Kool Kat of the Week: Under Heidi S. Howard’s Helm, Seven Stages Throws a CD Release Party for DRACULA, THE ROCK OPERA

Posted on: Feb 13th, 2014 By:

Dracula and his wives in DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA at 7 Stages; L-R: Jessika Cutts, Rob Thompson, Naomi Lavender, Madeline Brumby.

Forget a red heart-shaped box this Valentine’s weekend, and go straight for the heart, the bloody heart. The CD of DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA is finally out (watch for our Retro Review soon), and 7 Stages is throwing live concert to celebrate its release with three shows, February 14 and 15. [Ed. note: 8 p.m. on Fri and Sat. The Thurs. Feb. 13 show was canceled due to weather, and a new show has been added at 10:30 pm Sat]

It’s been a year and a half since the curtain last went down on DRACULA. As ATLRetro said in our Review, “DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA melds JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR with Grand Guignol in a production that not only rocks hard and delivers a horrific, non-twinkly Nosferatu, but also is surprisingly true to Bram Stoker‘s original novel.” That review marks the only time a full cast and crew have earned Kool Kats of the Week, and we added that the production not only broke the bounds of community theater expectations but blew them out of the water. We felt like we were “discovering HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY ITCH off-Broadway in 1998 or THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW in a tiny upstairs theater in London in 1973.” We wish everyone who missed it could see the full production, but hopefully the music being available on CD will help convince skeptics that something this crazy original can happen outside the Big Apple. All the main creators/cast members of the Little Five Points Rock Star Orchestra will be back, including Rob Thompson, the mad mastermind behind the sinister shebang; Naomi Lavender (Muleskinner MacQueen Trio), Mina with a voice to make Kate Bush blush; Rick Atkinson, America’s hardest rocking Renfield; and more.

Since then, Heidi Howard has assumed the helm as creative director of Seven Stages. She’s a mighty Kool Kat for taking on one of Atlanta’s most innovative and daring theater companies, following in the footsteps of founders Del Hamilton and Faye Allen, who both are local legends here. Here’s what she has to say about the concert and CD, as well as what’s next for DRACULA and 7 Stages!

Heidi S. Howard. Photo courtesy of 7 Stages.

It’s been a year and a half since the curtain dropped on the last performance of DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA. While the vision started with Rob Thompson, it was also an amazing collaborative effort with Del directing and many of the musical cast contributing to the composition. Can you talk about that aspect of the production and how it relates to the music we’ll be hearing this weekend?

I remember sitting in the basement over four years ago, listening to the first notes composed and encouraging Rob to propose the production to Del. I have often called theatre a collaborative sport; we have to work together in order to make great things. Over the years, the relationship with 7 Stages artists and Little Five Points Orchestra has grown to something really impressive. This process specifically was created to encourage everyone’s ideas to be heard and to merge the music and theatre styles. By including Shane [Morton]’s knowledge of Dracula and encouraging the composer’s possibility of the music style, we were really able to expand the overall sound of the story.  There is such a diverse style of surprising music from true rock in “The Castle” and “Dracula’s Opus,” to jam in “Van Helsing’s Teachings,” even to rockabilly sounds in “Lucy’s Proposals,” that make it accessible to many.

We have chosen to highlight the different styles and favorites in this concert while still saving some of the best to be heard on the CD. Even today I am inspired by hearing everyone’s ideas and implementing the best of them, as well as the group’s way of working through a decision together.  The Drac Pack is a very intense gathering of strong-minded rockers and artists, each with passionate dedication to what we have created together.  7 Stages has the unique environment of engaging the individual and really supporting who we have in the space.  We are a people’s place and make opportunity for those that are here and willing to collaborate and become better. This process is a testament to engaging and supporting those who are present.

While it’s not the complete production, will characters be in costume and what else is the company doing to recreate the horrific ambiance?

