An upcoming Gretna Theatre performance is stepping outside of the iconic Playhouse and taking a stroll around the grounds of the Pennsylvania Chautauqua.
For three nights, “Nevermore: The Fantastic Terrors of Edgar Allan Poe” will lead its audience on a tour of Mount Gretna, where they will experience the short stories and poetry of Poe in a unique setting.
“The audience wanders around and chooses their own adventure,” director Alanna Smith explains. “They decide the sort of evening they want.”
The immersive outdoor show runs Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 30-Oct. 2. Shows begin at 7 and 8:30 p.m. and last … well, end times will vary.
“The whole experience lasts about an hour and a half, if you do it strictly in time,” Smith says. “But people can take their time with it. They can stop somewhere and get something to eat. … The Jigger Shop will be open during the event, so people can grab an ice cream cone and wander around with it.
“People can even go and see repeats,” she adds. “If you want to stick around until 10, you can … no one is going to kick you out.”
Rather than buying a ticket and getting an assigned seat for the performance, Smith says show patrons will check in at the Playhouse and be given a map of the area with times and places of the performances marked. Actors will be giving their monologues at set times throughout the evening, delivering their lines from locations ranging from the Hall of Philosophy and the Historical Society headquarters to the porches of private homes that have been loaned to the theater group for the event.
“We’re creating a tone of ‘What’s going to happen next?’ … like you’re stumbling upon theater without meaning to,” Smith explains.
Each monologue lasts about 15 minutes and is derived from one or more of Poe’s works.
“We’re breathing new life into the pieces,” Smith says. “Some are gender-swapped, some stories are merged.”
The show includes well-known classics, such as “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” as well as more obscure tales like “The Black Cat” and “The Masque of the Red Death” … the latter of which, Smith says, “truly has some amazing parallels to the pandemic we’re going through right now.”
Although Smith, a newcomer to Gretna Theatre, is directing the production, she has experience acting in the show as well. A New York City resident and Philadelphia native, she originated the role of Evangeline, one of the storytellers, in the world premiere of “Nevermore” last year at Old Sturbridge Village, in southern Massachusetts. P.J. Griffith is the show’s writer and creator.
Costuming for the production is by Char Wilson and is a blend of 19th-century fashion and modern designs, Smith says, “with maybe a little steampunk as well.”
The show features six actors, all of whom are local to the area. They are Bryanna Pye as Psyche, Brayden Krikke as Tristan, Will Stephan Connell as William, Jenny Piersol as Evangeline, Grace Atherholt as Annabel and Ian Wallace as Roderick. Andrew Pauls, a Lancaster musician, will be performing covers and original music on the grounds throughout the production.
“I’m excited to bring this 19th-century poet and author into 2021 and let people connect with this beautiful language in a new way,” Smith says.
The performances are not too spread out — just enough, Smith says, that actors aren’t competing with each other — and each will have some shelter in case of rain. She recommends people bring an umbrella in case the weather turns foul, since there will be some walking out in the elements. The shows would only be cancelled if the weather turned severe.
Gretna Theatre spokesman Mike Hogue said Mount Gretna Craft Brewery is making three special beers for the event, which will be available for purchase during the performances.
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