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Bookstore1Sarasota creates frightful auditory experience for Halloween

For the month of October, the downtown store will offer a radio-style dramatization of Bram Stoker’s "Dracula."

Tom Aposporos as Abraham Van Helsing
Tom Aposporos as Abraham Van Helsing
Courtesy photo
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Once the lights go out, The Gothic Library's audience is encouraged to simply close their eyes and become immersed in the classic tales of horror playing out before them in the loft at Bookstore1Sarasota.

"Two speakers, two mics, and a bevy of really talented actors make it work," said Ren Pearson, the artistic director of the series.

This month, the audience will be able to stay immersed in one story for even longer; while previous events have featured multiple segments, the upcoming The Gothic Library presents “Dracula,” held from Oct. 12-14, will be the first to focus on a single story.

It’s a special edition for the Halloween season, explained Pearson.

“It’s our spooky show in a spooky season.”

Pearson, a bookseller at the store, was responsible for bringing the program forward.

After he proposed his idea for sharing his love of old radio theater and Gothic literature to the store’s director of programming, Bryn Durgin, he was given the chance to realize his vision.

For each performance, Pearson brings together a cast of professional actors, as well as a series of sound effects assembled by Pearson and his brother Vincent Pearson. Drawn from a library of prerecorded sounds as well as sounds he has recorded, the sound cues total 119 for the upcoming show.

Amanda Heisey as Mina Murray
Courtesy photo

During the latest performance at the bookstore in August, which included "Lot No. 249" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and "The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, attendees said they were indeed taken back to the days when radio programming loomed larger in the entertainment landscape.

“I loved it. I've been a fan of radio theater since I was a young kid,” said Michael Bille, an attendee. You close your eyes and you can't beat the immersion.”

“Being able to present a literary work in a unique audio form is exciting, and something that isn’t happening in this community elsewhere,” said Durgin. “It’s like if you were to have someone read you a bedtime story, but spooky, and with your friends there.”

For actors involved in the production, the experience is different as well.

Actor Tom Horton said performing in live radio theater is very unlike performing in a conventional production, with a different result for the audience.

“You’re almost exclusively focusing on voice,” he said. “In a conventional stage production, you are worrying about your body and your staging and things like that … You can give (the voice) a little bit more emphasis, instead of spreading your attention outwards.”

“Most acting is done on stage or in films, but this is a bit more of an immersive experience,” said Vincent Pearson, who also acts in the productions. “I think it harkens back a lot to old school radio shows that a lot of people enjoy; it's a different experience.”

The Gothic Library wasn’t Pearson’s first round with radio theater.

When Theatre Odyssey began holding its performances via radio during COVID-19, he also served as technical director for that program. In fact, he was able to bring along many of his acquaintances from Theatre Odyssey to perform in The Gothic Library.

For Pearson, it wasn’t a given that he would select Bram Stoker’s "Dracula" as the performance for the month of Halloween, yet eventually he decided that it “just made sense.”

“It was funny, because the night I decided I was going to do it, I saw bats flying overhead all night,” he said. “So I figured that must be a sign that 'Dracula' is the right choice.”

This month’s show brings a few notable changes. This time, audiences will find some changes to the narrative itself. Pearson said the decision to cast a woman, Aden Russell, as Dracula resulted in a few tweaks to the story.

“While we are sticking close to Stoker's plots, we're also adding our own twists and turns and layers to the character that we hope will ring with people and add to that mythology.”

Since the last performance in August, Pearson has had the chance to adjust the lighting setup; this time, the lights in the loft will be turned off entirely, leaving just two stage lights for the actors.

There’s also a bonus opportunity, as those who arrive half an hour early will have a chance to view a vampire hunting kit featuring weapons and objects from the story.

“I hope people come and enjoy themselves, and I hope people are ready for a couple of the twists and surprises we give them for those that are familiar with the book, and are open to getting a little spooked,” Pearson said.



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

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