Phantasmagoria director on what scares him — and us

"Phantasmagoria VI: Darkness Returns" is now being performed at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center.

“Phantasmagoria VI: Darkness Returns” is now being performed at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center.(Photo by Barry D. Kirsch)


ORLANDO — On Friday evening, after darkness had set in, the crowds gathered at the place known as the Lowndes Shakespeare Center. On the stage was a battlefield in Germany, circa 1918 — the final days of the bloody and apocalyptic battle known as World War I.
As the lights went down, the performers in the now long-running series called Phantasmagoria emerged on stage to once again take the audience on a journey through some of literature’s classic tales of terror.
Prior to the start of the show, Freeline Media sat down with the play’s creator, writer/director/actor John DiDonna, to get his thoughts on why Phantasmagoria continues to haunt our dreams … and nightmares … each Halloween season — now courtesy of “Phantasmagoria VI: Darkness Returns,” which runs through Halloween night.
Freeline: You’ve recreated eerie tales from masters of horror like Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. How do you feel they generated fear among readers without the likes of Freddy Krueger and Jason of Friday the 13th to do the work for them?
DiDonna: It all goes back to the same … fear of the unknown …. fear of “the other” …. fear of that which we do not understand and cannot comprehend. Those tales were written to virtually trap the reader in those moments of terror.
Freeline: In the era of “The Walking Dead”, you’ve taken a far more sophisticated – and often times, humorous – approach to horror. Tell us your thoughts on the idea of the thinking man’s horror.
DiDonna: Hah! I only write what I know. The creepy and eerie always attracted me more than the blood-splattering types of films (though the early Tom Savini films I loved, and actually I am a huge fan of Walking Dead) – the suspense, the ability to truly get under someone’s skin, and crawl into their brain and heart and terrify them. In terms of humor, we have to always remember that horror is dark, and oftentimes we laugh at dark.
Freeline: Why do you think audiences just love a good scare? What’s the draw from fear?
DiDonna: It jolts us, it makes us alive, it makes us aware. The adrenaline kicks in, and we are for those moments truly alive and mesmerized – even if in fear.
Freeline: In looking back at classic tales of terror from not only past decades but even past centuries, what do these stories tell us about who and what we are today?
DiDonna: Truly good horror speaks to the worries of mankind, the doubts, the inner fears, the demons and the hopeful salvation from those. Our horror stories are deeply locked into our own fears, our own darkness.
Freeline: The Phantasmagoria troop recently brought the show to audiences in Atlanta. How are you doing expanding the reach of this series beyond the shores of Central Florida?
DiDonna: Fabulous! We head to Baltimore for a series of shows upcoming early in 2016, we are travelling to other parts of Florida, and we have show prospects in a variety of states including up in New York and in Boston.

“Phantasmagoria VI: Darkness Returns” is being performed on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 8 p.m. at the Mandell Theater at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St. in Orlando, with additional Monday night performances on Oct. 19 and 26. For tickets, call 407-328-9003 or process a credit card payment online at Orlando At Play.
John DiDonna is the creator, director and writer of Phantasmagoria, and the Orlando Program Chair/Artistic Director of the Valencia College Theater, and the co-producing artistic director of The Empty Spaces Theatre Co(llaboration). Contact him at jdidonna@bellsouth.net.

Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..

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