A few months ago, Sloth Levine and Katie Grindeland, co-production designers of the upcoming Milky Way Coffee Roasters’ production, “Nosferatu, the Vampyr,” had no idea they would be doing a show this month. They didn’t even have a full script. When, almost jokingly, one of Grindeland’s co-workers offered her the chance to use the black box theater at the Mosesian Center for the Arts, Grindeland didn’t laugh it off. Instead, she texted Levine, who had been brewing on the idea of adapting Murnau’s 1922 film, Nosferatu, into a queer theater spectacular. Through a Bob Jolly Charitable Trust grant and some grassroots funding, Levine and Grindeland are currently in rehearsal with a 12-person cast and crew to prepare for two workshop performances this Halloween night.
DigBoston asked them how they came together as a company, what audiences can expect at their workshop, and how they see themselves fitting into the Boston theater scene.
SL: The vampire is one of the scariest monsters. It could be anyone. It could be the person you trust who is actually sucking the life out of you.
KG: Vampires tap into a lot of societal fears of the spread of something bad or evil. But we also want to reflect on how someone’s value to society changes dramatically if they are the “bringer” of the plague, the guilt and the shame of bringing something really unsafe what was initially a safe space.
How much of an adaptation is your production? What are your main sources?
SL: In writing the adaptation I started from the literal screenplay of the 1922 film. As that was a silent film, I wrote out my interpretations of what the feelings of those scenes were through my lens of being a queer trans person in 2018.
KG: Our show starts out as kind of this delightful little rom-com between this queer couple who are just trying to navigate a modern world and navigate work. There are even references to unpaid internships and things that young millennials will face and what lengths you go for work, such as going all the way to Transylvania and not even getting a stipend. It starts out as this sweet love story but so quickly mutates into the permutations of this horror that is echoed throughout the ages.
SL: I was trying to translate what those cartoon-ish fairytale fears of the movie turn into now.
What are those fears now?
SL: In a world where queer relationships are becoming more and more accepted and safe, and we start to see queerness fall more and more into a domestic hetero mold, there’s the fear of losing the thing that keeps us on the edge of society and moving forward. We are fighting for all these rights and we fear what would happen when we lose the danger of not having them. There’s a fear in freedom: if I let myself fully self-express and fully eschew the roles that society has told me to play, will I feel safe or will I destroy myself? How many rules do we need to hold onto to feel safe?
This is the first time this particular group of artists has gotten together. Where do you see yourselves fitting into the Boston theater scene?
KG: I feel very scrappy and young doing this show but it really comes from a desire to do something that is our own because all of us have been waiting for permission for so long. We want to make work that we just don’t see reflected in the Boston theater community: young, and queer, and colorful.
SL: I think we’re speaking to our peers in a way that a lot of theater isn’t. We are speaking to a generation of millennials and younger people who are interested in re-examining the past rather than doing the same thing over and over. We are looking for more exciting things to happen onstage. I’ve seen a lot of shows lately that talk more and more about queer people and trans issues, but it so often about being queer in a cis world. I don’t think we should stop telling those stories, but I’m really excited to be working on a show where the whole world is queer and it is about those fears we have as queer people.
What can theatergoers expect Halloween night when they walk into your production?
SL: It’s a play but it’s also a drag show, there’s multimedia, there’s film, there’s shadow puppets… I’m trying to think of it as a presentation of questions and ideas. It’s not a finished project.
KG: But it’s gonna be close.
SL: Close, yes, but it’s a presentation of ideas that ask us different questions about horror, about culture, and sometimes we ask them through more traditional dialogues and scene work. Sometimes it’s through interactions between classic horror scenes projected and action happening on stage, sometimes it’s movement pieces, and sometimes it’s lip-synching to a song. It’s a collage.
KG: It’s not a play, it’s not a musical, it’s not a play with music, it’s something else entirely. Ultimately, I’d like people to come and leave the show saying, “I didn’t know you could do that.” I want to speak to people who are getting bored with the rules.
NOSFERATU, THE VAMPYRE. WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 31, 7:30 PM AND 9 PM. MOSESIAN CENTER FOR THE ARTS. 321 ARSENAL ST STE 1, WATERTOWN.