Local theater icon earns Artist of the Year honors in Seminole County.
John DiDonna, a fixture in Central Florida’s theatrical scene for years, was recently named Seminole County’s 2018 Artist of the Year.
The longtime Sanford resident is an actor, director, playwright, producer, and professor. He is the founder of the critically acclaimed Victorian performance troupe, Phantasmagoria. And, John is the program chair and producing artistic director of theater at Valencia College, where he is also a professor of theater.
The Seminole Cultural Arts Council (SCAC) and Seminole’s Board of County Commissioners presented John with the award in late June. John knew he’d been nominated but wasn’t expecting to win.
“When you go to an audition, you’re supposed to forget about it [afterward]. So, I had forgotten about the nomination,” John says with a laugh. “It really was a surprise.”
John has won his fair share of awards in acting, directing, and playwriting, but those honors aren’t something he talks much about or lists on his résumé. Being named Seminole County’s Artist of the Year, however, is another matter.
“I’m weird about awards,” says John. “I don’t like getting them.But this one was special because it’s my home. I think that’s what made this one different. It was really neat.”
Every year, the SCAC and the county commissioners bestow the award on an individual who is a performer, visual artist, historian, or author. Recipients must live in Seminole County and must have contributed their time and talent for the enrichment of the county.
Bonnie Sprung, the SCAC board member who nominated John, has known him for years.
“He does a lot for the community,” Bonnie says. “He’s a wonderful and talented performer and director. John is a very down-to-earth guy, and he’s glad to help out in any way he can.”
John earned a bachelor’s degree in theater from Syracuse University in New York and a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. His theatrical career has spanned more than 35 years, and he has racked up hundreds of acting, directing, writing, production, and teaching credits.
As an actor, John has played many memorable characters, from Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Show to Sherlock Holmes in the musical My Dear Watson. John is especially proud of two social justice docudramas that he wrote and directed – Division, The Trayvon/Jordan Story, about the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis shootings; and Transition, about the transgender community.
But Phantasmagoria, which John founded in 2010, is his life’s work. The theatrical troupe, which has more than 40 members, fuses haunting storytelling, music, dance, aerial arts, stage combat, and large-scale puppetry into its mainstage shows. The group’s beautifully mesmerizing performances range from the whimsical to the macabre.
Phantasmagoria frequently performs at events and venues in Seminole County, including the Lake Mary Museum, the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center (WDPAC) in Sanford, and the Higgins House, a Victorian bed and breakfast in Sanford.
The troupe’s upcoming shows include its Halloween production, Phantasmagoria IX: Homecoming, and its version of the holiday classic A Christmas Carol, A Ghost Story of Christmas. Both shows will be performed at the WDPAC – Homecoming on October 26 and A Christmas Carol on December 22.
Debra Beardsley, the WDPAC’s managing director, thoroughly enjoys working with John.
“He is an incredible advocate of other artists, always supporting other groups and creators and recognizing that we are a community of artists and not competitors,” Debra says. “His imagination has paved the way for theatrical performance in Seminole County, opening the minds of many to something new, unique, and completely unexpected. John is a wonderful asset to our community.”
To learn more about the SCAC, visit SeminoleCulturalArts.org.
For details about Phantasmagoria’s shows, visit PhantasmagoriaOrlando.com.
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