Eighth annual Poefest celebrates spooky poet all month

Jim Coates performs in "The Cask of Amontillado" as part of Poefest, an annual monthlong celebration of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories and poems from Arizona Curriculum Theater Inc. at the Hotel San Carlos. (Derek Hall/DD)

The eighth annual Poefest celebration kicked off Friday night with performances of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Black Cat” and “The Cask of Amontillado.”

Poefest is an annual monthlong celebration of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and poems performed by a group of actors from Arizona Curriculum Theater Inc. (ACT) at the Hotel San Carlos.

ACT Inc. was born out of a group of friends from Southwest Shakespeare Company in a 2007 performance of ‘The Taming of the Shrew.’ They were dissatisfied with the lack of art outreach in schools.

“By depriving our students of the arts, we are not giving them a well-rounded education,” ACT founder James Porter said.

ACT Inc. has grown into a nonprofit organization with a network of artists who travel to schools, libraries and community centers to conduct performances and workshops.

Their mission is to use the power of live arts to promote literacy, engage students and make education more accessible.

“We thought, ‘What a better way to put the arts back (in schools) by connecting the arts and the curriculum,’” said Porter. “By teaching math through music, science through dance, history through reenactments.”

Porter is also the director and creator of Poefest. “I was disappointed in haunted houses,” said Porter. “I wanted something with a narrative. Something that scared me.”

And with that, Poefest was born.

“Eight years ago, we started in a much smaller place that only sat about 45 people,” said Jim Coates, actor and co-founder of Poefest. “Sole Invictus was the name of the little art studio we shared.”

Poefest now has a following of Poe groupies and takes place in the Ghost Lounge of the Hotel San Carlos.

The intimate setting and simple staging highlight the actors’ superb performances as inmates from Poe’s fictional Maison de Santé Asylum.

“It’s nice to be able to connect with people in such an intimate setting,” said Jason Barth, a performer in ‘The Black Cat.’ “To actually be able to look in the eyes and connect is very nice.”

Barth can be seen later this month in “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

“We’re mentally insane inmates justifying ourselves to a group of doctors, parole officers, maybe a friend who takes pity on us,” said Coates, a performer in “The Cask of Amontillado.”

Coates can be seen Halloween night performing ‘The Raven’ at the Rosson House.

“With Poe, it’s perfect for this time of year. It’s something spooky. Poe was a brilliant poet and wonderful wordsmith,” Barth said.

Barth expressed the importance of the arts in fostering creativity and confidence in children. “I think all kids start out as actors. It’s playing, it’s making believe,” he said.

All proceeds from ticket sales, T-shirt sales and raffle tickets will go to help put the arts back in schools.

The grand prize for the raffle is a 1909 version of Poe’s ‘The Raven.’ Second prize is an assortment of Poe goodies: Poe Candy, a Poe car freshener, a Poe Lunchbox, Poe Bandaids, Poe temporary tattoos and more.

General admission tickets can be purchased at the door for $26 and student tickets for $22 for the main stage productions.

Poefest will continue Friday and Saturday nights throughout October. For the full schedule of shows, check out the website.

Correction: October 12, 2016

Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story included the incorrect spelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s name. It has been updated with the correct spelling.

Contact the reporter at Keri.Orcutt@asu.edu.