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PoeFest brings spooky performances to downtown hotel

That spooky feeling Halloween brings can last all month long with Arizona Curriculum Theater’s performances of Edgar Allen Poe’s eerie poems and prose at the Hotel San Carlos in downtown Phoenix.

Beginning on Oct. 4 through Oct. 26, every Friday and Saturday Arizona Curriculum Theater, will have actors presenting Poe’s works in the Ghost Lounge at the Hotel San Carlos with their annual PoeFest event.

On Halloween day, ACT will hold recurring performance readings of Poe’s “The Raven,” throughout the night at The Rosson House Museum instead of the Hotel San Carlos. The Rosson House museum is a Victorian-style mansion on Seventh Street and Monroe, and is the perfect place to listen to Poe’s classic frightening poem.

PoeFest is five years old this year, and James Porter, founder of ACT, is excited as ever for Halloween night as well.

“Poe's works enable readers to explore the darkest recesses of their psyche in the relative safety of classical literature," Porter said. "The themes Poe explores, from alcoholism to mental illness, to the death of a loved one, are universal. And, of course, what better time of year than October to visit the dark side?”

According to their website, ACT's mission is “to use the power of the arts to promote literacy, engage students, and make education more fun and accessible.”

“We teach fractions and ratios through music," Porter said. "We teach physics through dance. We teach history through re-enactments. We teach literacy through interactive storytelling.”

Porter iterated that “every cent” of the money earned from PoeFest is put towards the goal of their mission, part of which is being able to offer free curriculum-based performances for Title I schools.

Jim Coates, a member of ACT, as well a performer in this year’s PoeFest, explained that Poe is not the only author they focus on. When it is not ghost story season, ACT attends schools, libraries and other educational institutions to put on interactive shows about big names in literature and history.

“We perform in schools year-round, we have a dozen different authors we present, and we brainstorm new ones constantly,” Coates said.

A group of actors will perform stories by Poe such as “Annabel Lee” and “The Cask of Amontillado.” Coates has surprises in store for the audience members who plan on seeing his take on “Amontillado,” which he has been performing for the entire five years of PoeFest.

“Each year, James Porter specifically stimulates me to seek new discoveries to keep my performances fresh, visceral and in-the-moment,” Coates said.

Unfortunately, he revealed that he will not disclose the “fresh” aspects of his show.

It could be Porter’s artistic direction, in addition to the skill of the actors, that makes PoeFest so popular.

This year, we expect over 1,000 people to experience our stage adaptations of Poe's works,” Porter said.

He expects the event to continue to grow, seeing as they sell out nearly every year.

However, though Porter and his troupe are talented indeed, Poe’s stories are a big part of what keep people and the actors returning to the fall event.

“Although he wrote in a more classical style than modern readers are accustomed to, his works have really stood the test of time," Porter said. "They are as scary today as they were to the readers who first experienced them in the mid-19th century."

From a performer’s perspective, Coates enjoys Poe as a descriptive author as well.

As an actor, I prefer authors with such a superior command of communication," Coates said. "They put the black letters down on the page, and I just love to lift them back up off the page and to breathe life into them again and anew."

Although Halloween night is a scary thrill for the audience members, Porter admitted that “The Tell-Tale Heart” is his favorite performance. He especially admires this one.

“It is masterful story-telling. … Everything we perform, he wrote,” Porter said.

PoeFest begins on Friday, Oct. 4 and runs through Oct. 26, with the final performance on Halloween night. Ticket information and directions to the event are available on the PoeFest website.

Reach the reporter at or follow her on Twitter at @SenoritaSyd

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