Phantasmagoria Orlando: A Mesmeric Revelation

Last night Phantasmagoria Orlando debuted its sixth annual show titled, “The Darkness Returns,” at Mandell Theater inside the Lowndes Shakespeare Center or as the cool kids know them, Orlando Shakes, in Winter Park. It was the first in a total of thirteen performances throughout October. The last being on, when else? Halloween!

Earlier this week we were invited to a rehearsal, where we got a sneak peek of what’s to come and what goes into each show, from sound and multimedia to stage combat and… monster blocking? Our lips are sealed, as are those of the cast, crew and last night’s audience. However…

We had the grand opportunity to chat with a few of the key players; Phantasmagoria Orlando Creator (and Central Florida Top 5 theatre contributor!) John DiDonna and co-director/producers Seth Kubersky and Kevin Becker. Check out our interview #throughglass below! (Special thanks to the Phantasmagoria lighting crew for the assist!)

What is Phantasmagoria?

DiDonna explains, “(Phantasmagoria) is a Victorian, horror circus that has Steampunk overtones – that’s for sure. It is a storytelling troupe that has traveled through the ages for 2,000 plus years, telling stories and bringing them to life. So as we tell them, they are actually given life and become real.

Don’t let the words ‘horror circus‘ scare you too much, scaredy cats. The stories performed may be macabre in nature and at times, intense in presentation for some, but think of it in more of a Hitchcockian way, only a bit more visual, louder and older. MUCH older. With fire and aerial acrobatics. (YES!)

We like to think of it as a Halloween treat for people who aren’t into the guts and the gore of the haunted houses but still want something that’s spooky in a kind of classical way,” says Kubersky, who knows a thing or two about the other side of this spectrum.

Phantasmagoria 2

Photo Credit: Barry Kirsch (Murder City Media)

It’s a family affair… kind of.

The cast and crew of Phantasmagoria are a whimsical family on and offstage. Their family of course being extraordinarily talented and fantastically entertaining, but not theirs may not necessarily be a family show. “There’s nothing explicit but it’s probably PG-13 in terms of the tone,” says Kubersky.

Don’t let this deter you at all, horror and steampunk fans! DiDonna fleshes it out a little more, “There are certainly frights in the show. It wouldn’t be a horror show if there weren’t. They’re more Edgar Allen Poe type frights or H.P. Lovecraft type frights, rather than being Jason or Freddy. Which are great, those are amazing frightening things for a different kind of audience.

A sneak peek at @PhantasOrlando’s #TheDarknessReturns @OrlandoShakes!

A video posted by Central Florida Top 5 (@centralfltop5) on

While Phantasmagoria was created and regularly perform right here in Central Florida, they also tour across the country with, as Kevin Becker explained, a few expansion plans on the front burner. A theatrical start-up, if you will.

KB: “Just this summer we went up to Atlanta and had a weeklong workshop with children, ages 10-18 and basically (showed them how) to do Phantasmagoria. Starting with stories that are classic literature; Edgar Allen Poe was one of the stories. We got to run them through how we do what we do and then kids got to do our pre-show. We had a little mini-show before we actually went on. We’re actually building on that tour because we sold out three or four out of five performances–

JD: “Which was incredible! In a town where nobody knows us, so it was amazing!”

KB: “We’re expanding (Phantasmagoria) to Baltimore in the Spring, in March, as well as looking to take it to New York City.

SK: “In addition to touring outside of the state, we also tour around the Florida area. If you don’t come to Shakes, you can see us – we were at the (Orange County) Library just recently, Renningers…”

JD: “Special events, Creative City Project upcoming, Zombie Ball… We’re supposed to be a one month a year show and we’re working twelve months of the year at this point!”

SK: “If you have a bar mitzvah or a bris…”

JD: “We have an AMAZING bris horror story!”

I’m fairly sure if this layered labour of love wasn’t truly that, the Phantasmagoria team would still be a one-month-out-of-the-year troupe.

JD: “It’s weird. In the second year, we did our first special event, someone wanted us to do something and we were like, ‘Oh that’s interesting, let’s try that,’ and we haven’t stopped since. We’ll hang up our boots December 6th, that’s our last event for this year, and then we start January 4th with an event next year! So we get Christmas off… maybe.

For this troupe, that’s a LOT of free time. Anyone in need of a Krampus show?

Phantasmagoria's "Alice" graces the cover of this month's OCLS Books & Beyond!

Phantasmagoria’s “Alice” graces the cover of this month’s OCLS Books & Beyond!

Get thee to a show!

The producers of Phantasmagoria have extended special ticket pricing for you, Central Florida Top 5 readers! Use promo code CentFlTop5 to order tickets online for a performance between now and 5pm on October 12 via and receive an EXCLUSIVE Central Florida Top 5 20% DISCOUNT, so act fast!

Fine print: This code is good for any show(s) between October 9th and 31st, Friday, Saturday, Sunday nights and Monday the 19th and 26th, all at 8:00pm start (Box office opens at 7:15 – be there no later than 7:45). Tickets are limited to 4 per order, per event, and service fees will be applied. A limit to 15 CFLT5 discounts per performance night during run. (If tickets are sold out for one show, try another night)
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Photo Credit: Murder City Media (Barry Kirsch)

ProTip: VIP Tickets include a glass of wine, a treat, a souvenir, a download on Halloween night and a special VIP show with fire and even more surprises for only $10 more!

What may one expect from this year’s show?

You’ll get no spoilers here! Director John DiDonna will only give a few clues. The rest you’ll have to see for yourself…

We have monsters. Lots of monsters. Tales going back to 700 A.D., all the way to the 1800s. Definitely an Edgar Allen Poe, we’re committed to doing a Poe every year that we do the show. You can certainly expect our brand of stage combat. You can expect large scale puppets. Dances! We have about five, six amazing dances in this one. Multimedia… and a few surprises. We’re not going to let the audience know what we’re doing this year. Normally it’s in the program – not this year, folks! We’re going to let you follow the journey with the characters this time.”

More Show information:

Facebook Event Page:

Official Website

Twitter | Instagram

Ticketing info &

**20% off Promo code CentFlTop5 good until 5pm on 10/12!**

Performance Dates:
Oct 9 (Fri), Oct 10 (Sat), Oct 11 (Sun)
Oct 16 (Fri), Oct 17 (Sat), Oct 18 (Sun) Oct 19 (Mon)
Oct 23 (Fri), Oct 24 (Sat), Oct 25 (Sun), Oct 26 (Mon)
Oct 30 (Fri), Oct 31 (Sat) (All Performances begin at 8pm, with VIP show immediately following main stage show)

AGE RESTRICTIONS: Due to nature of classic and literary horror such as Poe, the show is not recommended for children under 8. Infants or toddlers will not be allowed in.