ORLANDO – The Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival kicks off at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 16 at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, and runs through May 29. This year the nearly three-week long festival will feature the largest line-up of shows in its history.
Coming back for a return engagement is John DiDonna, the veteran actor, director, playwright and theater professor at Valencia College, who is bringing with him the critically acclaimed Victorian Horror Troupe “Phantasmagoria.” The long-running series, about a circus-like group of performers who recount classic tales of terror, are presenting “Phantasmagoria’s Wickedest Tales of All.”
Phantasmagoria started out as a Halloween season show at the Orlando Shakes, but grew in popularity and has since made several Fringe performances, while DiDonna has also taken the show on the road for performances in other states. “Wickedest Tales of All” will be performed in the Orange Venue (The Margeson Theater) and will include the troupe’s familiar mix of horror stories and dance, live music, stage combat, and large scale puppetry.
This production will recreate Charles Dickens’ “A Madman’s Manuscript,” the Hindu “Tale of the Churel,” the old ghastly Nursery Rhymes from “Gammer Gurton’s Garland” and Edgar Allan Poe’s classic “The Masque of the Red Death,” among others.
Freeline Media caught up with John to find out what other goodies are in store for the Phantasmagoria gang this year.
Freeline Media: I call it “Phantasmagoria — It’s not just for Halloween anymore!” What has the Phantas gang been up to since last October?
John DiDonna: Oh my! Well, we have not stopped for more than one week. We have performed at everything from corporate events, special events, conventions, all the way to huge theatrical performances at the Bob Carr for 1,600 and the Linda Chapin Theater for 2,600! We had a wonderful time at the “Alive After 5” street festival in Sanford, providing entertainment all night long and so much more! Just this past weekend – besides ongoing rehearsals for Fringe – we made appearances in Tampa/St. Pete and Daytona. It is wonderfully exhausting, but it is so wonderful to be out there performing on a regular basis, meeting new people and audiences and introducing them to what we are. We have multiple sides to Phantasmagoria – whether it is performing children’s versions of the stories such as “Sleepy Hollow” at the fairgrounds, to whimsical special event appearances with fire performance, belly dancing, sword swallowing etc, to our larger scale Victorian Horror Shows. We have gone from a one show idea, to a once a year idea, to 12 months a year almost every week. And we love it!
FM: “Wickedest Tales of All” — oh, my. Do tell.
John: Hah. Well, it is the third in our series of touring shows – the last two years were very successful, so this year we continue with bringing our shows around!
FM: Is this an entirely original show, or a compilation, from past shows — a kind of ‘best of’?
John: A little mixture of both. We look at the touring shows as a way to revisit the “best of” our past shows – but even in that each story is rewritten and re-staged to varying degrees. This time around we are also including new works in the Fringe show. And this is a completely different show from last year’s Fringe show – bringing new whimsical horrors to the Fringe audience! Definitely do not want people thinking it is the one from last year. AllL different stories, dances, puppets, etc.
FM: It seems you have an infinite ability to continue finding gruesome tales from the vaults of horror literature.
John: My God, there is so much wealth of material, my friend. I have 2,500-plus years of tales from mythology to folklore to legend to literature to real life occurrences, which we have also chronicled – mixing history with fiction. I love journeying in, learning new stories, hearing new works to me. It is like being a playwright, an anthropologist, an archaeologist, and a detective all at once.
FM: Will the Phantas gang be back in October, and how will your troop be spending the summer?
John: Oh Yes. Phantasmagoria VIII will return. This one is a little darker — our October shows have been getting progressively darker over the last few years — and with some delightful literary touches. And as always, a brand new tapestry of stories, dances, aerial, puppetry and combat. We will spend the summer on tour around the state and to Atlanta and Baltimore, doing multiple events, and rehearsing for our Fall show – as well as some major fall events upcoming. In addition, we are developing a new holiday surprise for the end of the year that we will share with you all soon!
“Phantasmagoria’s Wickedest Tales of All” will have shows on:
* Wednesday May 17 at 7:30 p.m.
* Saturday May 20 at 9 p.m.
* Sunday May 21 at 2:30 p.m.
* Wednesday May 24 at 6:45 p.m.
* Saturday May 27 at 11:59 p.m.
For tickets, visit Orlando Fringe. To learn more, visit Phantasmagoria Orlando.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Koby’s New Home”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.