Tony Sokol’s Vampyr Theatre
by Katherine Ramsland
When one links theater with vampires, one things
Anne Rice and her creation of that dark performance troupe in eighteenth-century
Paris, but Tony Sokol says this was not the original inspiration for his
own Vampyr Theater, or La Commedia del
Sangue. Instead it was the idea of the Grand Guignol theater, an old
movie called Vampire Circus, and the work of a poet named Maria
A. Vega. And also -- at least for one production -- a Beatles cartoon.
Tony Sokol is a man of high energy, multi-faceted background, and numerous skills and interests. He’s a playwright, musician, researcher, and journalist. He seems to be ever in motion, darting form one place to another as he oversees his vampire production while simultaneously greeting members of the audience. He talks fast and calls himself a “man of many words but few coherent thoughts.”
His grandfather was a grave-digger in Brooklyn, and he once lived in a haunted house with a ghost that his sister called George. His grandmother owned a copy of the 1903 edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and his mother was so impressed by it that Sokol bought a paperback copy of the book before he could even read. His mother read it to him and then he added Poe to the mix, and Yellow Submarine, which he watched over and over. He was entranced with the images and concepts, and his 1997 production for Vampyr Theater was based in part on the Blue Meanies, who only took no for an answer.
The first production, The Auction” occurred in 1992, at Le Bar Bat in Manhattan. The following year, Sokol was invited onto Joan Rivers’ talk show with several guests who were there to discuss otherworldly subjects: horror expert David Skal, vampire musician Vlad, and the lead singer of One of Us. Sokol gave out his phone number on the air, and after, people of all sorts -- vampires, alien abductees, conspiracy victims -- contacted him to tell him their own experiences with the strange and bizarre. “Most of them were victims of something,” he says. He was eager to listen, though he admits there were times when an interview gave him the creeps. “You know the feeling when someone is describing a medical procedure and you get this itching all over your groin and stomach. I would have that feeling, but I couldn’t show it on my face when I was talking to them, so I learned to dissociate.
He took some chances by seeking out the “fetish squatters” in a park on the Lower East Side who reputedly were into bondage and S&M-- and some of them into vampirism. He gained their trust and listened to their stories, finding within their sense of reality the same kind of rage against society and culture that he felt. He had seen some police efforts to rid the park of squatters, and felt that the homeless themselves were less frightening than the law enforcement personnel.
The more he listened to these vampires, the more material he gained for creating his plays. “They had wanted to talk to me, so I met them at twilight in places where there was a very clear exit. I’ve only had one person come at me, and one person ran away from me because apparently her hunger overcame her while she was talking to me. She ran down the street screaming, `You’re not safe!’ these people have never seen the plays so I don’t know what they think. but I’ve based characters on more than just vampires. I’ve also interviewed SRA survivors, people with multiple personality syndrome, the AUM Shinrikyo cult, the Order of the Solar Temple, UFO abductees and many others.”
The past year, Vampyr Theatre was based at 45 West 21st Street in Lower Manhattan. The show ran on Friday and Saturday nights, beginning, appropriately, at midnight, during September and October (The show was extended past November - editor).
The production was called Just Us Served, directed by Troy Acee and starring Troy Acree, Sara Moon, and Jennifer Salmons. It began, much like the Theater of the Vampires in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, with fog blowing across a dark stage and a young girl being questioned sarcastically by a group of vampires -- one male and two females. A few of the audience members (in an audience number around thirty of forty [It was an eighty seater - editor]) were part of the play, and by the time they were all accounted for as they rose to play the parts, they were almost as many as the real audience.
the real audience sat in chairs in rows that rise up from the stage, and most of the savvy crowd had dressed in black -- although there was one couple in their sixties who were dressed as if they had just come from an expensive restaurant on the posh side of town. The show was sold out.
Most of the dialogue took place among the vampires, but the plot centered around an FBI agent who was on the trail of a lead male vampire to prove that he had killed some people and to bring him to justice. The vampires threw together a haphazard court in which an ancient vampire served as magistrate.