A spontaneous encounter with Dracula

I have been fighting with my daughter for nearly two hours – trying to cajole her into going for a sleep. She normally goes for one at 12ish, but lately it creeps further and further through the day leaving me no choice but to wait patiently for her to succumb to the tiredness she must surely feel given that she is on the go from 6.a.m.

I cannot even begin to put into words the desperation for a moments peace – for a small chunk of time to sit and be quiet. To do something or nothing. To recoup. Having the promise of it dangled before my drooping eyes by a 2 year old saying ‘not bed mummy’, after two separate occasions of lying her down in bed with two stories (one won’t do) and warm milk – and my whole psyche aching for the moment when I say, “have a nice sleep, see you in a little while” and she says “bye mummy”. And yet it does not come – 2 false starts – Agony.

Anyway, she is asleep now. Thank the heavens. I am supposed to be on a detox of 2 oranges, 2 bananas and the juice of one lemon blended into a drink 3 times a day for 3 days. It’s no big deal and I have done it before – but I am sitting down now with a coffee – and although not strictly allowed I figure one can only aid with the detox – 2 on the other hand… now that would be toxic of course!

So, on to more interesting pastures. I wanted to write about my Saturday at the Phoenix and the Count Dracula animation workshop for art therapists and arts in health workers. It was run by Tony Gammidge an artist, art therapist and film maker with a number of years experience of leading CPD workshops. We worked with the story of Count Dracula using a variety of art making techniques including video and animation, sound, puppets, shadows, light projections, drawing and installation. The emphasis of the workshop was on experimentation with a variety of art making processes, collaboration and reflection on both what wisdom the story might hold for us in our personal and professional lives and also offer a glimpse of a different way of working in a clinical setting.

A very interesting day – and a challenge both creatively and personally. I nearly sabotaged the whole thing for myself – first by staying up really late (1.30a.m. – that is really late for me! Cos I know I’ll be up by 6a.m. With a couple of interruptions at 2 and 4a.m.) and by drinking lots of red wine – which although accompanied by pots of weak early grey tea and glasses of water still left me worse for wear and sitting on the edge of my bed, head spinning – thinking about being an artist and about the painting I had been working on that day of Winni dancing.

So, I was a little delicate as I jumped on my bike with 10 minutes to get there. I had my coffee in a flask and wrapped my bagel in tin foil and stuffed them into my rucksack. As soon as I was on the bike and charging along at top speed I felt free and engaged. I locked my bike up on the railings outside, entered the Phoenix building and as I climbed up the two flights of stairs to the studio – I felt a little wave of butterflies as I reflected on the fact that these were the early days of me starting to re-engage and reinstate myself in the adult world without a small child attached to my ankles. And it felt so exciting – like I have a whole chance again to reconnect with people and with my life and what I am about.

I didn’t know anything about the story of Count Dracula when I sat down in a circle with the other 6 participants – all women. We introduced ourselves and shared a bit about why we were there in the traditional workshop opening stylee. In the blurb he sent out before the workshop Tony had said we did not need to know the story in any great detail. He did add that we might want to think about what it is that draws us to the story; an image, a particular scene, a sound etc. but that it is OK to be spontaneous about this on the day….no pressure. As a result, I deliberately decided not to find out any thing about the story – because I did not want to pre-empt myself and I was also curious to see what spontaneity might feel and look like.

We talked as a group about the story – people chipped in with bits they knew. I got my note book out and started to scribble and think. A pleasure. My mind went to blood letting, and associated ideas like rejuvenation and release. I thought about Count Dracula imbibing another’s blood and the control that might afford him over their spirit, and how when you are in love you can feel a vast pain and vulnerability (as well as joy) from closeness to another. That feeling of connectedness that comes with loving and the fear of separation from or loss of it. I saw the isolation of the castle and thought about motherhood and how difficult it is to come back from. About being unreachable, and inaccessible – at times even to oneself. I wondered about the importance of stories and how we all have one to tell and how our own interact and weave with those of other people and about authorship and truth.

We spent half an hour making an individual response to these discussions – and I found myself making (suprise suprise – I really am starting to take ownership!) a tiny baby figure cut out of white card, a larger pregnant female standing figure with streaming hair, and a lying down female possibly dying (or giving birth) with a mouth open to suggest screaming. I didn’t know what I was going to do with them – but I was thinking about motherhood; death and rejuvenation in terms of identity and about being an artist and how to keep it all going.

I worked with two other women to make a stop frame animation. We just got stuck right in and collaborated each bringing the things we had made and with an overhead projector and whatever props we could find we made a sinister little piece using the paper baby placed in a plastic back which looked particularly womb like with a piece of red acetate held over the camera lense and these Dracula type claws coming into the space trying to pluck the baby from the bag and the mother fighting the claw to save the baby – in vain. At the end of the day we showed our little films to each other and what was quite remarkable for me – was to learn from Tony that in the Count Dracula story – there is a scene in which count Dracula returns to the castle to find a trio of female vampires who appear from nowhere, trying to seduce Jonathan Harker – the increasingly reluctant guest in the Count’s Transylvanian castle. Dracula screams angrily at them and drops a bag on the floor containing a live baby for the women which they then kill.

How weird is that? Having not known the story at all – I work with two other women and we end up making a piece that reflects a particularly disturbing image in the story. It was not lost on any of us either just how powerful the images were that we conjured in our little film. It was striking how the Dracula story emerged through my own, through the animation and you could as Tony suggested read it in many ways…i.e my child sucking my ‘creative blood’ (not a nice image). As he says, “hopefully the workshop gave you a much needed transfusion!”. And… I’d say it did.

I want to find more out about the story of Count Dracula and in particular the references within it to mental health. It would be interesting to look at what was happening in the field of mental health around 1897, when it was written. Has anyone read it? Do any of you know anything about this narcissistic Count with the soul of the hunter?

To see the films have a look on Youtube:


For more info about workshops:


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