BWW Interview: Andrew Clements & Michael Meike Say FRANKENSTEIN is Moving & Captivating at Stagecrafters!
Usually when people hear the word Frankenstein one image comes to mind: the inarticulate groaning hulk. Opening this weekend and running through Halloween on Stagecrafters' 2nd Stage is A. S. Peterson's version of Frankenstein, where The Monster is unlike the popular film adaptions that comes to everyone's mind. The play doesn't feature a terrifying and unthinking creature, instead The Monster feels emotions and asks questions that all humans ask themselves - according to Peterson, "his Frankenstein is not your mama's Frankenstein." BroadwayWorld Detroit was able to have an in-depth interview with the play's director, Andrew Clements, and the man behind The Monster in the show, Michael Meike, to find out what makes this new version so unique and thrilling, yet still be inspired by the classic Frankenstein story by Mary Shelley that audiences have come to know and love.
BroadwayWorld Detroit: Can you give our readers a brief background of yourself and your theatre career as an introduction?
Andrew Clements: I'm an engineer by profession and do theatre for fun. I discovered theatre in high school and became involved at Stagecrafters right out of college. I've done a lot of acting with my notable roles including Motel (Fiddler on the Roof), Cinderella's Prince (Into the Woods), Bill Sykes (Oliver!), Pontius Pilate (Jesus Christ Superstar), Dracula (Dracula), Spider (Jekyll & Hyde the Musical), and Judge Turpin (Sweeney Todd). I have also done a lot of lighting design with some of my favorites being Next to Normal, Songs for a New World, and Starting Here Starting Now. Frankenstein is my directorial debut.
Michael Meike: Brief? Well, I'll try. I grew up in Clinton Township, was urged by family and friends to participate in community theatre at Clintondale High School back in 1993, and then spent the next twenty-six years trying to get famous. Went through what I call my "young and dumb" years doing all kinds of live performance - improv comedy, interactive street theatre at the Michigan Renaissance Festival, community theatre at Warren-Mott and Roseville Artistic Theatre, live stunt shows, children's creative writing assembly programs, MLB mascot entertainer - when it comes to live family entertainment, you name it, I've probably done it at least once. In my late 20's, I decided to go back to college exactly ten years after dropping out. I earned two associate's degrees from Macomb Community College while turning my GPA around from a 1.8 into a 3.7 in the process. I then transferred into Wayne State University's theatre program and performed in several undergrad shows there including Noises Off!, Twelfth Night, Gladiator, The Crucible, and Arabian Nights. I eventually graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2013 with a BA in Theatre. Currently, I'm a regular cast member out at Genitti's Hole-in-the-Wall in Northville where I perform in their lunch and dinner theatre comedy shows and I have recently started my own live interactive entertainment business, Live Action Fun Factory, LLC.
Describe Stagecrafter's Frankenstein in five words.
Andrew: Suspenseful, epic, thrilling, spectacular, and MOVING!
Moving is not necessarily the first thing that you would expect when you think of Frankenstein. But this script is incredibly deep and emotional. It is many other things. It is exciting, suspenseful, epic, thrilling, spectacular - all the things that you would want from a classic monster story. But, most of all, it is moving.
Michael: Captivating adaptation. Do. Not. Miss.
What is your first memory of Frankenstein?
Andrew: My first memory of Frankenstein was probably watching Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein on Saturday morning TV as a kid. This is NOT that Frankenstein!
Michael: Probably nightmares as a toddler. My dad must have watched the Boris Karloff movie on TV when I was really little and it stuck with me. My dad got in a lot of trouble with my mom whenever he let me watch anything that might scare me as a kid, but I would keep coming back, begging to watch scary movies despite the nightmares. There was always something alluring about seeing something scary and forbidden that appealed to me, much to the frustration of my parents and older sister. (Laughs.) I read Mary Shelley's novel while in elementary school, probably sometime around the fourth or fifth grade. It was a paperback copy from a Scholastic book fair or one of their book order forms, I think. I still have that book somewhere stashed away in a box, I'm sure.
What made you want to direct this show? This version?
