Peter Wickliffe portrays the young Woody Guthrie in the Camelot Theatre’s production of “Woody Guthrie’s American Song,” a musical tribute to a consummate American artist. Peter and I sat down one afternoon to chat about performing musical theater and about his next project, which is to direct his own adaptation of “Dracula” at the Randall Theatre in Medford.
PW: I love to sing. There’s so much that can be learned from songs and singing. Deeper messages sometimes are conveyed through song.
While I’m on stage, I’m having a good time with the people on stage and with the audience. Even in shows where you’re not acknowledging the audience, you can still feel them, when they’re with you, when they’re following along, when you’re breaking their heart, when you’re making them laugh. You can feel that you’re entertaining them.
Things will happen, things will go wrong, things will get mixed up; somebody will drop a line, but you’re all in it together. You’ve got to roll with the punches, and you’ve got to figure out how to keep things going forward, keep creating that story, and stay on the same flow, without getting flustered and letting it affect your performance or what you’re ultimately there to do: entertain.
Whenever I’m on stage, I’m not thinking about anything that is related to my life, or the hardships I’m going through, or the work that I have to do, or any of that. There is such a connection with the audience, your troubles just melt away, and you’re just there together.
EH: You’re directing “Dracula” at the Randall Theatre; what attracted you to adapt the story?
PW: I have always loved those old black-and-white monster movies because they create such a scary environment with a very beautiful epic painting in the background, the set, and low dry-ice fog on the ground, some very intense shadows, and the music. It was simplistic, but it was creepy. Then they had moments in those movies that were so chilling.
“Dracula” is going back to the first vampire book written. I loved the books. The authors had an elegant way of painting a picture, and they used words so well. Dracula has been done so many different ways: Where he’s just pure evil; where he’s a lover; where he’s a lost soul; where he’s a cursed man fighting against or has accepted his fate.
I have taken the approach that Dracula is a lost soul; he is cursed. And because of that, he’s become very secluded. Being so secluded, he’s used to dealing only with himself, and so he’s very selfish. He’s only used to getting what he wants; he’s very controlling, cunning, dark and devious.
But there’s a softer side of him, too, a throwback to before he became this cursed soul. I think if I create a character like that, it’s easier for an audience to relate to the villain. If you put some kind of humanity in him, the audience starts identifying with the character, so that by the end of it, the audience is conflicted.
I want people to experience something that they have never seen before. I’m doing a bold concept that really hasn’t been done. I want it to have that classic feel with a cinematic nature into it. It will be a completely new take on an old classic.