Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dream Up Festival Interview - Bill Connington and Rachel Klein of Princes of Darkness

By Byrne Harrison

Names: Bill Connington, Rachel Klein
Play: Princes of Darkness
Relationship to play: Bill - Writer/Performer, Rachel - Director/Choreographer/Costume Designer

I've got to admit, I'm pretty excited about this particular collaboration. Bill, I'm familiar with last year's award-winning production of Zombie. Rachel, I've seen several of your productions over the last couple of years. How did you find each other?

Rachel: Bill saw a musical that I directed earlier this year, Lizardman, and apparently was dazzled by my ability to cover grown men in sequins and eyeliner. I saw clips of Zombie, and was dazzled by his ability to be terrifying... thus a collaboration was necessary!

Bill: I went to see a production of a new musical called Lizardman. The lyrics are by Michael Cooper, who I know. He was the producer on a short film of Zombie which I acted in. The film is based on the novella by Joyce Carol Oates. I loved Lizardman -- it was very exciting. The energy started high, and kept getting higher and higher and higher. And I loved how it was directed. Rachel directed it, and is Michael's cousin. I said, "I have to work with this woman," and he introduced me.

What is Princes of Darkness about?

Rachel: Lucifer, sort of a Rod Serling meets the emcee from Cabaret, is the happy host of the evening, on a quest to find the new ruler of the universe. Lucifer then evokes the spirits of three men who couldn’t handle the job themselves.

Bill: He talks to the audience and thinks he's pretty "all that" and oozing with charm. He's essentially trying to seduce the audience in various ways. He shows them the stories of Hamlet, Oedipus, and Dracula -- acts them out. They are all leaders who fail, in his opinion. So he says he's trying to get the audience to agree to being to becoming leaders. But what he's really trying to do is to get the audience completely full of themselves, and narcissistic. And then to become sinners so he can get them sent to Hell. Did I mention that it's also funny? I'd say it's an "existential comedy." And you can't tell at all that both my parents went to Catholic schools all the way from nursery school through college. Really you can't.

What is it about Satan that makes him such a compelling character?

Rachel: Satan is full of mischief—in most literary depictions, he is pulling pranks, playing with human beings’ emotions, and having a grand old time. A troublemaker is always more compelling than a goody two shoes in my book!

But what is really spellbinding is Bill’s portrayal of Satan — He is having a ball and he’s mesmerizing to watch!

Bill: I always thought that if Satan was able to entrap so many souls, he must be very intelligent, quick, ingenious, attractive, wily, compelling, maybe even sexy in a way. It's not easy to trap millions of people! You've really got to work it!

Of all the stories to combine, how did you pick Hamlet, Oedipus and Dracula?

Bill: They're all fascinating characters. They are all princes, literally. But also princes of darkness, because in various ways they are drawn into very, very dark places. So many people are afraid of going to a dark place. In some way they may be afraid that they will be overwhelmed by it. I think this is a mistake. It's better to look at dark, difficult things -- and then they begin to lose some of their power over you. It makes you a stronger person to face difficult questions and situations. In the play we also use humor, and zaniness -- that helps to lighten everything, and bring a sense of fun to the journey.

What do you want your audience to take away from Princes of Darkness?

Rachel: I want the tagline to resonate: “Darkness can be fun!”

Bill: You mean besides their programs? Michael came to see a run-through -- he liked it a lot, and said it was, "thought-provoking." I forgot to ask him, "What kind of thoughts?" I hope it made him think about more than what to get for lunch! I can honestly say that you haven't seen this show a million times before -- it's definitely unique. I hope people are entertained by the absurd humor, and enjoy hearing parts of Hamlet, Oedipus, and the Dracula stories. And maybe the play might may people think a little bit -- but just a little bit. After all, it's a summer festival, so I don't want to exhaust anybody. It's only an hour long, so no one will have to think too hard!

What is next for both of you after The Dream Up Festival?

Rachel: I am choreographing a dance piece in Low Life at Howl Festival at Tompkins Square Park this September, inspired by 1950’s Beat, which I am very excited about! I am also directing Kae Burke’s circus adaptation of "Animal Farm," The Circus of Circus, which will perform at the House of Yes in Brooklyn in October.

Bill: I wrote a solo play version of Joyce Carol Oates' novella Zombie, and performed it at the Fringe FestivalNYC, then for an extended run Off-Broadway, then at the Gerald Lynch Theater at John Jay College. It's going to be performed at a theater in Seattle in October, and also in Mexico City. We shot a short film version of Zombie which will be submitted to film festivals beginning the fall. I'll be writing a full-length of the screenplay. And I'll be playing some very nice (rather conservative) guys who wear ties and don't abduct teenagers, or send Souls to Hell.

Finally, if you had a chance to ask God or Satan one question, who would you choose and what would you ask?

Rachel: I would choose Satan—specifically, our Satan. And I would ask him: “Darling, where do you get your eyeliner?”

Bill: I choose both. I would ask God, "Why do you stay silent so long and so often?" And I would ask Satan, "Don't you want to give people a break?"

Princes of Darkness
Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue between 9th and 10th Street

Sunday, August 8 at 7pm
Wednesday, August 11 at 9pm
Thursday, August 12 at 9pm
Friday, August 13 at 9pm
Saturday, August 14 at 7pm

Tickets ($12) are available online at or by calling 866-811-4111.

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