I sat down with the iconic Richard “Spine” Macionis and Rudi “Vlad” Testa from Dracula’s Cabaret Restaurant to talk about performing, comedy and Dracula’s new show, Sin & Tonic. We get a little deep, but if you’re interested in theatre or you love Dracula’s, it’s a behind-the-scenes look at the new show. You can also check out the review we did on Dracula’s Cabaret Restaurant’s new show, Sin & Tonic, last week.
Q: How long have you been working at Dracula’s Cabaret Restaurant?
Richard: We’ve both been on the Gold Coast for 7 years, I worked for the company in Melbourne three years before that, Rudi did some time there as well.
Rudi: Yeah, a small amount as an understudy in Melbourne a couple of weeks before I came up here.
Q: What did you do before you were at Dracula’s?
Richard: I come from a performance background, mainly working in bands, a bit of music theatre, a lot of television and television production. I’ve worked for a few of the main networks and have done some artist management, representing artists in both music and in television.
Rudi: I have an amateur theatre background playing in cover bands, that sort of thing, with 10 years working in theatre restaurants in Melbourne.
Q: So a lot of dinner theatre and that sort of thing?
Q: And how many shows at Dracula’s have you been a part of?
Rudi: At Drax? This is seven.
Richard: Yeah seven.
Rudi: Well you’ve done more.
Richard: Oh yeah, I’ve done more. I’ve done seven up here, but yeah, nine? Nine full ones and understudied a few others.
Q: God damn
Richard: It’s like becoming part of the furniture.
Rudi: It’s a few shows when you think about it.
Richard: Someone came up to me the other day and she said “Did you used to work in the Melbourne place?! We went to the show yeeeaaaars ago and you were in it!” and I said ‘Oh okay’. She said “It would’ve been about nine years ago!” ‘Shit is it that long ago?!’ I kept thinking oh no, it’s a similar costume – it must be one of the newer cast and she says “No, it was you!”
Q: Sin & Tonic was released on the 4th of June – what goes into the creation of a show like this?
Rudi: The show itself is developed in our Melbourne venue. It will do a twelve month run in Melbourne after being developed, then it waits about 18 months until it arrives in our theatre when we take it over. So what happens is we tend to…what’s the word for it-
Richard: Embellish it?
Rudi: Yeah, embellish it. Make it our own, ‘soup it up’ a bit.
Richard: Well the beauty with here…I don’t know if you have been to the Melbourne venue?
Richard: It’s pretty much half the size of this one. Both physically and with the staging, so when a show does come up here, they’ve had a chance to run it in and they can look at the product, compare our market to the Melbourne market and audience, understanding that we have got a much bigger setup here, technology-wise, music-wise and cast-wise, so we can look at the basic canvas, flesh it out and make changes. Maybe change songs, update it, or, an act that might not work here they might take out. We’ve got a bigger cast here too-
Q: What is the difference in size?
Richard: I think they are sitting on five cast members.
Rudi: And it’s a 350 seat theatre?
Richard: 350 in the audience is full house, where as we come in just under 600.
Rudi: and we’re a cast of 7.
Q: And how many would be working on any given show night?
Rudi: Including floor staff, bar staff…?
Q: Well because the whole thing is such a great performance, it all does seem to contribute.
Rudi: There are lots of people involved. Well you’re probably looking at 40?
Richard: More than that.
Rudi: 50? Yeah, it might be more than that. I couldn’t give you the number.
Richard: We’ve got the downstairs bar that you don’t even see – that’s just the mechanical bar – there’s the upstairs bar, two kitchens…
Q: Almost a staff member for every ten people.
Richard: Yeah, something like that. Probably up to 10 of us working the theatre.
Rudi: Sound, wardrobe, photos. When I first started we were employing 150, and that was across the Dracula’s banner. That’s 150 employees running the shop in Surfer’s Paradise, the development facility in Burleigh, where will build props and make costumes, have storage and all the merchandise.
Q: How have the shows developed since you guys started? Have they gotten edgier and edgier?
Richard: Edgier definitely. Bigger is another description. In the time that we’ve been here, the theatre and the venue has grown considerably. Half of the building that is here now used to just be carpark. They went through a refurbishment of the venue that included the main theatre, the auditorium, they built a new roof and ceiling ontop of the existing one that was there. I think we took one night off and they removed the old ceiling to reveal the stadium style seating that now exists. What was only about six rows upstairs now extends to twenty, isn’t it?…
Richard: …from the front to the back. And that meant they also had to extend the stage, which only had the lower levels. It had three, but they were all lower levels, so they had to build all the higher levels and the [ceiling] tracks. So they had to take the theatre and make it three dimensional, because there were people sitting right up the top who weren’t necessarily going to get the same impact.
