Kate Sparacio has loved every second that she has spent in forging a two-year existence as a Philadelphia resident. While any time of year can compel her curiosity, she finds September especially scintillating thanks to the FringeArts Festival. Eager to help the entity’s 20th edition to thrive, the 23-year-old will unleash her Phenomenal Animals peers as the director of “Tales of the Grotesque and Mysterious: The Works of Edgar Allan Poe,” an imaginative telling of some of the scribe’s most notable offerings.
“It’s an immense testament to the creativity in Philadelphia,” the Pennsport resident said of Fringe, which is overseeing 17 South Philly-situated productions, including her group’s at the Boy Scout Room at Brian Sanders’ JUNK, 2040 Christian St. “We’re excited to have this chance to explore what Poe means to our collective awareness of our surroundings and the depths of our minds, too.”
Sparacio and her contemporaries, including fellow South Philly denizens Hannah Hammel and Emily Dale White, comprise an ensemble that revels in devising “interactive classical, historical, mythological, and fantastical performance experiences that blur the line between fiction and reality.” As that difficult distinction stands as the hallmark of Poe’s output, she sought to engross herself in learning more about the revered writer and will gladly oversee the execution of eight full stories and selections from his poetic endeavors.
“They’re not all going to be headliners either,” Sparacio said, giving a nod to “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether,” which she added might be her current favorite. “No matter, though, we are deeply invested in pulling off a reverent look at such a talented analyzer of human behavior.”
The Phenomenal Animals begin their seven-show run tonight in South of South and will surely benefit from what Sparacio called “a healthy rehearsal process” that featured a great amount of unpacking of the tales, with “The Masque of the Red Death” and “The Pit and the Pendulum” among the more renowned elements of their interpretations. A perfect example of their desire to connect with audiences, which they will fulfill in encouraging them to engage in the action, “Tales of the Grotesque and Mysterious” will live on beyond Sept. 24, as Sparacio revealed she plans to head to Philadelphia area schools, including, she hopes, some South Philly institutions, to stage the work. That aim stems from Phenomenal Animals’ roots in the New Jersey-based Odd Act Theatre Group, which stresses the instructional identity of theatrical pieces.
“Poe’s a biggie in our culture, for sure,” the overseer said. “It’s been fun to prepare this material for adult audiences, and I think getting into schools will be integral, too, because it’s very imaginative stories and poems that help us to feel more connected in society. Encouraging isolation is definitely not appealing to us.”
WHEN HANDLING THE question of how long theater has held sway in her life, the Garden State native proudly proclaimed “Always!” Growing up near Trenton, she nurtured her interest early in life, with high school intensifying her curiosity to the point where she began to seek opportunities beyond what her secondary education site offered.
“Initially, I enjoyed having a taste of it,” Sparacio said. “It was a way to connect with people. Those first bonds were with friends, and then everything took on greater meaning because I was able to put my enthusiasm out there for a whole new slew of people.”
Hoping to help herself to even more revelations and aspirations, she took on community theater task and secured an outstanding mentor in Robert Thompson, who has since become a driving force in establishing The Phenomenal Animals as a local dynamo. Time at Stockton College, now University, served as “a great incubation” period for her maturity and led her to deem theater the most proper fit for her pursuit of happiness because it never breeds boredom or banality.
“I think you’re never the same in many ways,” Sparacio, who has enjoyed success as an actress, a designer and a director, said. But her story expands well beyond the city limits and the Atlantic Ocean, for that matter, as she had opportunities to work in Greece, England and Cyprus. The resident of the 200 block of Mountain Street also served as a visiting artist at Harvard University and the University of Cambridge, and has loved performing in such Phenomenal Animals’ projects as “The Sea Monster” and “Snake-Bitten” in Philadelphia and “Alice in Wonderland” in her home state. Quite familiar with this metropolis, she knew even before her college graduation that it would be her future home, and the success of her ensemble’s pieces, including three since last year’s FringeArts Festival, and interactions with locals have fostered levity and longing as she plots her career’s growth.
“I made a smooth transition to life in Philadelphia, and I feel very fortunate to have done so,” Sparacio said. “I learned quickly that it is such a welcoming community that is always excited to welcome a new voice to the room. I definitely want to continue to be one of those voices.”
“Tales of the Grotesque and Mysterious” marks the start of The Phenomenal Animals’ second season, with Sparacio noting the group, also an advocate for workshop and murder mystery offerings, dreamt of the work for the last year. That the members are able to put their admiration into practice in South Philly resonates particularly with the director, who thoroughly enjoyed becoming more of a fan in addressing and possessing Poe’s body of work.
“It’s that time of year where people are going to start to talk about him considering that Halloween isn’t too far away,” Sparacio, whose bicycling enthusiasm and alignment with Women Bike PHL will find her organizing rides to Fringe shows, including this one, said. “I think that no matter what the calendar reads, though, he’s great for constant exploration. Theater, at least the kind that I love, is supposed to educate. When our ensemble takes the stage, I wanted everyone to be picking up some lessons. I know I’ll be.” SPR
Visit fringearts.com/event/tales-grotesque-mysterious-10/ or phenomenalanimals.com.
Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Tina Garceau