It feels a little strange to be writing about a play I was involved in yet wasn’t mine, but here we are. Yesterday Dracula: Last Voyage of the Demeter wrapped, officially marking the eleventh play from my company Bitten By Productions and the first not written by me. When we first entered pre-production I was looking forward to it being a bit of a break, but then I went and got cast in the show, so it’s not really been the restful time I thought it would be.
That said, there was a definite lack of pressure for me in this show. For once the play’s success or failure was not on me and while obviously I was invested in it doing well and believed in the project it was beyond refreshing to just be a cast member, to turn up for rehearsals, learn my lines, then go home again at the end of it without having to worry so much about marketing or set or costumes or anything.
Of course, Bitten By still remains the company I co-founded and as such I was always going to be more involved than the average cast member. And Dracula, in more ways than one, represented a big turning point for us. With a new script from a first-time playwright, a cast that were mostly people we hadn’t worked with before and essentially a whole new venue in the refurbished Voltaire, Dracula in some ways felt like a new start. In fact, the production I was most reminded of during the process was Below Babylon, our first major show, and there was a weird bit of déjà vu to again being a part of a violent thriller with an elaborate set, costumes, fake blood and a mostly new creative team.
But 2017 Sean Carney and Ashley Tardy are a much better writer/director team than 2013 Gabriel Bergmoser and Ashley Tardy, and so Dracula was in no way a step back. With great reviews and enthusiastic audiences every night (not to mention a completely sold out second week), Dracula was a total hit, and in some ways I felt like a proud father seeing my company take on a life of its own outside of just my ideas.
There was a time, not long ago, when I was at a bit of a loss with Bitten By. After the resounding flop that was A Good German, 2015 was a bit of a wilderness year for us, with a sense that the plays we put on were almost more afterthoughts, produced quietly with none of the budget or fanfare that we had approached earlier shows with. And without the grounding influence of founders Justin, Ash and myself working at the same place we seemed to be veering off in different directions. Honestly, at that point the company probably could have dissipated and I doubt anyone would have noticed.
Then, last year, stuff changed. We were still doing small, unambitious shows, but slowly we built a consistent core team of people all equally passionate about what we were doing, and as we went on the reviews got better and the audiences bigger. Now we’ve opened 2017 with two huge productions, both of which were critically successful and boasted multiple sold out shows. Granted, Springsteen and Dracula had the added bonus of both being about iconic subjects and based on well-loved Movie Maintenance episodes, but I maintain that neither would have been successful if they’d been shit. On the contrary, the heightened expectations of being about beloved properties would have made failure that much starker.
Looking ahead we have our next play Heroes already in rehearsal, a co-production with another company locked in for November, and potentially a third show around August. For the first time, we seem to consistently know what we’re doing and be doing it well. And considering the clumsy start to the company, that’s a very good place to be indeed.
Standing in the empty theatre last night with Justin and Ash, it was hard not to reflect on the journey we’ve had to get here and marvel at the fact that, after some middling successes and embarrassing failures, we’re at a point where our company is in better health than ever; finally something we can be unreservedly proud of. The future looks very bright at the moment, and on the back of another winner of a show, Bitten By Productions is becoming a force to be reckoned with.
Oh, and also two members of our team went and got surprise married last night. So if that’s not moving onwards and upwards, I don’t know what is.
Writing words about writing words.