Hello. This is your loyal host William A. Wellman. In addition to creating Hello From The Hallowoods every week, I write novels, read horror stories and tune in to the work of other podcasters in the horror fiction space today. Sometimes I invite them into my dimly lit parlor for an armchair conversation about horror.
In this bonus episode, I sat down with Alan Burgon, Beth Eyre, Felix Trench and Stephen Indrisano to talk about their upcoming audio drama adaptation of Bram Stoker’s world-famous vampire novel. This is the Skull Sessions: Regarding Dracula.
So I’d love your name, a little bit of background about you, what projects you’re coming from, and what you do with Re: Dracula.
Sure, I’ll kick things off, ‘cause I think I’m probably the least interesting option here. My name’s Stephen Indrisano; I’m one of the producers here on Re:Dracula. I was originally brought on as the dialogue editor, but I would not shut up about the book, and so they brought me on as producer. So I’m kind of the dramaturg, and general horror nerd of the bunch. Yeah, I’m frantically scrabbling behind the scenes like a rat in the walls… and let that serve as my introduction.
Hi everyone, I’m Beth Eyre, and I’m really excited to be here. I’m an actor, and a voice actor, probably best known for a podcast called Wooden Overcoats, about rival funeral directors, and in Re: Dracula I’m playing Lucy Westenra.
Hello, I’m Felix Trench, I’m an actor, I was in Wooden Overcoats with Beth… this is the, uh, this is the third time I’ve been in any form of ‘Dracula’. The first one was when I was I think nine years old. I was in a musical version called the ‘Dracula Spectacular’, in an am dram production, and I played a chorus member called ‘Aglublick’. Because we all drank a drink called a ‘glublick’, and the song went ‘drink lubly glublick, drink it right down to the brim!’
…That was not in the book.
I’ve read this book a few times now, and I’ve yet to find any reference to glublick. And, ah, I’m playing Renfield.
So hello, my name’s Alan Burgon, also an actor, most known in the podcast world for my role as the Interviewer in the Amelia Project. I’ve worked with both Felix and Beth before—well, Beth has been in an episode I wasn’t involved in, but technically we were in the same airspace. Also a big fan of Wooden Overcoats; if you haven’t listened to that before, please do so.
I’m playing Van Helsing in Re: Dracula, very excited about it. When I was asked if I would be up for the part, it came at the exact right moment for me, because I had kind of made a decision that I wanted to do something which was very different from The Interviewer in the Amelia Project, and again different from Lucky in the Secret of Saint Kilda, so when ‘fascinating dutchman’ came along, Vampire Slayer, then yeah. I was all in there. Bring it on.
So yeah, very excited about the project, I’m a big vampire—kind of closet vampire nerd. Even things you know, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, watched the whole thing back to back. Watched all of Angel, watched all the Twilight stuff, watched a few different versions of Dracula including the… questionable ‘Van Helsing with Hugh Jackman. Which, it was a fun film, they took some liberties, but… my Van Helsing will not be a muscle-bound arrow-shooting fighter.
I’m very curious, looking at the cast and the team that’s behind Re:Dracula… how did this team of people all come together? Did you recruit people, did they crawl out of coffins in your basement?
Yeah, I can speak to that. It was a really amazing process, because… Hannah [Wright] and Tal [Minear] were the main producers, along with Ella Watts, who we have on kind of a contract basis, who’s just incredible.
We just started dreaming. We came up with a shortlist of all of the actors we knew could handle the depth and intensity of this book. Gothic being the tradition that we’re in, there’s a lot of intense emotions that need to be sold right, otherwise you kind of fall off the edge into camp. And as much as I love camp, that’s not necessarily what we’re going for.
So we started with a shortlist of actors that we knew their work, we knew they’d be able to handle the depths of the work, and then we did a closed audition.
So we sent these roles to quite a few actors who we felt would be good fits, and then from those auditions we had a night where we sat down—it was probably like three hours, it took—just listening to takes over and over again. Because we didn’t get a bad read, obviously. Obviously we didn’t have a single person submit work that wasn’t show quality.
And then it just came down to the nitty gritty of casting. Voice differentiation, dialect work, who has energy that’s going to play off of someone else’s energy, who is going to treat this part with…
Especially with Renfield, Felix, part of what brought us to your take was a sensitivity to the character. I think that was kind of our major deciding factor for a lot of these characters, was, who’s coming at this not just extravagantly but thoughtfully? We started from the baseline of, if we’re going to adapt this book that has been adapted over and over again, we have to bring our A-game.
And that starts with casting. It starts with bringing on artists who you know are going to bring a maturity and depth to the story.