We are sticking to a concert presentation style, keeping the production elements as simple as possible while still creating an intimate environment.  While really celebrating the music and engaging the community, we are keeping the work present in the minds and bodies of our audiences. We are creating a lobby installation of the costumes and some of the scenic elements used in the production. Instead of using the video projections there will be images, many from Stungun Photography, who captured beautiful moments of the production. We did not want to create the expectation of a full production and staging elements, because the goal is to celebrate the music itself. Also, it is important to note that not all of the performers were available for this gig, and so Rob and others cover some of the vocal roles.

What’s your personal favorite song in DRACULA and why?

Oh my goodness, I tried hard to pick one to answer this question, but I just can’t. The music is so rich with diverse styles, and I like many different types of music. “Diary and Mysteries is up there because of the simple beauty of Naomi’s voice and the build of everyone’s layered voice in as the song builds. I love, love, love when there are all of the layers of voices and music changes in many of the Act 2 songs. “Alone in Transylvania” really speaks to everyone’s fear of being lonely, and it always brings chills to my body.  “Van Helsing’s Teachings” is so much fun, and Jeff nails it every time. I wake up singing “The Chase”…. And the list continues. It is so good, and I get so overwhelmed each night in rehearsals, I am literally sitting in the theatre rocking out, feeling so lucky and thankful.

7 Stages is one of Atlanta’s most acclaimed theater companies for serious plays. Why do something as seemingly pop-culture as DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA, or is it pop-culture?

Traditionally DRACULA productions have been poppy, and with our production we really focused on sticking to the Bram Stoker’s book and creating music and a production that answered the desire of these artists.  7 Stages has always had a mission on supporting new work and encouraging artists to expand their craft.  For me, I was really interested in the process of merging the music and theatre scene, creating a space to develop high quality storytelling and offering both the musicians and theatre folk the best of both worlds so that we could learn best practices and become better artists overall.  This production is a fusion of pop and rock culture, and while it is a break from the serious heavy topics, we are creating a seriously great rock opera. 

Heidi S. Howard. Photo courtesy of 7 Stages.

There have been many stage and screen adaptations of DRACULA. Why do you think this one worked so well and was so popular with audiences?
We stuck to the book in composing the lyrics, many of them being directly taken from the text. Many other productions stray away from this and tell “popular” vampire stories because of the trend. There are so many Dracula mythos out there, and we really stuck to Stoker’s mythos as opposed to others such as Anne Rice’s, TWILIGHT or other modern pop culture mythos.  We used the wave of what was popular for marketing purposes but wanted to stick to the original tale.  We wanted to celebrate the strength of the musicians and performers with high quality production values.  Also, it was a direct goal of Rob’s to do “something that doesn’t suck!”  There is a Little Five Points Orchestra following, as well as those that support 7 Stages who have really encouraged our relationship to grow over the years of producing the Krampus shows [and] involving the musicians in our production of HAIR a few years ago.  Ultimately, we are answering the demand of our community.  The show is fun, involving, intimate, and so surprising that all want to be involved.

So many of us wish there would be full-out performances of DRACULA again. Any chance of that or of it going on the road to other cities?

We would love to do the full production again, taking everything to the next level, send it on the road, sell it to other producers, etc… it deserves to be out there.  That is a large reason for producing this concert version, in addition to celebrating the CD release.  But, it takes money.  Lots of money so that we can pay the artists for their time and work, as well as pay for all that it takes to make a production including blood, effects, blood, costumes, scenery, blood, video, blood, etc.  We want to keep the music and possibility present in our community and continue to push it out there.  

Heidi S. Howard gets the Shane Morton treatment. Photo courtesy of 7 Stages.

How are you feeling about 7 Stages now that you have a few years under your belt. How are you feeling about taking the plunge? What do you think is the company’s biggest success under your helm? And what is its biggest challenge?

