Andrea Abello says her biggest fear going into rehearsals for Actors Theatre’s “Dracula” was that when she screamed, it wouldn’t truly sound like she was being staked in the heart.
And it’s not just something she’s going to have to do once —“Dracula” runs for nine weeks with nearly 70 performances. Abello will play the role of Mina in half of those, while fellow acting apprentice Suzy Weller will take the other half. On off-nights, they play Dracula’s brides.
“So, we are in every show doing vocal work,” Weller says.
That means neither can afford to lose their voice. And that’s where vocal coach D’Arcy Smith comes in.
“Dracula,” he says, isn’t an average stage production.
“There’s grunting, there’s growling,” Smith says. “There’s yelling, shouting, coughing, choking.”
And yes, there’s screaming — which, according to Smith, isn’t as intuitive as it might sound. It takes work to make on-demand screaming sound natural. And if done incorrectly, the actors could end up really damaging their voices in the long run.
For that reason, before rehearsals begin, Actors Theatre sends the cast to an ear-nose-and-throat doctor. Once they get the all-clear, training begins.
“In terms of training the screaming itself, we talk about breath and breath support,” Smith says. “What they need to do in terms of the body and breath to prepare to make that sound.”
Some of it involves simple exercises — like vocalizing through a straw or lip trills. A lot of the training focuses on helping the actors identify tension in their faces and bodies that could impact how they vocalize. But the main thing, is actually teaching them how to rest.
“Teaching them to take 10 minute rests between rehearsal periods so they aren’t just on the go-go-go all the time,” Smith says.
Then there’s addressing Abello’s original fear in playing Mina — producing a sound that is both safe for the voice and also true to the character.
“You walk that tightrope of wanting to be like…” Abello trails off and lets out a clear, round note.
“That’s not believable, but that’s healthy,” she says. “So we talked about having an open sound and adding in the little grit that makes it believable.”
Smith says that nailing down these details with actors is what makes his job interesting, especially since every actor comes from a different vocal background.
“The way that I scream is different than the way that you would scream,” Smith says. “And the art of my job is to listen to what they are doing and what they are capable of doing. It is a bit of a dance that we’re figuring out together.”
And in this case, hopefully the end result is blood-curdling.