The thing that’s really exciting to me about Re:Dracula as a podcast adaptation is how much of the modern-day audio drama horror scene talent, from Wooden Overcoats, from The Magnus Archives, from Secret of St. Kilda, are coming together to work on this project. From our voice actors here, you get this email saying ‘we’re doing a dracula adaptation’... what made you say yes to this project, what piqued your interest about it?
In all honesty, erm. It was paid. Dracula is good. And I think when people ask that question they assume there’s more work out there than there is. We’re not sifting through our inboxes saying ‘ah yes, I’ll take this screenplay with Stephen, that sounds wonderful’. We’re either scrabbling around trying to find work or we’re working on our side jobs.
Beth and I have occasionally talked about, in relation to Overcoats, how that show was 360 days of prep and five days of our job. When you’re not acting, you’re promoting, you’re looking for things and… you know. Dracula is not nonsense.
That’s our tagline now. From the producer. ‘Regarding Dracula: We’re Not Nonsense.’
Yeah, exactly. It’s… I’ve been waiting for audio drama podcasting to start diving into the back catalog of public domain works. Dracula didn’t occur to me, but I’ve been wondering who’s going to be the first team to do a Pride and Prejudice, and who’s the first team who’s going to do a Holmes. So this feels like maybe an early step within that.
Well, like Felix I obviously work… yep, absolutely. It’s so up my street. I love gothic literature, I love Dracula. I didn’t necessarily ever think I’d be part of a Dracula project; I have not done it three times before like Felix. Obviously there aren’t that many women in it, and you think, maybe this just isn’t going to be one for me.
And I definitely never thought I would play Lucy. And I’m so excited to do so. I think she’s so much fun. It’s sometimes the most delightful thing when someone is like, ‘maybe you’d be good in this’, and you think, ‘huh, I would not have thought of that. How exciting’.
I a few years ago did an audiobook which was like the DK Guide To Global Vampires, which was really fun. But I actually came to reading Dracula in something like the last five years. I did not read it at Uni.
And having seen Nosferatu, having seen various Dracula adaptations, I had a lot of ideas about what it was… and I suppose I was struck by how different the novel is to what I thought it was, how so much of what we think of happens so early on, and how weird it is, I guess, how Dracula can be a fog or a dog or all these world-breaking things where you think ‘this is too much, this is going to break the story, he can’t be everything’.
And how weird the characters are. I don’t want to hog other people’s characters, but Van Helsing is so strange. And even Anthony Hopkins, even all the takes there are on film, doesn’t come near the strangeness that is actually in the books and how eccentric a person this is.
And the Dracula Daily phenome-phenomenon. I hadn’t heard of, but I’m so glad it exists. I tutor Dracula now, I teach young people, and it’s so wonderful that there’s something out there where a fandom have gotten behind it and are loving some of the things that are so weird.
Jonathan Harker cuts himself and the Count throws the razor out the window and just people reacting to that and going ‘hang on, what? What?’ is great, that’s what I want the students I teach to feel about this, to sort of enjoy the weirdness of the book as well as the gothic-ness.
And I think it’s interesting about podcasts sort of marrying up with gothic literature, and how these things are… epistolary? No one can say this right, epistolary? Epistolary novels? And how well that lends itself so well to installments, to that sort of overlap that podcasts have with found footage.
And the team is incredible; I’ve worked with Tal a little bit on horror before, and… so many reasons. Why would I not do it, I suppose? It’s a wonderful thing.
I’ve rambled now, Felix, so we’re even.
I think as actors we’re all guilty of rambling until someone says ‘cut’ or ‘thank you’, right?
I’ve always had this strange relationship with the whole podcasting world, because I suffer quite a bit with imposter syndrome. Especially when we’re doing group discussions like this, because I’m not that present online. You know, I used to run a theater company, and I write a bit for independent film, and I’ve kind of got these categories that I’m always trying to chase my tail and keep up with.
And before St. Kilda came along, I didn’t really think I was going to be involved in any other podcasts. Because I kind of thought Amelia ticked my ‘podcast box’. And then once St. Kilda came out, I remember saying to my wife ‘you know what? I’m really starting to get into this, I’m really enjoying voice acting for podcasts’.
One of the reasons being that there’s so much freedom, it’s just you and the microphone, it doesn’t care what you look like. You’re not seen; it’s just you and your voice. And I find you can just be so much more free and you can play with the character a lot more.
I think even people who say they don’t like vampire stories are still fascinated by them in some sense. There’s a reason why there are so many rewrites of vampire stories and why it comes out in pulp literature and it’s redone over and over again.
One of the perks with Dracula Daily, if I’m not mistaken, was that they would release content at the same intervals as the content in the book. So sometimes you would get Dracula Daily, sometimes you would get no letters from Jonathan for a couple of weeks. What have been some of the challenges or some of the thoughts when trying to adapt this 1897 novel into almost the audio drama format that listeners are familiar with?
