Nick DeGruccio wants audience members to jump and maybe even wet their pants when watching his latest production.
Based on Stephen King’s work, the pop-rock musical “Carrie” centers on an awkward teenager, who is bullied by her overly religious mother and her high school peers. But Carrie exacts revenge when she learns of her telekinetic powers. Performances begin Friday in the Macgowan Hall Little Theater.
DeGruccio, the production’s guest stage director, said this production is both his first time working with UCLA’s theater department and directing “Carrie.”
His affinity for horror led him to read King’s novel, watch all of the “Carrie” movies and see other versions of the musical prior to taking on the UCLA production, he said.
While UCLA’s production sticks closely to the novel’s narrative of “Carrie,” the theater department will portray the narrative with an eerie sound design, powerful singing and special effects, he said.
DeGruccio said the performance is distinguished by fearless students who don’t hold anything back when embodying characters’ mindsets, as well as its setting on a proscenium stage, he said.
A proscenium stage setup involves the audience facing the stage in front of the curtain, instead of a format wherein audience members sit among the actors on the stage, like in other renditions of the musical.
“We’re hoping that will allow the audience to appreciate the cage-like setup of the stage and allow the special effects to come off in a more epic way,” he said.
Alana DeBlase, a third-year theater student who plays Margaret White, Carrie’s religious mother, said she thought bringing horror to a musical stage would be difficult because people don’t usually associate horror with song and dance.
However, loud sounds, dramatic lighting, flying props and optical illusions proved her wrong. Loud sounds like slamming doors still come as surprises to her, despite rehearsing scenes multiple times, she said.
“There is one point when I have to scream and fall to the floor because Margaret’s scared of Carrie using her telekinetic powers,” DeBlase said. “In that moment, I’m not acting.”
Another layer of the show stems from her character’s perversion of Bible verses and religion, DeBlase said.
“Like Margaret, I’m also a deeply religious person and it’s interesting to see how she combines certain phrases, like those concerning Adam and Eve, to take authority of torturing and killing her daughter,” DeBlase said.
DeBlase places herself in Margaret’s twisted and frightening mindset. DeBlase doesn’t see Erin Dubreuil onstage as a student playing Carrie during rehearsals. Instead, she sees Carrie, whom she must manipulate using fear, she said.
Dubreuil, a fourth-year theater student who plays Carrie, said it’s difficult to get into her character since it is an intense and horrific role.
“There are a lot of very strong emotions and scenes of abuse with screaming, yelling and physical violence,” she said. “It’s hard being onstage with friends who are treating you badly because they have to.”
However, she invokes fear by using props and technology like magnetic crosses and collapsing backdrops to portray telekinetic powers.
In addition to the special effects, Dubreuil, drenched in blood, belts as if screaming to release Carrie’s pent-up rage and uses her arms and eyes to control her crumbling environment during the prom destruction scene, in which Carrie takes her revenge on the students who have wronged her.
“When we were rehearsing the destruction of the prom, one actor came up to me and told me I had the most evil smirk on my face,” Dubreuil said.
Getting into the role of an awkward, bullied and powerful teenager can take its emotional toll, she said, but working on the production has its perks.
“Carrie couldn’t have been a better role for me to end my time here at UCLA,” Dubreuil said. “It’s my dream role.”
For DeBlase, who plays a middle-aged mother who has experienced trauma, the production is a step that allows her to broaden her acting horizons.
“‘Carrie’ has provided me with a role that I could really sink my teeth into,” she said. “And as an actor, that’s all you could ask for.”