Absolutely fantastic.  I love my staff, the artists, and all of the amazing people that walk into the space.  I stuck around 7 Stages all these years for the people and am always inspired by the involvement of those people. I am having a lot of fun with our Home Brew series.  We have always supported the development of new work, but by formalizing it into a program and inviting audiences into the process, the support and understanding for the process becomes very clear. The Navigator was a great success as we took our work outside of our space, and at the same time we were the first organization to be allowed to perform on MARTA with Mass Transit Muse [full production to premiere in May].   But honestly, we have stayed open; we are extremely focused on becoming financially stable.  This is both a success and an ongoing challenge.

Next up is THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE. That’s a book that many people read in school. Why should they want to see it performed live through the lens of 7 Stages?

7 Stages’ new adaptation of RED BADGE uses puppetry, live actors, projected animation and a dynamic soundscape to create an immersive world of battle. Our version uses contemporary techniques to achieve the intense atmosphere of war and the spinning viewpoint of our naive young soldier. People who have read the book will find new nuance and perspective on it, while those unfamiliar will leave the theater itching to read!

What else is 7 Stages up to that you’re excited about for the rest of this season and into the next?
As mentioned above, our work is not just focused on the serious. We are sticking to our social, political and spiritual mission. It is my goal to expand the knowledge of what we do. We like to have a great time with our work. While it can be serious, it can also offer Atlanta a really good time. Today the work has a lot to do with reflecting and representing our community and expanding it – internationally and locally. I am gearing up to jump into rehearsals again for Mass Transit Muse, which is another process that will merge mediums, and Jed Drummond will be a feature, which is always a plus! It’s a wonderful experience to work with your friends, who happen to be amazing artists. I’m looking forward to sharing their talents, engaging with our community, and creating art that surprises, engages and inspires Atlanta.

Heidi in front of 7 Stages' spider float at the L5P Halloween Parade. Photo courtesy of 7 Stages.

You do a lot of work with youth through Youth Creates, the Playmaking for Girls program, etc. Can you talk a little bit about those pursuits and why you are so passionate about working with young people.

By listening to the youthful mind, I am allowing voices to be heard.  As a young person, I was continually challenged by not being heard or not knowing how to express myself. As Education Director, I was able to create a place for young people to connect their everyday life to creative process.  While working on professional productions at 7 stages, training under the world-renowned directors and artists that we brought in, I was able to structure the education programming around the needs of our ongoing programming. It has been obvious to me that we can answer each others’ needs by answering the desires and needs of our community by offering the community opportunities of professional development, while offering hands-on experience in the professional field of creating art.

Finally, tell us something about you and what drew you to the theater life that we don’t know.
I worked at Disney while I was in college and loved playing Timon, the meerkat from THE LION KING, because I could flirt with the girls and no one would know.

Is there any question did I not ask about 7 Stages, DRACULA or you that I should have, and what is the answer?

7 Stages doors are always open. Come on in, grab a coffee or drink from Java Lords, hang out in the lobby / gallery, check out the library upstairs, create with us, see all of our shows, give us feedback, pop in and say hi to us in the office. As I said, I do this for the people I get to meet and create with each day.  There are always amazing things happening here that will surprise and inspire.

CDs of Dracula the Rock Opera are at Java Lords now and will be available at the show. For advance tickets, visit www.7stages.org.

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Kool Kat of the Week/Retro Review: Sex, Blood and Rock n Roll: Jesus Christ Superstar meets Grand Guignol in Not-To-Be-Missed Dracula The Rock Opera

Posted on: Oct 12th, 2012 By:

Dracula and his wives in DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA at 7 Stages; L-R: Jessika Cutts, Rob Thompson, Naomi Lavender, Madeline Brumby.

In this Week’s Kool Kat, we break the rules and give it to more than one person – those crazy kids in the Little Five Points Rock Star Orchestra.  Don’t miss DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA before it closes this Sunday, October 14 at 7 Stages. 

DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA melds JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR with Grand Guignol in a production that not only rocks hard and delivers a horrific, non-twinkly Nosferatu, but also is surprisingly true to Bram Stoker‘s original novel. Not to be missed, this DRACULA brings the rock opera genre into the 21st century with the energy, musical, acting and staging quality of an off-Broadway find. Seeing it is like discovering HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY ITCH in 1998 or THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW in a tiny upstairs theater in London in 1973. But hey, wait a second, this is Atlanta’s 7 Stages Theatre, not New York, not London, not even LA or Chicago. And it’s not Rob Zombie, but Rob Thompson. How the HELL did that happen?

