ORLANDO — When someone says “franchise,” you might think about the McDonald’s down the street, or maybe the CVS on the corner. You’re probably not thinking about the theater.
And while theatrical productions usually have their runs and then move on for the next show, the concept of a franchise can apply here as well — particularly in Orlando. Just ask John DiDonna.
On Friday, Oct. 18, the playwright, actor, director, and theater professor will open Phantasmagoria X: Reckoning. And the No. 10 in the title is significant because it marks the tenth year that DiDonna has brought Central Florida audiences a Phantasmagoria show, and each year, the production has been an entirely new one. So next week, the Phantasmagoria troupe is celebrating something unique: its 10th anniversary delivering to local audiences what has become a popular franchise unique to the Greater Orlando area.
What Is The Show Phantasmagoria About?
Two words: Victorian Horror.
For every Halloween season since 2009, the Phantasmagoria troupe has been entertaining local audiences through acrobatics, music, dance, giant puppets, and, most importantly, by recreating classic tales of terror from the vaults of legendary horror writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, and many others. Each year, there are new stories — not to mention new adventures for the circus-like performers themselves, and also sometimes new actors as well.
Phantasmagoria X: Reckoning will follow that tradition with what DiDonna calls their unique brand of “Whimsical Macabre” terrors during the 2019 Halloween season. This year, he added, the show will feature all-new stories of terror, “Phantastical” dance, stage combat, puppetry, and storytelling that includes literary tales of terror, horrific folk stories, legends, and myths. Those terrors will include a beast hidden deep within from the story “The Horla,” to the Penny Dreadful horrors of “Sawney Beane,” and oldies but goodies from the Brothers Grimm, Poe, and more.
But this year, Phantasmagoria has something else to offer.
What Is The Royal Palm Ghost Train?
This fall, Phantasmagoria is also bringing its ghostly storytelling to a different platform: the first-ever Royal Palm Ghost Train. This will be an 80-minute train ride filed with multiple tales of ghostly hauntings, from Charles Dickens’ “The Signalman” to Poe, and even Florida’s legendary tales of mysterious “Ghost Trains.” It ends with a final nod to the Ghost of the Royal Palm Railway that still haunts the rails late at night.
The train departs from the Tavares Union Station every Sunday at 3:45 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. now through Nov. 3. For tickets and more information, visit Ghost Train.
Intrigued by all these spooky happenings, Freeline Media reached out to the playwright to learn more about what’s in store for the Phantasmagoria team this fall.
What Else is New At Phantasmagoria?
Freeline Media: When you first sat down and began writing the original Phantasmagoria a decade ago, did you ever expect to see this production still running — and with new versions each year (!!) — 10 years later?
John DiDonna: Dear Zeus, we had no idea and were both surprised and elated when it kept moving forward. I remember sitting down in Atlanta, Georgia to write the work called “Phantasmagoria” that was going to be the first and only one. We had not done original works for a few years with our theater ensemble so we wanted to try a new experience. When it came back the next year we were happy. Then it just kept coming back and growing! It really seems odd to look back and realize that it all happened, but it definitely is a wonderful feeling to see the stories still going strong and in fact the troupe expanding into so many new areas. We love exploring new tales of the “whimsically macabre.”
FM: The title of the 10th-anniversary production, “Phantasmagoria X: Reckoning,” sounds quite intriguing. Can you give us a hint of dark things to come?
JD: Of course! A Cannibalistic tale such as the legend of Sawney Beane (maybe a true story or at least based on true stories), Fairy tales that are horrific and yet sometimes beautiful, a great work of Vampire literature that few know from Germany called “Wake Not The Dead,” the French psychological horror of “The Horla” and much, much more – along with some Phantastical dance and other tricks or treats.
FM: Last year, the Phantasmagoria troupe expanded to include one of the most legendary ghost stories of them all, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. How did that go and will you be repeating that around the Christmas holidays this year?
JD: Oh yes – we are performing our darker version of Christmas Carol on tour again and have added a venue too, in Mount Dora, and we are doing a smaller tour called ‘Through A Christmas Darkly” playing multiple venues with a different cast. That one contains darker stories of Christmas, Ghost stories, and a few surprises. Two great ways to celebrate a holiday!
FM: Tell us more about Phantasmagoria’s collaboration with The Royal Palm Railway Experience on The Royal Palm Ghost Train” Sounds delightfully spooky.
JD: The Royal Palm is an amazing experience! Great way to spend an afternoon or evening – a train ride while ghost stories are woven around you in one of the cars. We are having a blast with it! In addition, we have our St. Louis troupe doing a Ghost Cruise down the Mississippi River weaving tales of literature, ghost ships, and Missouri folklore. Both have been great opportunities and quite enjoyable to stretch ourselves in new ways and make some great new collaborations. That, coupled with some collaborations that are upcoming with Opera Orlando, the Orlando Museum of Art, and our continuing shows with the Royal Palm and the Riverboats in St Louis, the Higgins House in Sanford and all our other collaborations will hopefully keep us delightfully busy!
FM: Based on your past productions, what’s scarier: a ghost in a haunted place, or what lurks inside a twisted human mind?
JD: Oh, the latter for sure. The monsters that lurk inside . . . but that is not to dismiss the terrors of a ghostly hand putting itself on your shoulder late at night in a dark, candlelit hallway . . . right before the candle is snuffed out . . .
Where Can I See Phantasmagoria?
Phantasmagoria X: Reckoning has elements of horror in the production and is recommended for children 8 and up.
The show will be performed at the following cities, theaters, and dates:
* ORLANDO at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center – Oct. 18, 19, 20, 21
* DELAND: Athens Theatre – Oct. 25
* TAMPA: Tampa Theater – Oct. 26
* EUSTIS: The Historical State Theater – Halloween Night
* SANFORD: Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center – Nov. 1
* OCALA: The Reilly Performing Arts Center – Nov. 2
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book “Of Cats And Wolves.” Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.