The mind of one of America’s famously dark writers will be brought to the stage through an original music and dance performance at the Queen Street Playhouse Oct. 5 and 6 during the Charleston Arts Festival.

Poe: A Play in the Dark transports audiences to the study of Edgar Allan Poe as he struggles to complete his iconic poem, “The Raven.” With a score composed by Andrew Walker, co-founder and director of Charleston Arts Festival, and choreography led by Jenny Broe of Dance Lab, the performance explores the writer’s creativity, madness, and inner turmoil.

Walker and Broe have worked together on various projects over the last five years, including Walker’s Jail Break revue, for which Broe was the director of dance. Poe: A Play in the Dark was not developed because of a longtime connection to or particular affinity for Poe’s work — but instead, by chance. Broe and fellow choreographers Sara Sumner, Starla Kurtz, and Stephanie Burg asked Walker to collaborate on a performance about Poe after they had come across some Poe masks, which Walker describes as “creepy … but also really kind of intriguing.” With that starting point, he began to brainstorm a concept and narrative.

“I went to the short stories, and I really enjoyed how dark this writer is. And I got to the poem ‘The Raven.’ And I had done a little history and background [research] about what was going on during his life at the time,” Walker says. “‘The Raven‘ spoke to me because it tells the story of Poe and this terrible process that he can’t get away from, this creative and dark side. It’s prevalent but masked beautifully.”

From there, the overarching focus of the performance evolved into “the story of Poe’s consciousness as he writes ‘The Raven,” Walker says.

Walker’s score for the show incorporates both original “eclectic instrumentation” as well as familiar pieces, including an overture by German composer Richard Wagner. “It’s very dynamic … with high points, low points, lots of texture,” says Walker. “There are acoustic instruments with weird atmospheric synthesizers. You hear birds chirping. It’s like a soundscape.”

Walker, Broe, and the choreographers went back and forth to make various tweaks and adjustments where needed to coordinate the music and dance movements. “I write the music and give it to the company, and they get a form and they’ll come back to me [with changes],” Walker says of the collaborative process. “We work together and piece the story together through music and a series of movement.”

Critics have long speculated that the character of Lenore, the young woman whose death the narrator is mourning in “The Raven,” was inspired by Poe’s wife Virginia Clemm, who died of tuberculosis at age 24. Poe: A Play in the Dark follows that interpretation, drawing parallels between Virginia and Lenore in the storyline and choreography.

“The movement is very bird-like and then very angelic to symbolize his long-lost love,” says Broe. “And then it pulls into the funky, quirky modern as well. And there’s some jazz and contemporary movement. We hit everything, basically, except hip-hop.”

Poe: A Play in the Dark features 12 company members from Dance Lab. Tim Brown is the production’s Poe, and Laura Bland plays Virginia and the Raven. Other dancers are dubbed the “dark angels” who are onstage as a foreshadowing of the appearance of the Raven.

In addition to the score and choreography, other dramatic components, such as lighting and projection design, are utilized to further establish mood. The lighting, in particular, can set the tone and “make things look ominous or hopeful,” Broe says. “The lighting is almost more important than the choreography, dare I say.”

“This production is in an intimate space, and we’re playing on that. It’s a theatrical piece,” Walker says. “So there will be projections and special effects and that kind of stuff. We throw everything we can at it.”

For Broe, the ability of Poe: A Play in the Dark to transport its audience to another realm is the highlight of the production.

“It takes you on a journey the second you sit down. The house goes black. I think it’s going to be like an escape. You can’t think of anything else,” Broe says. “It takes you on this wave. There are dramatic moments that make you feel and think. It’s breathtaking to watch.”

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