I will address some of the sonic qualities. I think this book is scary as hell… if you can populate it right. And I love audio drama because it can also be very frightening. It is a conduit for the imagination. And so much of Dracula is incredibly intense and disturbing if you can imagine it just right. The Ghost Ship Demeter section is just… ooh, it’s a masterpiece.
And if you can place yourself in that headspace of the like, the creaking boat that’s slowly depopulating. Where are the voices going? There used to be twelve people hoisting this mast and now it’s me and one other dude, and I don’t know if I can trust that dude… It’s just boxes on this boat, what is happening?
Podcast is uniquely prepared to tackle both the serialization which adds to that mounting tension day by day. What is happening on that boat in the hours that we’re not listening to it? And, when we’re placing the audience on the boat in that immersive… you know, that’s a buzzword we love in podcasting, the audio is ‘immersive’... but it truly can be. You close your eyes and you listen to sound design that’s well-done and you can be put somewhere else, in a way that’s very visceral.
And I think that for us, Dracula represented the opportunity to really get into that imaginative space. And it’s a lot harder to force your way through and bust through to the plot if it’s on an audio timeline. Because we’re going to make you take your time, and you’re going to be on that boat for a while. So that’s something that’s artistically exciting about the adaptation.
Was there anything about the Dracula story that surprised you as you began to look into who the character is, what happens, what you would have to grapple with in the production?
Because there are so many modern adaptations, so many different ways of doing it, and so many actors who have played Van Helsing over the years, for me from the very start there was this trying to place him so that it does justice to the character. It’s a very serious story, he has a very serious role to play in the telling of the story.
I’d be interested to hear as well from Beth. The one thing that struck me reading through this book… it’s one thing to sit by yourself and work through the pages of a novel; it’s another when you’re reading something out loud to people and you realize how some of the stuff you’re reading sounds.
And what struck me going through the early chapters of Dracula is how sometimes it feels like the narrative is really working against what precious few female characters we have in this story. Where do you find the kind of, courage, that Lucy really embodies? Because I think she does has a lot of strength, despite how her journey through this narrative looks.
In a book that’s largely populated by men, it sort of makes sense that a lot of how they carry on would be defined by their relationships with men, because men is what we have. And so many wonderful male characters in this novel… it’s also interesting when Lucy, spoilers, given what happens to her, not to play the end of that. Not to just make her a victim. I think it is important for the plot that we see the darkness of that and what can happen, but also, Lucy isn’t just that.
And you know, she’s a young woman who’s very vivacious, who’s just in the beginning of life in some ways, and who enjoys having three suitors. And in a way that seems very fun and there’s a sort of lightheartedness to it, and I suppose as Alan said I wanted to do justice to her. Wanted to find the truth of that.
That sometimes horror is a way of exploring our darkest, most primal fears, but also society’s fears. So if a woman could entertain the idea of being married to three men, what’s the worst case scenario? And what’s the worst case scenario if you introduce a supernatural element? Maybe she’s going to die and come back as the undead and plague children, and oh no, it’s so out of control…
Which is interesting.
But it’s kind of a lot as well. And I don’t know, I loved reading those early letters to her and Mina. I enjoyed their relationship, I enjoyed their playfulness. Their articulateness. Articulateness? Articulacy? I think that Lucy does genuinely love all these guys—not like that, but sees the best in them. Sees what’s good in them. Enjoys those moments that she has with them.
Something that we were looking for when we were casting Lucy was an actor that could bring a lot of humanity to a character that has been thoroughly dehumanized by popular culture. Lucy as a character I think, yes obviously does not get enough character development in the way we would think about it now.
We really get her opinions about her ailing mother and her relationships with 3-5 men. That’s not ideal. So we needed an actor who could find the universal aspect to those experiences and really put her foot down to say, ‘this is what a Victorian man wrote about the female experience. I am going to bring to the table the aspects of his writing that ring true to me, and that is what you will hear’.
Reducing that kind of patriarchal propaganda wherever possible, while also presenting the emotional resonance of ‘wanting your friends to be okay’. Those are some of the tensions that are going on artistically behind the scenes.
Why does this book continue to see this recurring life when many other novels from that time period don’t get pulled off the shelf anymore?
It’s a novel I think primarily about want. It’s about desire. And it’s the metaphors for that are taken to almost absurdist extremes. Lucy with her three suitors on the one end, Renfield over here on the other. And here’s his need to consume as much life force as possible and also be near Dracula…
You know what it has? It has a really clear-cut evil. Dracula is a monster in every sense of the word. And because he’s so demonic, we don’t need to justify him. He’s not Moriarty. We don’t need to find a kind of human way in.
