We’ve all seen horror on the big screen but have you ever seen a live Victorian Horror show? I recently had a chance to interview John DiDonna, the creator of Phantasmagoria Orlando who has been bringing live horror to audiences for seven years.
Cimorene (Dion Leonhard) of Phantasmagoria breathes fire at Reninger’s Industrial Steampunk Show in Mt. Dora Oct. 17, 2015.
What is Phantasmagoria?
So many words to describe. . . it is a Whimsically Macabre Victorian Horror Circus! We bring stories of horror to life in “Phantastical” dance, live music, explosive stage combat, large scale puppetry and enthralling storytelling! It has also been described by many as a “Graphic Novel come to life!”
What is the legend behind Phantasmagoria?
The legend goes back to the ancient storytellers of Greece who wandered the countryside, . . never knowing that they were immortals born of the story. They wandered alone, till one day two came upon each other and they realized they were a race differing from mortal humans, and they travel through the centuries finding each other, and bringing the stories to horrific life!
When did Phantasmagoria start?
7 years ago – it was brought together for one show and has continually built upon itself with all new
shows each year, and eventually to a 12 month a year ongoing theater troupe!
What was the inspiration behind it?
I have spent my entire life loving horror, but most especially literary horror. The dread of Edgar Allan Poe and gothic writers who brought these stories to feverous minds.
What were some of your past performances?
We have performed our large mainstage show for the entire month of October for the last seven years at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center. Over that time we have performed close to 60 stories of the macabre, all culled from literary horror, mythology, legend and folklore (all adapted from the public domain into our own style of storytelling) With that we also have two touring shows, and a myriad of special event style shows that we perform 12 months a year that range from fire performance, to dance, to storytelling to even children’s shows of the whimsically macabre.
How long does it take to put a performance together, including set design, writing of the script and finding the right actors?
Oh my. . . for the script? About a year of research, story reading, inspiration, adaptation, edits, etc. Then for rehearsals about 2 – 3 months for developing a mainstage show. The puppets are the big design element, sometimes as large as 20’ long and 14’ high.
The troupe itself is ongoing so the actors are already here for the most part, though we add new people through our yearly auditions.
What do you look for when someone wants to be a part of your organization?
Ensemble. Collaboration. Energy. And a multitude of skill sets from movement to dance to stage combat to acting to puppetry etc.
How many performances do you put on per year?
Between mainstage and special event/appearances probably topping 50 at this point in time!
When is your next performance?
Coming up we have our touring show “Wicked Little Tales” in Baltimore, Maryland from March 17 – 20th, then we perform a series of mini shows upon our return, and then our second touring show opens for the Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival in May 2016. The summer is filled with appearances and children’s shows, and then this fall we premiere Phantasmagoria VII “The Cards They Are Dealt” for the month of October!
What can people expect at the show?
To be enchanted, to be frightened, to be overwhelmed with all the senses. . . to become PART of the show as the audience IS the show, they share in these adventures with us, trapped as we are in the same room with
Allegra (Mary Beth Spurlock) of Phantasmagoria eats fire during the VIP aftershow following a performance at Lowndes Shakespeare Theatre July 25, 2015.
these stories. We have heard many a scream, many a gasp, many a laugh. . . and even some loving tears throughout the years.
What does Phantasmagoria have planned for the future?
To keep touring and growing! We have mini troupes planned now for further performances and we want to bring the stories to as many people around the globe as we can! We are experimenting with some interesting technologies right now too to bring that to the world through this little computer screen.
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