Andrew: I never wanted to direct. I never had the desire. I was happy acting and doing lighting design. But then I happened upon this play, somewhat by accident. My favorite recording artist, Andrew Peterson, posted on Facebook about his brother's, A.S. "Pete" Peterson's. amazing new play. I started following the promo photos and videos for the world premiere production at Studio Tenn in Franklin, Tennessee in August/September of 2018. It looked amazing and I could easily picture us doing it at Stagecrafters. I sent Andrew a message, he got me in touch with Pete, and I expressed my desire to review the script for possible performance at Stagecrafters. Pete provided me a perusal copy and I was completely blown away. I drove down to Tennessee to see it the next weekend. Studio Tenn mounted an amazing production. I talked to Pete while I was there, as well as the management of Studio Tenn, expressing my desire to bring this show to Stagecrafters and to scavenge as much as I could from their production when they closed. They accommodated and we are using many props, set pieces, and set dressing from the original production. I fell in love with this script so much that I went from never wanting to direct to NEEDING to direct this play.
What makes this production stand out since Frankenstein is a well-known piece of literature/theatre/film?
Andrew: The pop culture image of Frankenstein is based on the movies, which strayed quite a bit from the original novel. A.S. Peterson's Frankenstein is much truer to Mary Shelley's original novel than any adaptation to date.
Most people have clear picture or idea of who the monster of Frankenstein should be, what was it like creating a different type of monster?
Andrew: The picture most people have of Frankenstein's monster is based on the popular movies, which strayed quite a bit from the original novel. This Monster is much closer to the creature that Mary Shelley wrote. He is not an inarticulate groaning hulk. He is highly intelligent and extremely eloquent. He is every bit Victor's equal intellectually.
Michael: Well, I don't know that my performance of The Monster is going to be seen as any different from who he is to those who have read the original novel by Mary Shelley. I feel that Boris Karloff's portrayal in the 1931 film, which is likely the most widely known concept of The Monster, was woefully hindered by a studio of producers that didn't understand the book or its message and didn't care. As a result, the director, James Whale, was forced into making a film that, while visually iconic, does not represent Mary Shelley's work in the best light. It is hardly an accurate transition from page to screen, much to Mr. Whale's displeasure as far as I'm aware. As a result, pop culture's image of a brutish, lumbering, groaning, bolt-necked, green-faced creature of little to abnormal intelligence prevails largely because of Universal's marketing engine, leading to misconceptions about the actual emotional, insightful, cunning, and truly frightening creature that Shelley created. Peter Boyle did a fantastic job parodying Boris Karloff opposite Gene Wilder's character in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein, which I think is arguably the greatest comedy film ever made.
That said, the script that A.S. Peterson has crafted is a love song to Ms. Shelley's book, and offers The Monster the opportunity to intelligently tell his side of the story from his point of view. While there are some differences between the script and the book, the slight deviations do not feel out of place or jarring, and with myself being such a fan of the original story, well, I just tried to make sure The Monster's truth is represented honestly. Having such an incredible script to analyze and draw inspiration from made it immediately apparent to me that everything The Monster says in this adaptation is exactly what The Monster believes to be true from his perspective, which in turn made it much easier for me to identify with that truth and thus represent it. In all honesty, Mary Shelley created The Monster, Mr. Peterson crafted his adaptation to reflect her creation, Andy Clements created his vision of the adaptation, and I'm just here at the end trying my best to make them all look good.
No pressure at all. (Grins.)
How do you describe the character of The Monster?
Andrew: The Monster is perhaps the most "human" character in the play. He grapples with rejection, loneliness, struggles to find identity, and longs for connection, but is rejected at every turn. The hatred he receives from the world and from his creator scar him on the inside to reflect his outside. Yet, the play also shows us who he can be if he were to receive love instead of hatred.
Michael: Oh gosh. Wretched. Lonely. Despairing. Lost in the woods at midnight, with no light or map, no stars or moonlight, and the wolves are all hiding out there in the darkness, waiting to pounce. Terrified. Angry. Mad as hell. Hurt. Deeply wounded, with no one to turn to. Even his Creator has cast him out and hates him. He's a very wounded, scared, lonely creature who has no one and nowhere to go to for kindness or comfort. I'm getting choked up right now just thinking about him. I wish I could save him. Yet despite all this misery, buried deep within is this tiny flame of hope that he is guarding with his life, like a lit match in a blizzard, trying desperately to keep it alight while enduring the storm. He's intelligent, with an education and clear-cut conscience that was developed during his time with... well, that would be spoiler territory, wouldn't it? Come see the show and you'll see what I'm talking about!
Did you do any special research for your role?