The short answer is years of hard work by the Little Five Points Rock Star Orchestra, a motley crew of badass tattoo-covered Atlanta musicians, stage professionals and grassroots performance artists whom you haven’t heard of most likely unless you live here. If you don’t live in Atlanta, you probably won’t believe this gang of music misfits, most with ultra-light theater experience, has produced a libretto, lyrics, acting and staging that set DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA tooth and claw above community theater.Maybe you’ll be more convinced when I point out that they did have the benefit of Del Hamilton, a seasoned internationally acclaimed director, to guide them. DRACULA will be the last of 80 shows which he has directed before he steps down as artistic director of 7 Stages, building with Faye Allen, a reputation for this company as one of Atlanta’s most edgy. It’s a testament to Hamilton’s vision that he was willing to take on a venture in the pop culture/horror arena as his swan song (though he will continue to stay active in 7 Stages). Clearly Hamilton drove the cast and production crew to their highest potential, ably assisted by longtime Atlanta actor Justin Wellborn, who returned from Los Angeles to work on DRACULA.

Harker (Chris Love) receives a dire warning from a gypsy woman (Naomi Lavender).

In JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, the son of God is reborn as a rock star, and so likewise is the iconic vampire dark lord of fiction as Rob Thompson emerges on stage, dressed as Vlad the Impaler with a long dark mane, a Gothic red velvet vest so pointy it looks like it could cut you, and tight black leather pants. At first he is bending his fingers and arching his back, creating a shadow image creepily reminiscent of Max Schreck in the iconic silent NOSFERATU (1922). But soon recharged by the promise of a new feeding ground in England, he is re-uniformed in a blood-red cape, red and black boot chaps and a sword. With his petulance, cockiness and powerful voice, Jim Morrison meets Ozzy as Thompson emotes on the power of blood to a heavy beat right out of Black Sabbath.  This Count is no romantic sparkly vampire, but a black metal superstar of evil whose immortality is dependent on the death of humanity.

When ATLRetro reviewed the first act, then titled HAUS VON DRACUL, during a trial run last year, we called that review “Dracula Superstar but Love is the Answer.” That tagline still holds true in that DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA is unique among Dracula dramatizations for having a strong/non-wimpy rendition of Jonathan Harker in the transcendent voice and passionate mannerisms of African-American actor/musician Chris Love. With a lion’s mane of long black hair, Love is already a daring visual choice for a role too often played close-cropped and straight-laced. Now Thompson has caught up with Love, but Love, as Harker, continues to embody the everyman (us by proxy) as he arrives on stages and declares in a moving opening solo that “a good man is a true man”  and later a stranger in a strange land, “all alone away from Mina.” Bram Stoker’s novel is written in the epistolary form with characters expressing their ebbing terror through diary entries and letters, and this rock opera masterfully embraces that format, often taking lines directly from the book and making the audience a confidante. In Love’s hands, Harker’s predicament gets progressively lonelier, reminds us that the vampire is evil and not to be embraced, progressively raising the stakes and easing the first act towards a sense of doom with no hope and escape.

Van Helsing (Jeff Langston, center) and Lucy's three suitors, Quincey (Shane Morton), Seward (Chaz Pofahl) and Arthur (Jed Drummond) make a "vein" attempt to save Lucy's (Jessika Cutts) life with blood transfusions.

