By: Jaimz Dillman
Something wicked this way comes… and all the devilish delights that await fans of fright. MegaCon is finally here! Touted as the southeast's biggest comic book, anime, sci-fi/ fantasy, & pop culture event, attendees will be able to descend on the Orlando Convention Center August 12-15, after it being postponed several times due to the pandemic. Spectators and Actors alike anxiously await a return to live performances.
This weekend will see the return of Victorian story-telling troupe, Phantasmagoria, debuting their newest show, Dark Carnival. Director and writer John DiDonna said, "This is our first time back with the full cast in a live endeavor. The start of our fall season." Getting all things show-ready has been a feat in and of itself. "Every year we re-flame-proof items to ensure safety. Our set has new carousel horses, trunks, platforms, draping. It's a lot,” he added.
This mini-incarnation of Dark Carnival will have various lineups for the show each time, as acts are decided by a spin of the carnival wheel. An assortment of performers will be in each day, and have been asked to have multiple numbers prepared should they be called forward. "It gives the audience a chance to see something fun and different each day. A taste of Phantasmagoria,” said DiDonna. These 30-minute shows are a separate, ticketed event, $10 admission, and are occurring Friday through Sunday, multiple times per day, in room w203.
Phantasmagoria will have a presence all throughout the con. "We'll have panels on puppetry, stage combat, the weaponry of Phantas, belly dancing, and storytelling panels with authors Owl Goingback and Mark Muncy sharing their ghost tales and hauntings of Florida,” DiDonna said. These are free to anyone with a MegaCon ticket, and will be also in room w203. "It's going to be nice to be back. I'm very excited to just do something. There's a lot of rust that needs to be kicked off, and MegaCon is a great place to do that. It'll be great being around each other again,” said fight director and company manager, Bill Warriner.
A variety of cast members will also be available for photo opportunities and information at their booth in the vendor room, although performances in the tight space will be kept at a minimum. DiDonna said, "We'll have some performances, maybe one to two, here and there. We try to keep the aisle clear." The group is known to clog the flow of traffic with eye-catching dancers and music that usually gathers a small crowd on the busy convention floor. "The reason I always perform on a stack of trunks,” explained ballerina Dion Leonhard-DiDonna. Select merchandise will also be available for purchase.
Though COVID is very much still on everyone's minds, DiDonna said, "I'm very proud of MegaCon making masks mandatory." The cast will be masked the entire time, until they have to perform. And even then, they'll be distanced from the audience. "The idea is not to shut yourself off. The vaccination was the game changer. Now we just figure out how to do everything safely."
And that will be key to keeping everyone happy and healthy through their schedule for the rest of the year. Right after MegaCon, rehearsals start for not only the main stage show - a long-form version of Dark Carnival, including five stories, plus poetry, dancing, and danger acts for the first time - but also an extension of the Orlando troupe, appearing on a haunted train ride in Georgia. Add a weekend at the Fantasm convention and getting the all-female cast of the St. Louis ghost cruise up and running, and it's full steam ahead through spooky season.
"We open the main show at the Dr, Phillips center, then do a mini-tour to the Athens in Deland, and then to Tampa to close out,” said DiDonna. "The Christmas show goes into rehearsal as soon as the main stage opens." And that would be A Christmas Carol, which has become a staple for the holiday theater season. The ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future will be found visiting familiar sites in Deland and Sanford, with more locations to be announced.
"We're working within the safest ways to do the shows right now, playing it all by ear. As long as we're in control of the environment, we're happy,” DiDonna said.
Future projects include more online shows like those started during lockdown. Sunday night live appearances on the Phantasmagoria facebook page have been a staple for more than a year, and will continue, along with a podcast to showcase stories and original horror. Committees meet pooling ideas to see where they can go, and planning includes a literary journal and VR interactive encounters, possibly debuting in 2022.
"Because of COVID, we're not having open auditions anytime soon, but may invite one or two new members to join, maybe have video casting in the spring,” said DiDonna. With a troupe currently at over 30 members, and projects continually being added, it looks like there's no end in sight for the Phantas Phamily, thank the gods.
For more information about Phantasmagoria's appearances, tickets, upcoming shows, and more, please visit: phantasmagoriaorlando.com.
For scheduling and tickets to MegaCon, please visit: fanexpohq.com/megaconorlando/.