BWW Interviews: John P. Keller for Orlando Shakespeare's DRACULA: THE JOURNAL OF JONATHAN HARKER
Just in time for Halloween, DRACULA: THE JOURNAL OF JONATHAN HARKER, is an original adaptation by Orlando Shakes very own Jim Helsinger from the Bram Stoker novel Dracula. Jonathan Harker must make a delivery to Castle Dracula and is captured by the mysterious Count. Can Jonathan survive the ordeal and will he be able to stop the powerful undead creature of the night? BroadwayWorld chatted with star John P. Keller before he embarks on this one-man adventure.
BWW: What have you done to prepare yourself for this role?
John Keller: Stopped eating garlic. Started doing squats.
BWW: What is the most challenging aspect of performing a solo piece?
JK: I think the best answer is probably most obvious one: the lines. My director told me on Day 2, that this show is roughly 12,000 words (the role of Hamlet is 6,000). However, this is a physical show which is a bit of a gift. The intensity of the physical action actually makes it much easier to connect the text. Jumping off boxes - climbing across rafters - means that your body is doing most of the memorization work and instead of having to think too much, the actor can just enjoy the ride, so long as they put the work in during the rehearsal process.
BWW: Do you and Jonathan Harker share any characteristics, if so, which?
JK: We have both traveled to some weird places. However, none of my host families tried to eat me.
BWW: What do you think it is about vampires that fascinates people?
JK: Vampires have all the elements of a great ghost story. Darkness, blood, wolves, bats, ancient battles. Braham Stoker was brilliant in the construction of his story because he created a world of fantastic creatures connected to a true history - Prince Vlad, who was in a way a real life "monster." Dracula is the epic hero adventure, despite all odds a group of everyday heroes must bring down a creature that is 20 times smarter, faster, and stronger. Vampires have become a bit romanticized over the last century and the joy of this show is we get to see what a vampire is, the myth in its original form.
BWW: What past roles have you done that influence your character?
JK: I'll have to cop out on this one and say all of them. I have found this show to be something of a composite of skills primarily because of the non-stop two hour physical intensity and the fact it requires all the same character work every other show does. You have to remain connected to what each character wants - to find the truth in the story telling. When you are working off another actor you have another person who is doing all the work along side you, pinching you to provoke a response from your character. In the one person process you have to figure all that out on your own - that and, if I drop a cue I have no cast mates on stage to bail me out.
BWW: Do you have any favorite props in the show?
JK: I don't want to give away too much but I have found the props in this process to be so important. Everything comes back to Jonathan's journal - but there are so many things on stage that are tokens, artifacts, or even weapons that have become endowed with the characters they represent. Putting on Quincy's hat or Van Helsing's glasses makes me feel like I am free from "showing" the person - they are there with me - all I need to do is return to the object and they take the stage.
BWW: Artistic Director, Jim Helsinger adapted the novel into this play. How involved has he been and what is it like working with the play's creator?
JK: Jim cast me for the role and I have to say it was the most physically demanding audition I have ever had. He and our Director, Michael Carleton, were part of the original production and consistently ask a lot of themselves and their shows. Thankfully both have been incredibly supportive in allowing me to find my performance of the play. Secondly, I think the fun of this script is how true it is to Braham Stoker's original novel. So many versions (both good and bad) have taken liberties and made so many changes, that the literary work is barely discernible. However, you could watch this adaptation and have a pretty firm grasp on how this whole vampire myth really came into being, a bit of a feat considering how dense the novel is. I think that says a lot about how well this adaptation flows and how well it's written.
JK: very great Villain has a vulnerability, at least the ones that are the most compelling watch. When you watch Gary Oldman's performance you see a Dracula that is acting in response to being wronged by history. Dracula might be a homicidal maniac, but he wasn't born that way. The most memorable performances are ones that show the fear and pain. The gift an actor can give a character is to find their humanity, to bring them off the page in a way that is truthful of a human experience. Then we, the audience, can learn something about ourselves and what might happen when our weaknesses get the better of us.
John, it sounds like it is going to be an amazing experience for fans of the vampire genre and those who like a good story. Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions!
DRACULA: THE JOURNAL OF JONATHAN HARKER runs from October 9th to November 10th at Orlando Shakespeare's Goldman Theater. For tickets and more information visit: http://www.orlandoshakes.org/plays-events/dracula.html
Photo Credit: Landon St. Gordon feature actor John P. Keller