In this Year of the Coronavirus, state-imposed pandemic safety restrictions on student activities have prompted Detroit Lakes High School to flip its theatrical schedule and present the annual spring play — which typically has a much smaller cast — in the fall, with the "fall" musical to take place in the spring of 2021.
Currently, Minnesota State High School League guidelines for student activities limit group practices to "pods" of 25 students or less, which presents considerable difficulties with a musical theater production that typically boasts a cast that is double or even triple that number.
Meanwhile, non-musical productions like those that spring play director Nikki Caulfield has presented for the past several years typically include a cast of 20 students or less, making it much more practical to flip the schedule for the 2020-21 school year, in hopes that larger group gatherings for student activities may be allowed come spring.
Faced with the unusual possibility of presenting a show on Halloween weekend, Caulfield elected to have a little fun with the change in schedule and chose an original adaptation of the classic horror novel, Bram Stoker's "Dracula," to be this year's fall production.
"I couldn't resist," she said, adding that audience members will also be encouraged to come in costume for the Halloween show, to add to the holiday atmosphere.
There will be three public performances, on Friday, Oct. 30; Saturday, Oct. 31; and Sunday, Nov. 1, but with a little twist — the show will also be made available via live stream, for those who want to see it but aren't yet comfortable with attending indoor, public performances, where the risk of COVID-19 exposure is greater.
"We haven't quite worked out how we're going to do it yet, but we will be streaming it (the show)," Caulfield said. All three performances inside the George Simson Auditorium at Detroit Lakes Middle School will be presented with strict adherence to state-imposed physical distancing guidelines, she added, which means that seating will be limited as well.
She added with a little laugh that she hopes the physical distancing restrictions will enhance the shiver-inducing atmosphere just a little bit. "When done right, it (horror) can be both fun, and terrifying."
Though the plot of "Dracula" has been adapted and re-imagined hundreds of times for both stage and screen since Stoker first penned it in 1897, Caulfield decided she wanted to take up the challenge of writing her own interpretation, based on the original text.
"I'm pulling a lot of text right out of the book," she said — particularly the parts that include dialogue, though Caulfield admitted that actual character quotes are a little thin in Stoker's text, which reads like a series of journal entries.
Though she's not quite finished with the script yet — the first rehearsal isn't until this coming Tuesday night — Caulfield said she's having some fun with reinterpreting some of the roles as female rather than male. For instance, the character of Renfield is now "Miss Renfield," and Professor Van Helsing can boast being one of the first female professors of her generation.
In addition, Caulfield said, she has added a few humorous moments to cut the dramatic tension — though like in a Shakespearean drama, she cautioned, moments of laughter are often followed by moments of great tragedy.
Though the horror genre is often characterized as being filled with blood and gore, Caulfield said that her interpretation will not emphasize violence. "There will be blood, of course — it's vampires! — but we're not going for too much gore. There's a lot more suspense, which is how the novel reads as well."
Because auditions were going to be taking place after this article went to press, Caulfield said she had no idea what the final cast would look like, but she had high hopes for a good turnout on Thursday and Friday night. One incentive for potential participants, she noted, is that at least some of the opening scenes will include several video segments — and she plans to put the content of those videos into the hands of the cast and crew, based on the script that she gives them for each segment.
"I'm going to leave it to the kids to run with it," she explained. And of course, because the script includes some physical confrontations between Dracula and his pursuers, "there will be some stage combat," Caulfield added. "That should be fun."