Watch out, Edward Cullen. There’s a new vampire in town. There are no wisecracking high school students, and his skin doesn’t sparkle. This vampire is out for redemption, but he won’t find it through a romance with a moody teenager.
Redemption of the Vampyre, by Jeffrey Potter-Watts, is loosely based on ideas and characters from the 19th century Penny Dreadful Varney the Vampyre; or The Feast of Blood. It was first performed as a one-act for the Maine Drama Festival in 2006. It began as a melodrama parody using the idea of vampires during a time when Buffy the Vampire Slayer was very popular.
“I taught in a high school at the time and kids were running around the school, wanting to be vampires or even saying that they were vampires and embracing the darkness of that world – resulting in a pretty sad outlook on life,” Potter-Watts said. “Of course, these were teenagers seeking their identity, and I thought that through this tale, I would show them that there are more positive alternatives (or role models) to aspire to. After all, the vampire in this story does not want to be a vampire!”
Redemption of the Vampyre won the regional competition and then was performed at the State Festival. Watts then rewrote the show with more serious themes and workshopped it into a 90-minute one-act play. It was first performed in New York in February 2011, where it was revised and produced as a reading by Royal Family Productions at the Barrow Group Studio Theater. It is now being presented in a chamber-style performance at the Manhattan Repertory Theatre’s Fallfest, produced by Frozen Kitty Productions.
Between the Twilight book series and film adaptations and The Vampire Diaries on television, there has been no shortage of vampires in popular culture. Potter-Watts credits the popularity of the undead to the mystery and the darkness of vampires, especially the danger of forbidden love. But he said Redemption of the Vampyre is distinctive from the other forms of entertainment that focus on vampires; and he said audience members shared this sentiment.
“I would often hear from people that they didn’t like “vampire stuff.” But many who came despite the fact that it had a vampire in it were pleasantly surprised,” he said. “Conversely, those who love vampire lore enjoyed the show as well.”
One way that Redemption of the Vampyre differs from current incarnations of the undead is the lack of special effects in the production. The play is being performed in a chamber-style production, in a small performance space with close proximity to the audience, focusing on the story and symbology instead of utilizing special effects to enhance the tale.
“Live theater relies on the imagination of the viewer and suspension of disbelief,” Potter-Watts said. “This version is meant to be very theatrically conscious – in other words, conceptually we are developing a performance that doesn’t hide the fact that you are in a theater watching actors play out a story.”
The cast of characters in Redemption of the Vampyre includes James Malcolm Ryner, the author of the 19th century book Penny Dreadful “Varney the Vampyre; or The Feast of Blood”.
“He’s kind of discovering for himself his own sense of redemption. Is there hope for him? The characters in the play spring from his imagination – stock characters, damsels in distress, villains – all these people kind of searching for who they are and what their purpose in life is. The writer is sort of leading them through it.”
While the story features stock characters from tales of the undead, Potter-Watts said the story of Redemption of the Vampyre will speak to the living as well.
“As a literary archetype, the vampire is seen as an unregenerate creature who is damned to an eternity of walking the night and feasting on the blood of humans to survive,” Potter-Watts said. “In some religions, the vampire is the equivalent of the Devil or Satan. The show suggests that we might all be vampires in one way or another – the outcast, the lonely, the slave to a nature or habit and the person who wants to raise him/herself up as a better human being, to leave the past behind and find hope for a better future – and that is what the character of Sir Francis Varney (the vampire) and his literary creator (James Malcon Ryner) explore.”
While the titular character is a vampire, Potter-Watts said the show goes beyond the typical themes of the undead.
“I prefer to think of it as a story of Redemption – or the prevailing of the human spirit over the worst of given circumstances,” Potter-Watts said. “When we did the workshop of ROTV last year, we kept referring to it as ‘the vampire show’. This time we are calling it ‘the redemption show’!”
E-mail TheTheatreSource@gmail.com with your name, e-mail address and phone number for your chance to win two tickets to Redemption of the Vampyre on October 22nd at 9 PM!