Oak Harbor High School drama club members are sinking their teeth into a classic gothic play this weekend.
“Dracula” opened Feb. 17 at Oak Harbor High School. The show will run Feb. 17-19 and 24-26, with all performances beginning at 7 p.m.
Director Micki Gibson said she knew “Dracula” was the right choice for this year’s main play when she saw how excited the club members became when she suggested it. Except for a small production of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” in September, “Dracula” is the first in-person show the drama club has put on since the beginning of the pandemic and, as such, presented unique challenges and opportunities for the cast and crew.
“They’ve worked really hard, so we’re really proud of it,” Gibson said. “But it’s definitely been a challenge for us.”
For one thing, audience members will be seated out in the auditorium to allow them to spread out instead of sitting onstage black box style to watch the show up close as usual. While utilizing a larger space made sound engineering trickier, it also gave the club a chance to utilize more dramatic set pieces, including a large coffin for Count Dracula to emerge from.
The ensemble could also participate in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in a smaller space, Gibson said.
Regular COVID mitigation measures such as testing and masking also came into play.
“Ironically, the most difficult part of our dress rehearsals so far has been remembering to take our mask off before going in for a scene,” said senior A.J. Gibson, who plays Dr. Abraham Van Helsing in the show.
COVID precautions weren’t the only challenge for the students. Several cast members said their characters took them out of their comfort zones and helped them grow as performers.
Senior Zoe Eisenbrey said while he was ecstatic to be cast in the titular role of Dracula, the count’s severe creepiness was a difficult hurdle to overcome.
“I don’t like making people uncomfortable,” he said. “I love other human beings, and I want them to feel like their bodily autonomy and their personhood is respected at all times, and so then to be this 2,000-year-old really really creepy man who sees all other human beings as either cattle or property is an interesting duality to hold.”
Senior Alora Van Auken said her character, Lucy Westenra, is a far cry from the type of role in which she is typically cast. Where her past characters have been nerdy, shy and booksmart, Lucy is intense, wild and on a slow descent into madness, making the character a challenge.
Sophomore and drama club Vice President Maggie Garrett said playing R.M. Renfield was both familiar and stretching. Though Garrett has played “crazy” characters before, she said Renfield stood out from her past roles because his ongoing connection to his past adds a certain depth to his madness.
In part because extracurriculars have been mostly virtual for the past two years, the drama club welcomed several brand-new members into the cast of “Dracula.”
Sophomores Sadie Marriott and Spencer Grubbs, who play Mina and Jonathan Harker, respectively, are both new to the Oak Harbor High School stage. After having such a fun experience with “Dracula,” both said they plan to continue to act with the drama club in the future.
Marriott said though her theater experience prior to “Dracula” was limited, she decided to audition because several of her friends were members of the club.
“I was kind of in shock,” she said of the moment she found out she’d been cast in a lead role. “I didn’t think that I would get it.”
Even Dracula himself is a first-time drama club member. Eisenbrey has participated in community theater for years, but decided to audition for his first high school play after a friend’s mother remarked that Eisenbrey would make a great Dracula. When he landed the role, Eisenbrey was “over the moon.”
“I’m still riding that high a little bit,” he said.
Make-up artist Shain Zirwas, a senior, was brand new to theater when she joined the crew to spend time with friends. Zirwas is responsible for making the characters become gradually paler and more spectral as the show progresses and Dracula sucks away their humanity. Like many cast members, Zirwas said the opportunity to get to know her classmates and build friendships was among her favorite parts of working on the show.
The sentiment was ubiquitous among drama club members.
“We are a family, and we love each other so much,” Van Auken said. “It’s so crazy how close you can get to somebody that you barely knew back in October.”
A.J. Gibson remembered how intimidating it was to join the high school drama club as an eighth grader four years ago and what a relief it was to be met with kindness from all the older club members.
“They were a very kind and welcoming group, and I’m just really excited to see that that welcoming group is still what drama club is, and it’s still keeping acting alive,” Gibson said.
Tickets to Dracula cost $12 and can be purchased at the door. This show contains depictions of violence, flashing lights and loud noises and is not recommended for children under 12.