by Jaimz Dillman
Photo credit C.A. Bridges
The closing of theaters across the country due to the pandemic has created interesting challenges for troupes to develop new content and do it safely. The brilliant macabre minds of Orlando-based Phantasmagoria, a Victorian storytelling troupe, have come up with the next best thing to live performances. Originally sprung from an idea to create a sort of horror circus, what was supposed to be a one-year show is still going strong now 11 years later. Thanks to creator and director John DiDonna's outside-of-Pandora's box thinking they've just announced their Halloween season offering Phantasmagoria Xi- Plague Tales- for horror fans out there just dying to be entertained.
In March, when travel was suspended, DiDonna was stuck out of town setting up the St. Louis cast for performances. Wanting to gift fans with a distraction from the pandemic drama once he finally returned home, his character Byron (the de facto father of the troupe), along with Lady Cimorene (wife Dion DIDonna) created a small collection of stories and performances viewed live on the "book of face" from their home. Now with a few online shows like CyberCon, Orlando Fringe, and readying for the 28th edition of the Sunday evening offering, it seems they've got the virtual thing down.
But as time got closer to fall, which usually brings a large stage show tour for Phantasmagoria, it was starting to look like live performances weren't in the tarot cards this year. So, with help from past collaborator Orange TV, plans were set in motion to create an all-new experience with a virtual tour. Very mindful of all COVID precautions in place, the masked and gloved cast rehearsed in small groups socially-distanced in a large dance studio to bring a collection of 5 stories and other thrilling offerings to life.
The shape of the show is created by many efforts of the various minds that gather to tell the stories selected. Growing from the talents acquired, With more projections and puppetry added in the second year and stage combat, aerial, belly dancing, fire, and danger acts to follow there is a full array of techniques that round out this skillful group.
With a mind to help as many as possible DiDonna knows that theaters and charities are hurting as much as the actors. The various locations listed for performances will benefit from the sale of the link to view the show. So if you're in Orlando, Tampa, Deland, Eustis, Ocala, Sanford, Ft. Meyers, Coral Springs, Catskills NY and surrounding areas, Baltimore, or Atlanta and purchase the show to watch in the comfort of your home, a portion of those sales will also help out theaters and charities in those areas. Of course, any link can be viewed worldwide as well. There are plans for some locations to play the show for audiences to see in the theaters and the added bonus of an in-person appearance by a small number of the troupe on Halloween night at Athens Theater in Deland. All specific information can be found on the group's facebook events pages and website phantasmagoriaorlando.com.
Looking toward the end of the year reprising their dark version of A Christmas Carol live or filmed is yet to be determined. Extensions of the troupe in Atlanta, St. Louis, and a train show in Tavares are all on hold at the moment as well. However, a select cast will be filming "Through a Christmas Darkly" so we can look forward to that making the holidays a little scary and merry by candlelight. Whatever the future holds for the reopening of performance spaces and ongoing internet offerings one thing is for sure- for Phantasmagoria, time is always.