Beyond Dracula’s tight leather pants, the “sex” side of rock n roll comes center stage early in Harker’s seduction by Dracula’s three wives, played to a perfect sirenic pitch by Muleskinner MacQueen Trio chanteuse Naomi Lavender (who also plays a gypsy woman and Mina), Madeline Brumby (known in the neo-exploitation movie world for her breakout role in also-Atlanta-produced DEAR GOD! NO!) and Jessika Cutts (who also plays Lucy). Their breasts show through white diaphanous robes, a clear homage to the sexy female vampires of Universal, Hammer and the lesbian vampire B-movie genre, and this production ups their otherworldly quality by adding exotic Eastern European headpieces and dance moves reminiscent of a Kali ritual. The actresses achieve a chemistry in their ethereal voices and interplay that only heightens the erotic tension and also their profound loneliness, trapped in the castle with the Count.

The first act showcases how to effectively use minimalist sets, lighting and an ensemble cast. No coach is needed with just Harker sitting vulnerably on steps while a mad driver thrashes a long whip, a small herd of humans outfitted in haphazard fur pelts furiously keeping pace to a metal beat. Less is more is also well-executed in the similarly soundtracked (the beat always gets heavy when Dracula is at his most bloodthirsty) ship scene conveying the hopelessness of the captain (Rick Atkinson) trying in vain (vein?) to keep his ship afloat in a stormy sea while the Count devours his crew in one of the play’s bloodiest scenes (watch out, front row!).

Van Helsing (Jeff Langston), Vampire Slayer!

DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA has to introduce a lot of new characters rapidly in the second act, and this task is mostly achieved well, including characters who appear in the book but often excluded from screen and stage. In a poppy update of Cole Porter’s “Tom, Dick and Harry” from KISS ME KATE, Lucy (Jessika Cutts) enthusiastically emotes to her best friend Mina (Naomi Lavendar) about her three suitors, earnest, bowler-hat-wearing Arthur (musician Jed Drummond in his stage debut); Dr. Seward (Charlotte, NC-based actor Chaz Pofahl), who runs the asylum (how romantic!); and Quincey, an American cowboy played with appropriate “home-on-the-range” swagger and just the right nod of humor by Atlanta horror Renaissance man-about-town Shane Morton (Professor Morte of the Silver Scream Spookshow, DEAR GOD! NO!, Gargantua, etc.) against type – in other words, more country than rock (Note: because of Shane also being the mastermind of the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, Arnie Lowder is now playing this role Thurs-Sat for the last few weeks of the run).

We already have a sense of Mina from Harker’s songs about her. Like in so many Dracula dramatizations, she could be just a romantic foil and vampire victim but fortunately Lavender’s unique voice – Kate Bush meets Janis Joplin, with a twist of Jane Wiedlin?! – and sheer dynamic energy forestall that possibility, ultimately ensuring she will be an equal to the otherwise male vampire-hunting team. Renfield’s crazed obsessiveness with Dracula is portrayed with a manic frenzy and an appropriately metalhead of frizzy curly hair in a breakout performance by Rick Atkinson, who has been with the L5P Rockstar Orchestra since its first production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR in the mid 2000s.

Meanwhile, Dracula in London is more of an omnipresent villain, now re-energized by a city full of fresh blood into full throttle rock star and re-attired in a black leather jacket (think actual suit jacket – Steve Tyler, not Sid Vicious). Fortunately Thompson and company recognize that he needs a similarly rocked-out foil not a dawdling elderly professor. Not your mama’s Van Helsing, this vampire hunter in purple is Doctor Strange meets Freddie Mercury. Jeff Langston, of hard-rocking Atlanta-based bands Ledfoot Messiah and AM Gold,  is just the hard-edged leader to unite Lucy’s triad of suitors to try and save first her life (no, they don’t succeed despite a steampunky transfusion gizmo) and then Mina’s as the Count makes them his inevitable victims. Ultimately, the intrepid group must travel all the way back to Transylvania to finish the battle, and as for the end, if you’ve read the book, well, you know it. And if you haven’t, you may well be surprised.

Rob Thompson as Count Dracula/Vlad the Impaler.

