Just in time for Halloween, Mill Mountain Theatre Conservatory (MMTC) will round out its 2016 performance programming with POE: a theatrical exploration of the mysterious and macabre, an original adaptation of poems and short stories by the renowned author Edgar Allan Poe. This 40-minute new work, adapted and directed by Mill Mountain Theatre’s (MMT) Alicia Varcoe, brings to the stage some of the author’s most beloved works including “The Raven,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Bells,” amongst others. The cast and crew features 10 middle and high school performers, designers, and technicians from the ranks of MMTC’s pre-professional training program. “These talented young actors are having a blast interpreting the mysterious (and even creepy) works of Edgar Allan Poe. Modern steampunk and goth elements in the production design will only make this adaptation more accessible to a contemporary audience,” said Varcoe. In keeping with the educational aims of MMTC, the material is intentionally challenging. “Not only are these students creating an artful performance for Roanoke audiences, but they are also learning how to interpret and perform verse, something that will surely help them approach more complex works in the future, such as Shakespeare's plays,” Varcoe stated. POE also stands as the next project in a series of performances MMTC has produced as part of an ongoing initiative to connect theatre to reading. Jay Briggs, Director of Education & Community Engagement, said, “At Mill Mountain Theatre we believe the experience of participating in or witnessing live performance is an excellent way of activating words on a page and bringing them to life. In that spirit, Alicia has done an incredible job of helping her young cast comprehend difficult texts to create a compelling and educational production experience.” Extending this educational impact beyond the cast and crew, POE presents another opportunity for MMTC to collaborate with Star City Reads, Roanoke’s All-America City Award-Winning Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. Through this partnership, MMTC will distribute free books to students who attend a performance. Previous collaborations in this series (Aesop’s Fables, Tall Tales, All the World’s a Stage, and Into the Woods, Jr.) have, thus far in 2016, led to the distribution of 665 free books to youth in Roanoke Valley. Moreover, surveys garnered from those productions have shown that 82% of children read the distributed books and 42% planned to visit libraries for more books. “Our goal is not only to provide an opportunity for young artists to learn through the process of performing great works, but also to serve as a gateway to great literature for audience members who leave our shows inspired to read,” said Briggs. POE also marks Mill Mountain Theatre’s first official production offering pay-what-you-can admission. “We are committed to the principle that our theatre and its educational initiatives should be a resource available to everyone in our community. We hope that by lowering the financial barrier to entry to our education productions, we can continue to cultivate the next generation of artists and audiences in Roanoke Valley,” said Producing Artistic Director, Ginger Poole.