Edgar Allan Poe Tribute Blends Multiple Art Forms

Nov 18, 2016

The cast of actors for Tempest Productions' "Poe: Deep Into That Darkness."
Credit (photo: courtesy of Tempest Producitons)

Edgar Allen Poe is the inspiration for an original multi-media performance tonight at the State Theatre in State College.  WPSU’s Kristine Allen tells us how it all comes together.

Actors dressed in Gothic black; dancers wearing handmade masks; eerie images and haunting sounds will share the stage tonight when Tempest Productions presents “Poe: Deep Into That Darkness.” 

Cyntia Mazzant is co-founder of Tempest Productions, an innovative theatre group active in both New Jersey and Central Pennsylvania.  She took various texts by Edgar Allen Poe and wove them together into the script for an eclectic theatre piece.

“It came about primarily in my mind, at first,” she says, “thinking how I wanted to play with Poe. The idea was how could we mix different mediums and tell the stories in different ways.  So we use his poetry, and we have choral readings as well as straight poetry readings.”

Mazzant says the show explores several of Poe’s stories and poems.

“And since most of his stuff is narrative,” says Mazzant, “It’s first person narrative. As you read it, the reader sits there and takes on that onus of being that person, and gets to imagine all of those things.”

(SOUND BITE OF A MONOLOUGE)

Actor Will Hutton rehearses one monologue from Poe: Deep Into That Darkness.  He’ll share the stage tonight with other actors, dancers, and a film, created especially for this project by Mazzant and her team.

“So what we’ve tried to do is take mixed images,” Mazzant says.  “So you have multi-media pieces.  You’ve got screen shots.  You have words. You have visuals and graphics mixed with actual film footage.  And then you’ve got live voice on top of actual recorded voice – big mix of Poe’s words together.”

And she has gathered an interesting mix of images to go with Poe’s text.

“And not necessarily the easy ones,” says Mazzant. “Just like the creepy ones. We went down and filmed in Poe’s house – so took some footage there; went to the State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, which is really creepy.  So we’ve got some kind of scenes from there that come in.  And these are things that just play together.  So it’s this big mix.”

Along with the words and images in the show, there will be two troupes of dancers taking part: one from Van Dance in State College, and one from Penn State Altoona.

“I would call it dance theatre, but I think one could also call it modern dance,” says Caitlin Osborne, who teaches dance and theatre at Penn State Altoona. She directs the school’s Ivyside Dance Ensemble.

“I was interested in what it would be like to work with dancers wearing masks. I spent some time in Indonesia, and a lot of their dancing is masked. And I always found it very intriguing and mysterious.”

Osborne even studied mask making in Indonesia.  And in addition to creating the choreography for this performance, she constructed the masks herself.

“I laid the masks on their faces,” she says, “and then augmented them to sort of highlight some of the features: the cheekbones, and the chins, the foreheads – just to make them a little bit more grotesque, a little bit more detailed.”

And Osborne isn’t just a choreographer and mask-maker in this Poe production. 

“I am actually one of the actors, so I have a terrific monologue that I’ve been working on, called “The Imp of the Perverse.”

(SOUND BITE OF MONOLOGUE)

“Then I’m in a number of the company pieces where we are reading or reciting various poems, some of them over music and dancing from the other dance company who’ll be there,” says Osborne.

Director Cynthia Mazzant says hopes this hallucinogenic blend of art forms will help audiences look at Edgar Allen Poe in a different way.

“So I’m hoping that in this production, it’s our willingness to go, “Oh, I hadn’t thought about that,” she says. “And to look at how all of the arts together can tell a story – and how important they are when they work together.  

Spoken word, music, dance, mask-making and film all come together on stage for one night tonight as Tempest Productions presents Poe: Deep Into That Darkness.