening night (day) at The Keene Public Library in Keene, NH. The first two of those eight days were spent blocking the show which is mighty easy without books in hand, and the final six were cleaning and fine tuning moments throughout to make sure this hour-long arc carried the correct weight Austen Elizabeth Edwards, our director, wanted it to have, which I always think is the most productive use of time in a rehearsal process, as opposed to just running the show to death without addressing the minute details that make a truly compelling performance stand out.

Exploring cemeteries for research...

Exploring cemeteries for research...

THE PLAY. Vincent Hannam did an incredible job making an arc of a beautiful 200+ page novel sit within an hour and an hour-ten. It's a master who can keep the overall arc of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein while adding several winks to the Boris Karloff films of the 1930's and a wink or two to Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein, but never forgetting the weight of both Victor and the Creature's experiences throughout the story. Performing as Victor was always a marathon, because not only is he recounting his horrifying experiences throughout the show, he is in a perpetual state of reliving them as vividly as if they were happening in that moment. 

THE SET. Our set was fantastically function heavy and all fit within the back of a 2005 Dodge Grand Caravan. Constructed in both New Hampshire and Argentina, it all broke down brilliantly enough that striking set after each show only took us about 45 minutes. It was kind of a “transformer” set as Austen liked to call it, with double uses and hidden capacities that were revealed as the show went on. I was always curious during every performance if people would gasp when we retrieved the body from the hidden trap door. I would say that happened at least 80% of the time - haha!

COSTUMES. The final thing people seemed to really grasp on to was that Robert and myself each played multiple characters, Robert playing Captain Walton, Victor’s Father, Victor’s best friend Clerval, and The Creature; I playing Victor Frankenstein, an Old Man and Young Man who the Creature kills both unintentionally and intentionally. Our costume changes were always under high pressure because we had less than a minute to change character and come back on stage. This training should come in handy if I ever get cast in my favorite stage show, The 39 Steps. I've always admired those actors' ability who play the clowns to change persona in seconds with the simple changing of hats. 

Overall, our audiences were a pleasure to play for as long as they were engaged in the story and the sizes of the spaces we played in always kept us adjusting our performances which kept every moment fresh and real and present. Kati Preston, the matriarch of the Hampstead Stage Company, along with UCF Alumni Artistic Director Jay Pastucha and Anna Lynn Robbins always made sure that our bellies were full and that we had somewhere to sleep at night while we were on the road. I can't express how smoothly they made that whole process go. Though tour was exhausting at times, I really hope that they’ll have Robert and me back next year to again bring this monster to life. 

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