Rudi: We had to bring the show to them, so to speak.
Richard: Yeah, so in our time that has increased and changed for us. We’ll get a new challenge, you know they say “You’re going to be flying through the room, or you’re going to be submerged in a water tank” and you say “Woah, okay, there’s another one! Didn’t think I’d be doing that!”
Rudi: And certainly the live music element. Five or six years ago the music wasn’t as live. We relied a lot more on the backing track whereas now we try and play as much live music as we possibly can. It increases the energy and the sound in the room. It’s just raw and bigger and better.
Richard: Yeah that’s true. It has changed. In my early days we would usually have a live guitarist because that’s such a visual thing, but we certainly had no other live musicians. It was all on the backing track – we even had some vocals on the backing track. So if you weren’t the lead singer or the performer on stage, you didn’t have to sing. You’d be in the wings, getting ready for the next number, whereas now we do a lot of what is called booth singing, which is where you might be in the wings waiting for the next act or you might be in the dressing room changing but you’re actually singing a harmony or along with the performers on stage, live. And that’s changed – it’s become more regular for us.
Rudi: We used to have backing tracks that had full production with drums, bass, guitars, had some vocals in there, whereas now a lot of our backing tracks are just a tick-track to keep us in time and help with the arrangement.
Q: And in terms of the show’s content? Has the comedy that you go become edgier?
Richard: We’ve always been edgy, but it is getting edgier.
Rudi: I’ve always said, due to the themes and the horror theme, it’s a “license for murder” as I’ve called it. We can get quite morbid in our style of humour, where you couldn’t get away with it normally.
Q: I’m sure 5 or 10 years ago it was easier to shock people.
Rudi: Yeah, well you could get away with different things five or ten years ago. We are certainly more PC these days with certain things, but not with others.
Q: What does Sin & Tonic bring differently to Transfusion, your last show?
Richard: It’s a whole new format. That’s one thing. We get a lot of return customers who have been before in the first couple of weeks, and they’re all commenting on the new format, the running of the night. They’re enjoying it. We have amped up the comedy, and I think it’s a more visual show as well. There is a lot of beautiful burlesque style imagery in all of the aerial work that we do and I think that the sensuality and the sexuality is there, it’s always been there but it’s more prominent. One of the directions that we get as performers on stage together, all of us on stage, they want us to have in our mind that ‘yes, we’re vampires, but we’re all in bed together-
Q: Haha, right
Richard -and we’ve just got up to put on a show’ and that’s where our sexuality comes off amongst all of us.
Q: Those are definitely the comments I’ve heard from others who have been before, that it’s edgier, it’s more vulgar and it’s more sexual.
Rudi: It definitely sparks the imagination. Certainly the costumes “look” a lot less, like the girls are more scantily clad, but they’re very well made the girls feel very safe inside them. It’s the look that helps it become edgier.
Q: What are your roles behind the scenes in terms of development?
Richard: Well we, more than other cast members, just because we have been doing it so long, and we’ve been working together so long – particularly with the standup – we do sit down with the producer/writer of that material, Marc Newman, separate to the main rehearsal process, and discuss his vision for it. He just has the material and we go away and produce it up from there. And then we will come back and present it to him. It’s something we are very hands-on with. I suppose, being senior cast members, we try and take new cast members under our wing, show them how things work. We have to try and remember, for their sake, what this beast is like. There is a bit of mentoring as well. And Rudi gets the opportunity to play bass and work with the musicians in that area.
Rudi: We are given some material before we begin a very intense, three-week rehearsal period to get our heads around some dialogue, so then when we can start blocking things and working on running the show. A lot of things go into the theatre over that three weeks. Being senior members of staff, we’re performing the night show as well as rehearsing during the day.
Richard: This week we are still in opening mode. Even though it’s our second week. I call it “diving into a washing machine that is on heavy load”. You’re suddenly in rehearsal period. You’re doing rehearsals from nine to five, then you’re in show mode from five to twelve, you go home, sleep, try and learn stuff, come in. And you do that for three weeks and then “Bang!” suddenly you’re open, and then you still have days of clean ups, and touch ups and then there are media calls. I think this will be our first weekend of being back to normality, where we were five weeks ago. We don’t have to think about it anymore-
Rudi: To a certain extent.
Richard: Yeah. The physicality is more relaxed, our bodies are used to it. With every new show, everybody loses a lot of weight during rehearsal. We all find new injury points too. “Why does my thigh hurt suddenly! Why is there a bruise there?” But once you settle into it, it all disappears and becomes normal. And that’s what we look forward to.
Rudi: We get what you call performers fitness. Your body comes to the party, your voice comes to the party, and everything is oiled, well working – it’s got grease.
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