Michael: Oh my lord, yes! No actor worth their salt would dare to accept this role without looking into what has come before. I mean, as I said, The Monster is iconic; Boris Karloff's version is a symbol that has been in our cultural awareness for the past 90 years, and the story itself has been around for over 200 years. The book is considered to be the first science fiction story ever written, and the fact that it was written by an 18-year-old girl basically on a dare among friends to tell the scariest story they could think of, and then learning just how hardcore Mary Shelley was - seriously, look into her history, it's incredible - there's an enormous amount of weight and expectation behind this role, if not the show as a whole. There are of course the fans of the monster in general, but there are way higher expectations coming from all those Mary Shelley fans out there. Trying to meet their expectations is what terrifies me the most! (Laughs.)
I'm very grateful that Mr. Peterson did all the heavy lifting for me by writing such a fantastic script, but there was still a certain amount of knowledge I felt was important to know since the script calls for it. For example, in the script The Monster names a book, Paradise Lost, and clearly regards it very highly. So, I knew I had to go back and read Paradise Lost again. Thankfully our director, Andy Clements, picked up on this character cue as well and bought two copies--one for him and one for me. I have to say Paradise Lost gave me more insight into The Monster's personal moral compass and point of view regarding Mankind's connection to their Creator, and how it compares to his own situation. It also gave me complete confidence that Andy was the right person for the job of bringing Mr. Peterson's script to life.
On top of all that, I have poured every last drop of my years of acting experience, education, and talent into preparing for this performance. I don't like tooting my own horn, as I would rather let my work speak for itself and let others decide for themselves if I'm any good, but I think this might end up becoming one of the best performances of my theatrical career. It helps having such talented and passionate artists like Andy Clements, Bob Marselle, Mary Magyari, Lewis Smith, Debbie Landis-Sigler, Michael Ameloot, Nancy Arnfield, and all the many others among our cast and crew working so hard to make this show one for Stagecrafter's history books. Special shout out to Chelsea Germano for being excellent to react to, Deangelo Lemmons for being great in general. Oh my gosh, I could go on. I wish I had the space to name them all. I only accidentally end up looking good thanks to all of their extraordinary efforts. (Laughs.) Hey, Broadway World reader! Go check out the cast and crew listing on Stagecrafter's website! Save me some space here, will ya? They're all awesome!
Do you see any similarities between The Monster and yourself, a human?
Michael: I think there are many similarities between The Monster and every human being out there, not just me. We've all experienced heartache, loss, and loneliness at some point in our lives. We've all cried out for justice against those who have grievously wronged us. We've all had moments when we didn't know if anyone could love us for who we are, forgive us for what we've done, and felt like it's "Me versus The World," you know? The story The Monster tells is one terrible thing after another, one more scar to add to those he already carries on his skin. Having it unfold live in front of you, truly experiencing his pain and frustrations... well, you'd have to be pretty heartless not to see how alike he is to our own humanity.
There are many personal similarities that I see between us, though, and most are far too personal for me to call out publicly. Suffice to say that I have suffered loss and rejection similar to that which The Monster experiences here, and my experiences and the maturity I gained from having gone through them and come out the other side stronger for it are what makes me wish I could save him and tell him everything will be alright. Alas, he is only an imaginary friend to me. (Laughs.) But I will carry him near in my heart for the rest of my life as a result of this production.
Why should audiences come see Frankenstein?
Andrew: This is quite literally the best play I have ever read. That is no exaggeration. The script is incredible. It really pierces to the heart. I think it is impossible to walk away from this show without being deeply affected. But, if you just want to be entertained, there is plenty for you, too. If you want to see a really cool monster story with lots of excitement and special effects, you won't be disappointed. This show has that. But, it also has an incredible script with beautiful, elevated language and deep truth that will really make you think.
Michael: Because I'm playing The Monster, and The Monster commands you to see it! (Laughs.) Come on, now. It's FRANKENSTEIN! In OCTOBER! DURING HALLOWEEN TIME! SHOWING ON HALLOWEEN, EVEN! If that's not enough reason, and if all I've said so far hasn't convinced you or at least piqued your interest, then you're either a lost cause or you just hate Frankenstein. (Laughs.) But more seriously, this is going to be THE show you will brag about to your friends and family after having seen it, THE show that will get you to read Mary Shelley's book, and THE show you will be talking about all the way to New Year's, possibly beyond.
Frankenstein runs October 18th through October 31st at Stagecrafters' 2nd Stage in Royal Oak. Due to the intimacy of the 2nd Stage and proximity of the stage to the door and seating area, there is no late seating. Talkback with the author, playwright A. S. Peterson follows the October 25th performance. For more information and tickets, call 248-541-6430 or visit stagecrafters.org.
Connect with Andrew Clements on Instagram at @andrew_f_clements.
Connect with Michael Meike on Facebook at facebook.com/LAFFactoryMI.