We can accept that there is good, and that is the majority of our cast, and there is the void. There is evil. There is Satan. All of that. There’s no two ways about it; we’re not there to save his soul, we’re trying to put a stake through his heart, chop his head off and fill his mouth full of garlic.
*All crack up*
Which we all know is a white flower! The famous image of garlic is a white flower…
Coming off what you just said, I think one of the main reasons this book has stood the test of time is because even though it’s fantasy, it’s horror, it’s still very relatable. I think lots of people out there are battling with internal demons on a daily basis. I would argue that none of us out there feel perfectly whole in any way. We’re all flawed, and we’re all more aware of our own flaws than the rest of the world is.
And for a story like Dracula, you have this outward force which is basically unstoppable. And it’s that allure of something which is there to lead you astray against your will. It’s almost like saying, hey, it’s not my fault. Try as I might, this evil that’s out there is too strong. I can’t do anything about it. Although we are constantly battling against it within ourselves.
And I think this is why a story like Dracula is so relatable now as it was back then, and I think it always will be relatable, because it’s that evil that your granny told you about.
You fly with the crows and you get shot with them. Be careful who you get into bed with. Don’t let the devil lead you astray. It’s just a retelling of that story of, there is evil out there and we’re all impressionable to it, we can all be overcome by it and won by it.
So it’s not so much about fighting it, it’s about knowing that it’s there and being able to see it and make your own choice. To either run and hide or fight against it. But I think all of us at least sometimes can relate very much to that.
It’s so lovely hearing people talk about it. I completely agree; for me obviously, it’s about death. It’s about our primal fear of death, and in a way an exploration of what’s worse than death. What’s worse in not being able to die, in not being able to move on from death, in trying to overcome death. And how can that make us worse, more frightening. It’s such a primal, global fear.
I think it’s really interesting what Felix was saying about want as well as death. About everybody—maybe it is that Lucy would quite like a polyamorous society where she’s never going to upset any of these men that she’s never going to get, and Mina wants be of use to Jonathan, to be able to work alongside him, and she’s doing such a great job of that, but within the confines of a society that is limiting.
And even Dracula, sure he wants to suck people’s blood, but he also wants to be an English gentleman, and that’s not going as well as he thinks it is. There are all these wants that society is actually limiting and stopping, and seeing those frustrations play out is really interesting.
You know how you mentioned Van Helsing is weird? There’s no character as weird as Dracula.
Dracula is a top ten weird character, for sure for sure. There’s a quote from a cast member of ours, Alasdair Stuart, who is in my opinion one of the foremost horror commentators of our era. He’s been doing it on Pseudopod for ages and ages, and he goes back to this idea that horror is the most hopeful genre.
Horror, in that it can go to places of depravity and darkness and pain that are not allowed in other genres, in literature broadly, especially in the Victorian era. I mean, the idea that you’re allowed to write about what happens when someone that you care about not only dies but changes in this way that makes them an absolute dark mirror of themself.
The novel really is about finding hope during that. Finding the strength to take on a character and really a force of nature that we find in Dracula. He is such a fascinating cultural figure I think in no small part because he’s everything to everything.
Dracula has stood for disease. He’s stood for some really harmful stereotypes around both eastern peoples, Jewish peoples, but he’s also stood for the dangers of male power. He’s stood for the dangers of wealth beyond control. He’s this Rorschach Test, this ink blot of that which makes you dread. And Dracula at the heart of it is this story about confronting that dread, and doing so in a community.
I think that’s what really shocked the internet most as a lot of people got into Dracula for the first time, is that it’s not this kind of traditional American ‘one character saves the world’. It’s not that. It’s pre-that. It’s about community and the strength that we gain from each other, and I think that’s something that keeps it universal. Because each and every character in this book reaches their breaking point, and that’s just good drama.
So I think for me that’s what it comes down to; it’s about hope, despair, and rising above.
I think that’s a wonderful summary of the book. And thank you so much everyone, for speaking so poetically about this novel.
Alan Burgon voices Van Helsing in the upcoming show; Beth Eyre voices Lucy Westenra, Felix Trench voices Renfield, and Stephen Indrisano is an executive producer and dialogue editor, alongside talent such as Karim Kronfli as Dracula, Jonathan Sims as John Seward, and Alisdair Stuart as Captain of the Demeter. Their unique approach to this story breaks the story into chronological installments, based on the dates established in the novel itself.
Hello From The Hallowoods is produced by William A. Wellman. For first access to new Skull Sessions with other voices in the horror podcasting space, look to the Hallowoods patreon at patreon.com/hallowoods.
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