5 minutes with Sarah Mann

What inspired you to use Van Helsing’s character as the focal point of the show?

My original inspiration for the show was the BBC’s mini series “Dracula.” In the series, the main protagonist is the descendant of the famous Van Helsing from Bram Stoker’s book and is played by a female. By the time I saw the BBC series, I already knew that I wanted Katie Rediger to be my host for the inaugural show, and when I saw the series, I loved the idea of doing a spin-off of Dracula and having a female Van Helsing, as well as a female Countess Dracula. After discussing the idea with my writers (Katie Rediger and Corrin Evans), I believe it was a group decision to put Katie in the role of Van Helsing, however, the main inspiration came from the BBC series.

How did you come up with an all-female cast and why did you choose that way of telling the story?

The major reason we ended up with an all-female-presenting cast was that my writers wanted a full female-presenting cast. I had originally wanted to include men in the cast, however, after talking it over with them, I gave in for a few reasons:
(1) There are subconscious power dynamics that naturally come up as an audience member when seeing men and women onstage in a sensual context. By having men and women onstage, it would have added an extra component to the power dynamics in the show that we did not want to add. By keeping the cast fully female-presenting, it allowed us to focus solely on the power dynamics between the characters Dracula, Van Helsing, and the Lover.
(2) As this was our first attempt at creating a narrative driven circus show, and as women ourselves, my writers and I felt that it would be easier to work with a cast of all female-presenting performers in a show that was sensually charged.
(3) After looking at and interviewing the performers who submitted themselves to be a part of the show, the performers with the circus and performance skills that I wanted to include, and that I felt would look most cohesive together onstage, all ended up being female-presenting.

I would like to quickly note that both of the performers playing Dracula (Frankie Tan) and the Lover (Lala Araki) do not identify as she/her, but rather as they/them. So, while, yes, the cast of Van Helsing’s Dracula is an all-female-presenting cast, the cast is not all female-identifying.

What part of your research did you find intriguing about Dracula and Van Helsing?

When it came to researching for the show, I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula and then watched all of the movies and shows that had been created from it. Because I knew that I wanted to do an original story, the research was more about enjoying, reading, and watching what had already been created and understanding who the two characters are. I wanted to get an idea of how these two characters had been previously depicted, so that we could truly come up with a story that would be original and give the audience a fresh new twist on the tale that everyone knows and loves.

For me, as a creative director, I liked that the characters are well known to the general audience. Dracula is automatically equated with “evil” and “darkness” and everyone knows that Dracula’s nemesis is Van Helsing. It made it easy for me, as a choreographer, to work with the two characters and understand how to stage them, move them, and have them interact with one another and with the other characters.

How long was the process of coming up with the idea, writing the show and designing the set?

I approached Katie and Corrin with the idea of using Dracula as a base for the show back in 2020. It took a few months for them to come up with a pitch for the story, and then for the 3 of us to figure out how it would work as a circus show. In summer of 2022, I approached my dad about coming onto the project to create the score and then in November 2022 I began the rehearsal process. I began rehearsing with Frankie Tan (Dracula) and Lala Araki (The Lover) first, since they had never performed together – let alone met – prior to the project, and I knew it would take some time for them to become comfortable moving with each other in the air, as well as to form the trust and connection that you saw on stage. In February 2023 we began full cast rehearsals. Rehearsals took place once a week, occasionally adding a second rehearsal from February through October.

With regards to the set, because the Vatican Banquet Hall looks as beautiful and grandiose as it does, the only set piece that I had to actually create was the table. Lucky for me, Frankie’s roommate happened to be a carpenter, so I approached Mikaela Liewer about making a table that would be appropriate for a circus show. Mikaela took about a month to conceptualize the table and create the table. The rest of the props (aerial apparatuses, spinning plates, hula hoops) came together as we were working through the show and discovering what type of acts we had access to, as well as what would make sense conceptually with the story.

Why do you think Dracula is still a popular character to write about?

Dracula is a mysterious, all powerful, shape shifting creature that has lived for thousands of years. Although there are preconceived ideas about Dracula, Dracula’s nature allows creatives to take liberties and turn Dracula into whoever they want Dracula to be and put Dracula wherever and whenever they want Dracula to be. Dracula can do anything, be anything, and typically seems to get his/her way. Plus, vampires are sexy. They go in and out of fashion, but as a prominent vampire, Dracula will always be a character that people love or love to hate.

For more information on future shows, log on to www.themadmann.com or madmannsplayground.com