Ultimately that DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA is bound and determined to be tightly faithful to Stoker’s novel is both its strength and an occasional weakness, however, because occasionally that fealty causes some dramatic challenges. For example, after act one, it seems impossible when Mina receives a letter from Jonathan Harker that he has somehow escaped Castle Dracula. (Maybe a side performance showing Harker escape in pantomime might clarify?). Another scene that felt like it needed a little more work was a city scene in which Harker spies the Count for the first time in London stalking female victims. But these really are only small complaints in what overall is a fantastic production. Let’s hope for an encore soon and more runs well beyond Atlanta.

All photos courtesy of 7 Stages and DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA and used with permission.

 

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Dreaming of THE HIDDEN MAN in Paradise Gardens: 7 Stages Explores the Enigmatic 1980s Friendship of Howard Finster and Robert Sherer

Posted on: Mar 8th, 2012 By:

Two of Georgia’s best-known artists, Howard Finster, the architect of Paradise Garden, REM/Talking Heads album covers and “Picasso of folk artists,”  and nihilistic punk painter Robert Sherer, also internationally acclaimed but known for his depictions of the male nude, seem like they would be unlikely friends. This unusual relationship between two of Georgia’s arguably greatest artists is the subject of THE HIDDEN MAN, the latest play performed by the always intriguing 7 Stages company, which opens Thursday March 8 (opening night celebration on Sat. March 10; details at story end) and runs through March 25. The play, which is a joint University of Georgia production and premiered a couple of weeks ago in Athens, drew criticism from Finster’s daughter, Beverly Finster-Guinn, who disputes that her devout Southern Baptist preacher father would be friends with a producer of “porn.”

ATLRetro recently caught up with Del Hamilton, 7 Stages’ Artistic Director, to find out more about the play, the controversy and a special sneak preview of more music from the rescheduled DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA.

ATLRetro: How did THE HIDDEN MAN come about?

Del Hamilton: Russell Blackman, one of the co-authors, approached me several years ago with his rock and roll play about Finster. I told him I did not think it was ready for a production process and introduced him to Pamela Turner, and they decided to make this new play based on the partly fictional account of when Howard Finster and Robert Sherer met in the early ’80s. They are each arguably among Georgia’s most important visual artists, so this is an important story for that alone.

What drew you to it as a 7 Stages production and made you decide you wanted to direct it?

Even in these so-called enlightened times we live in, it’s still an incredible mystery to me that some people find fault with others based simply on what may be perceived as sexual inclination. This play directly addresses that significant cultural issue. How does a rabid anti-gay preacher look at a young, possibly atheist student? What do they see when they are with one another? How does Howard learn to forgive Robert for not being the person he wants him to be? When a person “hears” the call to be an artist, is it God? Is it an internal voice urging personal freedom?

How did Sherer and Finster meet and how much time did they spend together?

Don’t know how they met, although I heard stories, but can’t confirm. I believe they spent two summers together, more or less. Robert would travel to Paradise Gardens and stay over there for weeks at a time, helping Howard work on his art, being an apprentice.

What about your favorite aspect/scene?

I was hoping to create something beautiful – to look at, and to think about. I think there are many gorgeous scenes, even given our limited space and resources. I love the way scenes can be surprising and unexpected. I love the scene in the tub when the guys wash off the words SIN and LUST with Ivory Snow. And I love the shock of shooting the Tower of  Sodomy.

Paradise Gardens is a really unique location. What have you done at 7 Stages to recreate it?

Nothing.Paradise Gardens is a kind of sacred space, and we would not wish to do anything to disturb that, or to even try to recreate it. It’s truly unique, and dedicated to the full glory of God, something I don’t embrace intellectually. But I do respect that others hold this location with such high respect that it would be wrong to make it somehow secular by diminishing its beauty and stature. On the other hand, our scene designer has come up with a design that combines naive and sophisticated art concepts. The play is like a dream; in fact, it is a dream, alternating between the punk scene of Atlanta and Howard’s spiritual retreat in Summerville. As in dreams, locations, events, people get conflated, so we’re not sure if we are in dreams or reality from scene to scene. Sometimes the city and country locations are simultaneous.

A recent picture of Robert Sherer, Associate Professor of Art, Kennesaw State University. Photo courtesy of 7 Stages.

