Teachers Turn Hollywood

Spearheaded by English teacher Ms. Rutigliano, PDS faculty creates a faux trailer for the book “Dracula”

English teacher Olivia Rutigliano is taking the Princeton Day School faculty to Transylvania by embarking on a project to create a faux trailer for “Dracula”. The idea of looking at “Dracula” through the film noir genre originated from one of Olivia Rutigliano’s student, senior Asher Edelson. Both Edelson and Rutigliano read the book “Dracula” for six weeks in an English class focused on literary adaptations. Rutigliano and her students explored “Dracula” in depth and looked at the book through a cinematic lens. Rutigliano adds, “My students and I began to find many different approaches to the text, one of which involved studying the different genres that sort of happen I guess when Dracula gets rested into different film versions.”

Simply the act of reading “Dracula” in the Adaptations class has become collaborative. History teacher and owner of a well loved and consistently reread copy of “Dracula”, Bill Stolzfus frequented the English class in order assist in teaching the course. Rutigliano also shares a penchant for “Dracula”, and of all the books the Adaptations class read, they seemed to enjoy “Dracula” the most. She chose to create a mock trailer of “Dracula” partly because of the attachment she developed to the book in the duration of six weeks. Rutigliano mentions that the class spent more time reading the book “Dracula” than any other books in the course and that the intensive amount of time spent on “Dracula” led to a larger discussion and deeper comprehension of the book. Rutigliano explains that adaptations occur so often because of the close relationship between literature and film “I think film and literature are so easily intertwined, not only because they are so often adaptations of one another but also because they each involve many different levels of sophisticated elements that expose or unfurl a particular narrative.”

Rutigliano proclaims the book “Dracula” as “underappreciated”, and often seen as a lesser work because it is pulp fiction. The gothic horror novel lends itself to film adaptations and various hidden themes. Rutigliano adds, “You can read allegories of Irish home rule, you can read interesting commentaries about gender and changing gender roles, you can read interesting things about different religions into “Dracula”, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.” The book and its various themes of feminism are exposed when making a film noir trailer. Film noir is usually a male centric genre in which females play damsels in distress. The book “Dracula” boasts two protagonists, one male and one female. Rutigliano comments saying that the trailer “ Allows a clever, in my opinion, inversion of the film noir genre, in which a woman, as a protagonist gets to become the detective figure that had been only given to men in films of this particular ilk. In doing so, I think this exposes the actual feminism if you will in Dracula, while also allowing liberation of film noir because once again in that genre, women are tools, not characters themselves, they’re no detectives certainly.”

The trailer for “Dracula” has become a project that involves both faculty and students. The cast are comprised entirely of faulty while the students work behind the camera as production assistants. Rutigliano believes that the project’s widespread involvement has a beneficial impact on the community. “I think it gives students a really fun opportunity to direct their teachers, to show their teachers their creative abilities not necessarily in a classroom setting.” The cast includes a variety of teachers from both the upper school and middle school. Rutigliano enlisted teachers based on their availability, and their personality, playing the female protagonist Mina herself, casting history teacher and “Dracula” enthusiast Bill Stolzfus as Count Dracula.The trailer includes teachers from both middle school and upper school whose expertise ranges from teaching Physics to English. Also participating in the trailer are Jaime McCulloch, Reuban Loewy, Brian Mayer, Paul Epply- Schmidt, Richard D’Andrea, Joe Riley, Hank Bristol, Russell Powell, Cynthia Michalak,and Laura Ledley.The project has been a creative experience that has created a bond between the cast of varying teachers. Rutigliano comments, “I think it’s really fun to get to know the people you work with, slightly outside of school. We have had a lot of fun working together; I think it’s brought at least our little community much closer.”

The teachers have shown their dramatic flair when collaborating on Dracula. From Rutigliano having to watch the end of “My Dog Skip” to cry on demand, to Mr. Riley kneeling down in snow mourning the death of his fictional fiancée, the faculty has made sure to have fun during production. With so many eccentric scenes, it seems that the trailer go slightly over the traditional trailer length of 2 minutes. There is still more to shoot, and Rutigliano hopes to show the school Dracula trailer two weeks after spring break.