While many haunts are now closed for the 2021 season, quite a few haunts have extended into November, and not just haunts, several immersive horror experiences have extended as well. Today we’re going on location to learn about the new, original, immersive horror production in Orlando, Nosferatu.
What Is Nosferatu?
Donald: My name is Donald Rupe. I am the founder of Renaissance Theater Company, and I created Nosferatu with my friend Kathleen, and lots of other people.
Kathleen: And I am Kathleen Wessel, I am lead choreographer on Nosferatu.
Donald: Nosferatu is an immersive experience that takes place in the world of vampires. We purchased a new building, a 15,000 square foot warehouse, that we have turned every inch of into different settings and the audience moves from place to place, and experiences different experiences that all revolve around vampires.
Kathleen: The vibe of it is kind of like nineties, punk, grunge. It’s a dance centric show. The stories are, you know, nonlinear pretty much disconnected, separate experiences. Like Donald said, vampires in different settings, how somebody became a vampire, what has happened since some of it’s funny, some of it’s violent, some of it’s scary, some of it’s very sexy. So, it’s a very, it’s a movement heavy show that also has some actors as well.
What Were the Inspiration Sources for Nosferatu?
Donald: First I’ll say, obviously, I think every creative, post Sleep No More, draws at least a little bit of inspiration from Sleep No More, and we certainly did. I think a difference though, is I kind of viewed some of the challenges that I think people have with Sleep no More, especially on a first viewing and without context, we try to solve some of those. We dictate a little bit more of what the audience is doing, but we still have moments of choice, really immersive moments, one-on-one, and personalized experiences, which we tried to take the best of Sleep No More, but we tried to water it down a little bit and make it very accessible to a commercial audience. Honestly, that was kind of our North Star, was creating an experience that non theater people, non-artistic people, not only would be drawn to, but once they got here would understand it, would love it, and also get spoon-fed pieces of artistry that they would never normally encounter.
So, Kathleen and I have a tendency of doing some of that highbrow, weird artsy stuff, and I said from day one, “this is us selling out. We are making a show about vampires that is completely understandable, and we want people to just love the show.” And actually, the sexual nature of the show is another thing that really, we focused on, because in central Florida, in Orlando, you don’t see sex portrayed in this way, in my opinion. It’s either very gratuitous, which is fun, or very conservative, and we wanted to really, you know, liven things up and present sexuality in an exciting and different way, but the way you see it done in big cities.
Kathleen: We had six different set designers work on this. So, we were creating sort of like in the moment with the dancers, and we just happened to have an incredible cast of dancers who have also really been pushed to create characters for themselves. So, it’s a highly physical show, but there’s kind of no way to not get wrapped up in like how awesome it is and what you’re seeing, you know, these people will accomplish in front of you in these really interesting sets.
Why Set Up in Orlando? And What Was the Starting Point?
Donald: I’ve been creating in Orlando for, I’m sad to say, 20 years now. Kathleen and I both grew up here, and I’ve worked in a lot of different places and under a lot of different constraints artistically. Everything was kind of a happy accident. it took somebody, actually a hater online who was critiquing me for “changing” the intent of artist’s work on a show like Sound of Music or something. He didn’t mean to inspire me, but it did. I was like, “actually, you’re right. I should start writing my own thing.” And so, this kind of was born from that a couple of years ago and writing things.
When we started this company, and we accidentally purchased a building, I’m like, “okay, I don’t want to do anything like anyone else.” So, from the artistic products to how we treat our performers, how we pay our performers, how we rehearse a show, how we relate to one another, not only is the artistic product different, but the way we have constructed it is different. And this maybe sounds full of myself, full of ourselves, but we didn’t know how cool it was going to be. And we didn’t know who was going to come see it.
But we have proven, in our first show, that there is an audience for theater under the age of 60, who are coming out in droves. These people do not go see theater elsewhere, it’s a diverse audience, it’s a younger audience, and they are thrilled to see something that they actually want to see. And to be clear, I think there’s a place for all of it, I’ve just realized that’s not my place, my place is to do some new stuff, but maybe nobody else is doing in town. This show has really changed how I’m looking at the rest of our programming. I can’t go from this crazy adults experience to some family friendly Christmas Carol production, like so many other theater companies. And again, no judgment, they make their money, but we’re ready for something fresh.