Was Robert Sherer involved in the production, and what does he think about it?

It’s partly his story, partly made up. He had nothing to do with the production, although he did lend early support to the writers, agreeing to interviews, and this formed the basis of the play. And he has stood up for 7 Stages as we were attacked by the religious folk who disagree that we should be allowed to do this play. In addition to being a great artist, Robert is one of the kindest, most sincere persons I have ever met.

Were you surprised at the derogatory response of Beverly Finster-Guinn?

Sure, especially the things she is saying that defame Robert. His reputation is on the line. He had nothing to do with the play, yet she is attacking him. She ought to go after 7 Stages and UGA, and in fact she tried this. But I guess she feels Robert is more vulnerable and an easier target. But my theatre has been marched on by the Klan, so it takes quite a lot to surprise me.

What was the reaction to the performances at UGA?

Well-received. I would say very positive reactions.

What do you hope audiences will walk away from THE HIDDEN MAN with?

That artists have to fight for a place in their culture. The fight involves personal goal assessment and a zest for life, including discovering ways to open doors to the imagination. Sometimes it’s drugs, sometimes it’s God, sometimes it’s how two artists interact that causes inspiration. If two distinct people such as Robert and Howard can be together, can’t others do it also? Can’t countries? Why can’t we all get along? How do artists find themselves, and the spark of inspiration? How are artists nurtured, and who does that in our society?

Rob Thompson as Count Dracula for HAUS VON DRACUL, the first act of DRACULA: A ROCK OPERA, performed at 7 Stages earlier this year.

Finally, many of our readers were disappointed to hear of the postponement of Rob Thompson‘s DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA. How is the fundraising campaign for it going and when do you anticipate it will be ready to perform?

I am revealing here – you are first to know – that we will present songs from the second part of the show at the end of this month in a special concert-style presentation [date and time TBA] . The composers have now finished writing all the songs, and we have made a good cd of all songs from act 1. I love this music, and the second act is even better than the first act. And we are starting to organize the auditions and designs for a September Opening. So, lots of activity. WE ARE ALSO SEEKING PRODUCERS WHO WANT TO HELP US BY CONTRIBUTING MONEY; AND THEN THEY GET TO ATTEND REHEARSALS, SPECIAL EVENTS AND OPENING NIGHT. PLEASE TELL YOUR READERS.

I also add that we postponed DRACULA so we could do some needed facility renovation— a new roof, HVAC system and new bathrooms. It all came together and we decided to delay so we could do it better given more time, and raise enough money to pay people better than we often do. And we hope it won’t rain inside anymore.

Join 7 Stages for their Opening Night celebration of THE HIDDEN MAN Saturday, March 10. The festivities start at 7 p.m., and the evening will include food, wine and music by The Lamantations. Mix and mingle with the cast, playwright and Robert Sherer.

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Raising Hell with Justin Welborn at Friday’s BLACK METAL BURLESQUE Fundraiser for DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA at 7 Stages

Posted on: Aug 4th, 2011 By:

Last February, composer/musician Rob Thompson and The Little 5 Points Rockstar Orchestra drove a stake into our preconceptions of rock opera as a dead-and-buried art form and put the bite back into vampire lore at 7 Stages with HAUS VON DRACUL, PART 1. If you’ve been stuck in your coffin and missed hearing about it, check out ATLRetro’s interview with actor Chris Love, who injected hard rockin’ passion into the often-staid role of Jonathan Harker, and our review here.

Now Rob and the rest of that crazed and creative team are hard at work on the terrifying second act of what’s now titled DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA which will have its premiere run at 7 Stages from April 19-May 13, 2012. However, as anyone in the arts knows, even a labor of creative love needs some cold hard cash to make it to the stage. So raise the curtain on BLACK METAL BURLESQUE, a one-of-a-kind fundraiser this Friday at 7 Stages featuring not just cast members and the Little 5 Points Rockstar but other notorious local talent such as The Chameleon Queen, Loki Shane DeFriece (Prentice Suspensions), Macabre Puppets’ Chris Brown (Dad’s Garage’s SCARLETT’S WEB), , set designer/make-up artist Shane Morton (Silver Scream Spookshow), and many more. Tickets are just $15 and the show is at 10 p.m., but a pre-show party kicks off at 9 p.m. and continues after the show.

