It’s a brisk night at The Huntington Library, as I sit with a hot cup of cider pressed between my palms. Around me are the pleasant murmurs of my fellow audience members coupled with the elegant, historical dress of the performers. The Guild of St George’s Drama After Dark features a selection of classic Edgar Allen Poe and Edward Gorey tales, performed live every October under cover of darkness, faces of talented actors lit by torch and candlelight in the crisp evening. Poe’s poetry and short fiction truly come to life in this setting, but it’s the inclusion of Gorey, best known for his macabre Edwardian and Victorian illustrations that truly shows the versatility and talent of the Drama After Dark team.
Drama After Dark’s concept is in its name: dramatic retellings of some of the most beloved and deeper cuts of Poe and Gorey’s stories staged at The Huntington Library after sundown. Guests are able to pick and choose the performances they’d like to see, as multiple stagings run simultaneously at multiple sites, making expert use of the nighttime beauty of The Huntington’s architecture and botanical gardens.
2018 marked the 16th year of the show’s production, and we were lucky to speak with producer, director, and performer Tally Briggs about the origin and future of this charming, eerie event.
What can you tell us about the origin of Drama after Dark and how you got involved?
In June of 2003, I was working a private member event at The Huntington [Library] with the historical reenactment group The Guild of St George. It was at night, and after our performance, we held a Q&A session. While I’d worked professionally with the Guild Master, costumer Jeffrey Schoenberg (who is also the Tech Director/Costumer and long-time performer in Drama After Dark), I was new to the group, so I was off to the side speaking to our Huntington liaison.
Having never been there at night, I was stunned at how magnificent it was in the dark and how completely different it felt than during the day. I knew Poe was in their Collection, having purchased a card in elementary school of Annabel Lee written in Poe’s handwriting from their gift shop while on a school field trip.
I said to him, “You should do a nighttime Poe event for Halloween.” I then explained how most of Poe’s short stories are written in the first person, so they lend themselves to one-person performances… and could be done in costume, to candle/torch light, all over the grounds. “You could do Tell Tale Heart in one location, Black Cat in another, Raven in another… because I can’t be the only one who doesn’t like haunted houses and people bathed in jam yelling at me for no reason, and would prefer a different sort of Halloween event.”
His eyes got as big as saucers, and he said, “Send me a proposal.” Within 4 days we had a contract, and thus Drama After Dark was born. This was our 16th year. We’re on The Huntington’s calendar for the foreseeable future, which feels amazing.
How do you select the pieces to perform?
The night seems to flow best with each piece/collection running no longer than 23 minutes, max. So the audiences have some time to get to the next location. If you plan well, you can see seven of the between twelve and thirteen sets. Most of our pieces are done in their entirety, uncut, as long as they fall under 23 minutes. Some are longer, but can be edited to fit into 23 minutes and still make sense. Some pieces like The Premature Burial, are sadly, just too long to cut.
How do you find your performers?
The first year we did only Poe pieces, all with actors from The Guild. We added [Edward] Gorey the second year. As we’ve grown and added and changed various pieces, I’ve reached out to actors I’ve worked with performing (mostly Shakespeare), along with recommendations from actors I trust, and added to the company.
I’m lucky I have very loyal friends who are extremely talented. It’s a lot of work for only one night a year. Plus, since I use all original source material, not adaptations, we’re performing a piece of literature that’s meant to be read, not watched, so the memorization is much different. But as you get a piece into your brain and skin, we’ve collectively become a sort of storytelling Poe/Gorey wing of the end of Fahrenheit 451. “Hello, I’m The Tell Tale Heart.”
I’m also lucky that The Huntington loves us. We do a similar Shakespeare day event in the spring, with scenes staged all over the grounds, along with our St George encampment of Elizabethan nobles.
Where do you hope the future of Drama After Dark will lead you?
Of course, everyone working in the entertainment industry hopes to be able to have full time, survivable work someday. But I’m beyond thankful I get to do two amazing events for two amazing non-profit organizations a year, where I’ve the opportunity to wear multiple hats of directing, producing, performing, and being Artistic Director, and supported by the best cast & crew, along with our incredible fans and the magicians at The Huntington.
It would be amazing to franchise out to other cities, however, The Huntington itself is as much a part of our events as the pieces themselves. I’d also love to be able to do a television series of Poe’s stories that are actual stand-alone films where they’re true to the text, instead of the mashups of adding more than one tale into a story (or just using the title), because somehow the Father of the Macabre’s own works aren’t good enough to stand each, alone? Nonsense. Dear Santa… please have Netflix call me.
Drama After Dark is a broad, whirlwind of a production. It’s impossible to see every performance that’s on offer, which is part of its appeal; sixteen years running, and there’s always something new to experience. Whether you find yourself amongst spitting torches, cackling along with Gorey’s Ghastlycrumb Times, or shivering in a pitch-black room as an actor whirls around the walls, reciting The Pit and the Pendulum, there’s something for every aspect of the gothic horror lover in all of us.
That blustery night, I shiver as I clasp my cider closer to me, trying to seep off some of the warmth inside, but I’m not cold; it’s a heady mixture of excitement and, yes, fear that cools my veins. The kind of welcome, vintage terror that Drama After Dark provides is exactly why it’s already a mainstay for immersive and proscenium theatre, sixteen years running. A performance that’s capable of dazzling and frightening while fusing the traditional with modern theatrical techniques is an absolute must for any theatre and horror fan to experience.
For more information on future events at The Huntington Library, visit their website. For more on the Guild of St George and their historical theatrical performances, visit them here. You can find Drama After Dark on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. For more events in the Halloween Season and beyond, see our events calendar.