ORLANDO — A theatrical production by Phantasmagoria, complete with ghosts, large-scale puppets, and eerie, haunting moments ….
Wait a minute. Halloween is over. Doesn’t Phantasmagoria perform their annual productions in October for the spooky Halloween season?
Of course. But now we’re heading into December, which means Phantasmagoria is back with their unique version of …. Christmas Spirit. (No pun intended.)
Phantasmagoria, the troop of circus-like actors, dancers, and storytellers who just celebrated 10 years of recreating ghostly tales of horror from classic literature, is back to celebrate the holiday season as the Victorian Troupe Phantasmagoria. They’re returning to the stage with their dark adaptation of Charles Dickens’ holiday favorite “A Christmas Carol, A Ghost Story of Christmas.” This production uses movement, dance, puppetry, projections, and storytelling to bring audiences one of the most famous ghost stories of all time.
But that’s not all. This December, it’s the premiere of Phantasmagoria’s even “Darker” Holiday celebration, “Through a Christmas Darkly.” John DiDonna, the director, playwright and actor who created the Phantasmagoria franchise, noted that this production is a bit different from their version of A Christmas Carol. Consider it a different kind of Victorian Christmas tale.
“Christmas may be considered a festive time of year, but through the many centuries of literature, folklore and legend it is also a time filled with quiet (or not so quiet) terrors lurking in the night,” DiDonna noted in the press release for this production. “In Victorian times, (they had) the idea of reading ‘Ghost Stories’ during the Christmas Season, and Phantasmagoria is ready to take on that tradition with their usual ‘Whimsically Macabre’ performances.”
In this production, Phantasmagoria’s storytellers will deliver darker tales for the holiday season, from the Austrian tales of the mythical Krampus to the haunting (and sometimes humorous) Ghost stories of the Victorian era. It is, as DiDonna noted, a way to “celebrate the season with a chill running up your spine!”
Note that while A Christmas Carol is suitable for the entire family, Through A Christmas Darkly has elements of horror and is recommended for children 8 and up.
Intrigued, Freeline Media reached out to DiDonna to learn more about this holiday production.
What To Expect From A Christmas Carol and Through a Christmas Darkly
Freeline Media: Tell us about the experience of launching your first Phantasmagoria version of A Christmas Carol, and the audience’s reaction to it.
John DiDonna: Phantasmagoria launched “A Christmas Carol, a Ghost Story of Christmas” in 2017 actually – this is our third year of production on it. We wanted to explore a new tale, and we wanted to explore the idea of an entire “Phantasmagoria” journey being one story, and this one is truly one of the most well known Ghost stories ever written. The audience’s reaction has been wonderful through the years – one of the reasons we keep returning to it! Each time we do it we revise moments, re-approach, and create brand new moments for that year’s production which keeps it fresh for both us and for the audience.
In addition this year, we are very excited to be premiering our “Through a Christmas Darkly” – our smaller Christmas tour. We had “other dark tales to tell” as they say, which is why we started the new production which opens this coming week. For that one, it was wonderful to research and find some great horror-filled Christmas tales and legends, and to grow and build upon them.
FM: People often think of the happy ending that Dickens gave A Christmas Carol, but they forget the dark horror of the ghosts in the beginning. Do you think this classic holiday story works as a mix of horror and sentimentality?
JD: I think it is always important to be reminded of both – the horror and the humanity, the fear and the hope. That is what makes a truly great ghost story. Things become sentimental when they touch our hearts, and I think Dickens did a great job with that. Both of our shows this year have that – even “Christmas Darkly,” our second tour, brings us to hope at the very end with a touching New Year’s toast from the 1500’s..
FM: Phantasmagoria has perfected a storytelling approach to their staged productions. Do you think A Christmas Carol and Through a Christmas Darkly lend themselves well to a story told to the audience?
JD: Absolutely! Dickens himself used to do it himself as a storytelling tale, and it lends itself to that in so many ways. “Christmas Carol” has proven itself adaptable to multiple mediums, and that is a testament to the work itself! For us, it gives us a chance for the troupe itself to be telling a story to help one man reach “reclamation” – and that is a fun dynamic to play with.
“Darkly” follows more of our usual format, a collection of ghostly tales of terror which follows the model of our Halloween shows more closely.
FM: What’s the difference in approach between your Halloween shows and one that’s timed for the Christmas season?
JD: I think that the way we approach storytelling can be applied in so many ways, but the tone certainly shifts to the more hopeful in this one as we journey through. While in our Halloween shows our storytellers, dancers and chorus revel in the horror, here we love watching the journey towards hope. Now, the production of “Through a Christmas Darkly” allows us to enjoy the terror a little more – tales of Victorian Ghosts, the Krampus, and one truly frightening psychological horror tale. All of these tales come from the tradition of sitting around on Christmas Eve telling tales of ghosts and the supernaturall.
FM: Do you anticipate helping to get audiences into the Christmas/holiday spirit with these productions?
JD: Well, we hope to mark the season for them, you bet, with both productions. These are great ways for humanity to come together, gather around the hearth – literally or figuratively – and huddle down into frightening stories. All the more to crawl deep down under the sheets and get ready for an amazing and glorious Christmas Morn!
Where Can You See These Phantasmagoria Shows?
“A Christmas Carol, a Ghost Story of Christmas” will be performed at the following dates and times:
- In Orlando at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center on Dec. 13, 14, and 16 (There will be no show on Dec. 15). For tickets, buy online.
- In Deland at the Athens Theater on Dec. 18. Buy online here.
- In Mount Dora at the Mount Dora Community Center on Dec. 19. Buy your tickets here.
- In Ocala at the Reilly Arts Center on Dec. 20, and tickets can be purchased here.
- In Sanford at the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center on Dec. 21, with tickets available here.
- In Eustis at the Historical State Theater on Dec. 27. Click here for tickets. Search for Phantasmagoria’s Christmas Carol, not the musical version.
“Through a Christmas Darkly” will be performed at the following days and locations:
- In Sandford/Lake Mary at Seminole State College on Dec. 7-8. Call 407-708-2506 for tickets.
- In Debary at the Gateway Center for the Arts on Dec. 13. Get tickets here.
- In Ocala at the Reilly Arts Center on Dec. 14. Purchase tickets here.
- In Orlando at Maxine’s on Shine on Dec. 19, which also comes with dinner. Log on here for tickets.
- In Oviedo at Penguin Point Productions on Dec. 20-21. Click here for tickets.
So get into the holiday spirit this season with the team from Phantasmagoria!
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book When I Woke Up, You Were All Dead. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.