Kathleen: It does feel aspirational. It did feel like an “if you build it, they will come kind of moment.” And it has become that for us. We’re both aware of how some people see like, “oh, it’s a contemporary dance show.” That can be very sort of off putting for certain art audiences like, “I’m not gonna understand. It’s bunch of weird people doing weird things.” Which, I love that kind of stuff, but it’s not always brings the masses or brings an average person, who really, their perspective and their understanding of art is going to change a lot from seeing this production.
And we’ve seen that. We’ve seen how being able to see something that they’ve never seen, this level of talent , and movement and virtuosic movement right in front of them is just really exciting. So, yeah, we think there’s an audience here. We know there’s an audience. We’ve seen it in the last three weeks, and so we want to keep doing it. Oh, five weeks!
Guest Reviews of Nosferatu
Guest 1: I was immediately taken aback when I walked into the first experience, let’s call it, just in terms of, it’s not what you’d expect for even what was labeled an immersive theater show. I think you’re immediately transported into a very different setting.
Guest 2: Great to see so many different actors and actresses, like, so embodied and flexible and like free moving. Yeah, and if you like vampire, lore, history, it’s your opportunity to like, be a fly on the wall and experience some things and be excited. And, if you watch True Blood and like that, you know, it’s your opportunity to be a Fang Banger for a night, maybe, you know?
Guest 1: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, if you want to go to the club and that Blade goes to in the Blade movies, and live as a vampire, or live with some vampires who are less inhibited than you, as a Day Walker, this is your opportunity. Yeah.
Philip: Is there anything you think anyone should know, like before they attend?
Guest 2: I think just like, come relaxed so that you can watch and observe and enjoy, and that, you know, there’s some like strobe lights and some nudity and, you know, that’s all okay. Like nobody has, nobody has to touch you if you don’t want to be touched, you can sit or stand or be wherever you want to be, and just like enjoy it.
Guest 1: It’s a safe space to kind of be a consenting voyeur for a little bit, and involve yourself as much as you want to be involved, I think.
What Was the Design Process Like?
Donald: Well, it started with the book Dracula, by way of the movie Nosferatu, which stole obviously from Dracula. So, we started there, and then there were a couple of things, like I definitely wanted a Twilight moment, I wanted a Buffy the Vampire Slayer moment, I had this idea that I wanted it to be that kind of grunge, nineties, rock sound. And so I had asked my business partner, Chris, who’s like a music genius, to put together a playlist. So, really what happened was we looked at the rehearsal schedule and we’d be like, “okay, who’s available today?”
These three people. Okay, what vampire story could we tell with these three people, and also let’s choose a song off of this playlist. So in that way it was really kind of, for lack of a better word randomly .
Like I wanted to pay a homage to some of the classic stuff, and then also sometimes we were just like, “maybe a girl could eat a heart.” And that was the basis of the whole dance.
Kathleen: We were going to have like something happening in a bathtub, and then we couldn’t find a bathtub so we used a coffin instead, and so it became a coffin solo. So that’s where that, you know, some of it was kind of logistical like that. A lot of different concepts, some that had a origin and some that we were just like, “what would be cool right now?” And we just did it.
What Does the Future Hold for Nosferatu?
Donald: We are going to do Nosfera-two. We want to make it an annual thing, we think people are coming intentionally now instead of winding up here on accident. Basically, we’re going to start where we started with this one with a different genre of music. So a different soundscape, different scenery, all of the rooms will change, and maybe we’ll change a little bit conceptually of how people get from place to place. So, same concept, different show.
But then, immediately, I’m writing a holiday show that is called the Office Holiday Party Musical Extravaganza Show. Then we say, “yes, that is the title.” That is kind of my spin on, I’ve always wanted a holiday show that was for actually for adults and wasn’t like a family, boring family thing. So, it’ll be very adult humor and, you know, drunken karaoke at the office and one nightstand, that kind of thing, but a musical it’ll be immersive-ish, but we’re not going to use the whole space, it’ll be in one location, one set location, and it’ll be a totally different experience.
If we have a thing that we want to repeat is finding a different way to produce theater, but we don’t want to repeat how we’re doing it, unless it’s intentionally, like Nosferatu will probably always have this kind of feel.