Dracula's lovely brides take more than a few bites out of Jonathan Harker (Chris Love) in last February's performance of HAUS VON DRACUL at 7 Stages.

For a sneak preview of this sexy, surreal and sinister evening, we turned to actor and stunt artist Justin Welborn, one of the mad masterminds behind the fearsome festivities and no stranger to the world of horror. In addition to performing at most of Atlanta’s theaters, he directed Sensurround Stagings’ production of Clive Barker’s THE HISTORY

Justin Welborn in THE SIGNAL. Magnolia Pictures, 2007.

OF THE DEVIL, is a founding member of Black Knight Stunts, and starred in the independent horror movie THE SIGNAL, which screened at Sundance in 2007. More scary screen credits include THE FINAL DESTINATION (2009), DANCE OF THE DEAD (2008), and THE CRAZIES (2010). Oh, and Justin does yoga, drinks Jamesons and his favorite movie is COOL HAND LUKE (1967).

How did you get involved in DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA and what’s your role?

I am assisting Del Hamilton (Artistic Director of 7 Stages) with the direction and artistic production design of DRACULA. It’s strange how I got started with this whole three ring circus, i,e. The Little 5 Points Rock Star Orchestra. I’ve worked with, for and at 7 Stages for many years, and I’d seen the Rock Star guys and gals do their Iron Maiden show and their Pink Floyd Tribute, and always had an amazing time. I knew they had done JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and HAIR, and so when Heidi Howard (Education Director/Production Manager, 7 Stages) asked me to come in and help coordinate the stunt work and violence in their 666 CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEVIL show, I was more than excited to help. I found the whole Devil crew to be very eager, slightly disorganized and maybe a little drunk. I loved it. And the show’s finale was like nothing I’d ever seen at an Atlanta theater in 12 years! Just mad!

The Krampus float in last year's L5P Halloween Parade.

I came in again the next year for A KRAMPUS CHRISTMAS and ended up spending more time directing for real, rather than just stunts. The more I gave, the more they gave back. We began to figure out how this theater world and their music world could mesh and synthesize into something new and fun for everyone. So when I was asked to help with DRACULA, I jumped at the chance for another go! I didn’t know what I’d be doing for sure, but right from the start, I began directing and troubleshooting in a kind of cooperative effort to make the best show possible. I wasn’t in charge, but at a certain point I was given—by unspoken agreement more or less—great license to help create and direct the show. I was really quite honored at how much trust they put into me.

The first act, titled HAUS VON DRACUL, premiered at 7 Stages last February. Is the second act’s script and music completed or at what stage is at now?
The second act is still in development but is coming along swimmingly. Rob Thompson, the creative mind before and behind our vampire opera, has been working on this project for almost two years, and as I understand it, is approaching a completed score. I think we’re still trying to figure out what we want to do with the end. We are using Bram Stoker’s book as our cornerstone, but translating that into music and a stunning visual stage show takes some real ingenuity.

Considering it’s a rock musical about a vampire, Black Metal Burlesque sounds like the perfect theme for a fundraiser. Any story behind how the idea came about?
Rob told me one night at Java Lords that he wanted to do a fundraiser based on Venom’s BLACK METAL album that would include burlesque girls and live suspension acts. Then he described a few possible numbers. So I took what he said, weighed some options and the favors I had left in town, and decided if not now, when? I wanted to keep the DRACULA buzz rolling, and help support a theater I believe in. Plus the excitement from the group only intensifies every time we up our game and really keep challenging ourselves with what we can do artistically when we work together. It’s very exciting to see these artists working toward a common goal with people they normally wouldn’t get a chance to perform around.

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