MANATEE — A gong echoed loudly through the auditorium of Bayshore High School.
The only light in the dark room came from a spotlight on a man at center stage. He held a mallet and was dressed in clothes from more than a century ago.
“It’s exactly how I pictured it in my mind,” whispered senior Chloe McGuire just after watching a scene from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of Red Death.
Then there was The Raven and The Black Cat.
They are just a few of Poe’s monologues Powel Crosley Theatre thespians Tom Laitinen and Sara Sincell performed Tuesday in front of more than 200 students.
Dressed in 19th century attire, Poe, played by Laitinen, joined detective novelist Anna Katharine Green on the stage for a 60-minute program at the school on 34th Street West. Through month’s end, they’ll travel to four other Manatee County high schools to perform the Edgar Allan Poe Tour.
The Manatee Education Foundation, through grants, paid $800 for each theater visit. Bright House also sponsored the tour, said Tricia McKay May, MEF development coordinator.
“With the cuts and not being able to do field trips, we wanted to bring the theater to campus,” said Foundation Director Mary Glass.
Students applauded following each monologue, separated by interludes of whimsical discussion between Poe and Green.
“It is the monster within the narrator that is the true boogy man,” Green told Poe during one of their chats.
McGuire, 18, said she stayed up late on Monday night reading up on the history of Poe.
“My teacher tipped me off they were coming,” she said then smiled. “The show was enjoyable.”
Senior Breann Richardson agreed.
“I imagined it the same way ... it was definitely dark,” Richardson, 17, said.
Lori Ladd, an English and speech teacher at Bayshore, said the show brings Poe’s words to life.
“So for parts they might not verbally understand, they can understand it through the actual performance,” Ladd said.
Following the show Laitinen explained to the crowd that he knows that for some it can be hard to follow classic literature.
“The way we speak now is different from then,” he told the students.
So he said he wrote the interludes in a way that introduced some of Poe’s work to make the classic literature more understandable.
“The craft is the use of words, using imagination to create the life of these horrible stories,” added Sincell, who stood next to him.
Laitinen also gave a bit of a history lesson on Poe, explaining that his father abandoned him at a young age, and that the only three women of importance in his life, including his mother, died of tuberculosis.
“He was trying to pierce the veil of understanding life and death,” Laitinen said.
His horrific stories are some of the first of psychological horror, he said.
“Mr. Poe is one of the first individuals to take people on a mental roller coaster,” Laitinen said.
He also told the audience Poe is often considered to be the inventor of the modern detective story,
“Even prior to Sherlock Holmes,” he said.
For those in the audience who had not read Poe, he encouraged them to do so.
“Hopefully I make them more approachable to you,” he said.