Today, Robyn Alezanders talks about acting, Dracula and the role of consent and sexuality with vampires.
Female Vampires in the Age of #MeToo
A couple of months ago I decided to challenge myself, try to check off a bucket list item, and hopefully get my creative mojo back by auditioning for a play. Not just any play either, but a community production of Dracula, and proud to say I landed it, portraying one of the vampire brides/Vixens. An absolute dream role, one I’ve coveted since I fell in love with vampires and the horror genre almost four decades ago.
The entire theater experience thus far has been amazing and inspiring, thanks to an amazing woman director and a cast and crew who have made me, the newbie, feel entirely at home. Everyone is very open, very candid about themselves and what they bring to their roles, and as to be hoped and expected for, consent is strongly instituted. In a production where the story dictates a lot of touching and physical interaction, we have all discussed comfort levels and boundaries.
Dracula involves multiple obsessions: sex, feasting (food), faith, love, life, and death, but it’s the sexual component that has me most intrigued. It’s easy to analyze the Transylvanian count and see the flaws in his seductive dance, especially when focusing on his behavior with Lucy and Mina. He pursues who he wants and takes what he wants, and yet it’s that kind of control that many men and women find incredibly appealing about vampires. I, like many of those admirers, have a vampire fetish, extremely turned on by the neck biting, the submission, the feeling of being carried away into the depths of erotic imagination.
During these rehearsals, I’ve thought back to my goth nightclub days, where I alternated between “baby vamp,” hair pulled up in Pebbles Flintstone style, baggy white nightgown, and large wooden upside down cross, and “sexy vamp,” black lace, velvet, and fishnet stockings. Under either persona, I attracted flirtatious responses, emulating that compelling creature that’s become no pun intended, a forever classic in literary, cinematic, pop culture, music, and role-playing ventures.
The Vixens are eye candy and then some in three momentous scenes of this production. Clad in vintage flowing wedding dresses, we slither and crawl, evoking that interesting line between lust and fear−sadistic, wild, feral women ready to pounce on what (and who) they desire. It’s many a heterosexual man’s fantasy, isn’t it, to have four bewitching women all over him, despite the ultimate reveal that they bear more than just a sexual appetite?
We fondle, grope, and hold Harker down, moaning, cooing, giggling, and sniffing, exhibiting an over-excitement at hopefully satiating our hungers. And this in particular has me thinking about the role reversal of the Vixens vs Dracula−the portrayal of aggressive, overpowering, coercive women. Are we simply owning our sexuality, that which we should, that which men often already do, or are we, in the same context of dissecting Dracula, something more suggestively sinister? Harker is a perfect match for the virginal Mina−he is conservative, cautious, a by-the-rules gentleman. It is that purity that adds to Dracula’s attraction to Mina, and the obvious contradiction between her and Lucy, who has presumably not behaved as virtuously with some suitors. If Lucy is still indeed a virgin, she is at least a lot more self-aware of her beguiling wiles than Mina.
In the seduction scene between Harker and the Vixens, he is asleep, and we guess that he is most likely dreaming of his beloved. He feels the Vixens licking, nibbling, and stroking him, but is in that blurry state of applying those actions to what he’s dreaming about. He may even naturally be getting turned on, softly mumbling his fiancée’s name, before suddenly snapping awake, and realizing who is atop him. We hold him down, force against his struggles, and still try to dominate him (three Vixens at his arms and chest, me at and then between his legs), only to be cast off by Dracula entering the room and commanding us to stop. In those fleeting moments we have with Harker awake, is he solely aghast at seeing our fangs for fear of being killed, or because it hints at dangerous, unwillful sex? Were our fangs not evident, were the threat not so obvious, how far would the sexual element go? Would he even dare to touch us back? What of the metaphors between the Vixens and sex?
Our movements are animalistic, that of jungle cats on the prowl. We are also each from different centuries, and in this production, reminiscent of or inspired by historical female killers. There are multiple layers to muse on – did their inherent viciousness draw them to Dracula, or something else? What are they now, as compared to their mortal lives as rulers, forces unto themselves, formidable women not to be messed with? They have an essence of Manson Girls about them, that semblance of subservience, and what does that say? They’re trying to satisfy their lusts in the only ways they know how, but that’s quelled by Dracula−we are ordered to obey, and pacified like children. Lucy Westenra roams freely after becoming a vampire−it is her conspicuous behavior as the “Bloofer Lady” that leads to her ultimate demise. Have the Vixens just been lucky in avoiding the attention of vampire hunters, or are they kept quarantined to the castle? And if held to their home, why them, and not Lucy? What is the full extent of Dracula’s dictation, and how does it affect the Vixens’ sexual drives?
As with any centuries-old story, it’s not unusual for adaptations and variations to echo societal issues or notable distinctions of the present time period. So what to do in this age, where we are redefining boundaries, encouraging and supporting more outspoken discussions, and pushing #MeToo to the forefront of conversations? What are the obligations, if any, from horror writers, women horror writers, women horror writers who can personally relate to #MeToo?
Putting aside Dracula’s sole behavior being called into question and castigated for ignoring consent, what if the Harker seduction involved more than one male vampire pinning down a woman? Unless explicitly designed, promoted, or described as something otherwise, how would it not then seem a bit uncomfortable to watch or unseemly? Contrary to the titillation of multiple women trying to have their way with a guy, against his true will, strutting with sensual purpose, and oozing with their sense of empowerment.
As I said, I am loving this role simply because it’s personally awesome to portray a vampire, and because it has re-ignited a long dormant creative rut. But I’m also seeing the story in another light, and despite the still erotic components, also seeing that Dracula is not the only one with debatable actions. As horror writers, we evoke and depict that which scares and unsettles us, weaving commentary into our spooky scenes and monsters’ motivations. We create atmospheres that often have much more layers for analysis than the surface impressions and words. As writers in general, we also tend to insert our own experiences into stories, either as catharsis or as in-your-face terror.
Do I now soften the vicious women I write about? Mirroring real life, there are indeed women who are just as awful and criminal as men, so whether I keep my characters as mortal or otherworldly, they shouldn’t all be victims or the nicest gals around. At some point though, I may incorporate my own #MeToo experience into some story, which hearkening back to reality, would be in the guise of a male character. It’s all an entirely new scope to explore, in step with this recent landscape we are carving….one which may take interesting turns when (re)interpreted in creative works.
Robyn Alezanders made her horror debut with the short story, “Soul Stains,” in Des Lewis’ critically acclaimed Nemonymous 5, and earned an Honorable Mention in the 19th Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror. Her work has also appeared in The Mammoth Book of the Kama Sutra, Eternal Haunted Summer, and New Spirit Journal. She hopes to pursue more theatrical roles after Dracula, and to further explore the intricacy of haunting women characters.