Southern gothic storytelling is at the center of Dark Princess Theatre. (Photo: Alisha Cline, Cline Artisan Portraits)

Alter Egos is a column that highlights talented geeks in the Chattanooga area, tracing the origins of their favorite pop culture obsessions to their present-day hobbies.

For Hope Holloway, the written word is the wellspring that led to her current creative endeavors.

“As a very young, quiet child, I reveled in living in the world of literature,” the 42-year-old actress, director and teacher said. “Around age 10, I discovered the stage and became an incurable theater geek and shed my shyness succinctly.”

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Her tastes range from classics like “The Secret Garden” and “Little Women” to the gothic poetry of Edgar Allan Poe and the wit of Oscar Wilde, and she feels this distinct mix of influences has had a huge impact on Dark Princess Theatre, which includes an ongoing podcast and themed/costumed events.

At the center of Dark Princess Theatre are black widow Lady Gwendolyn (played by Holloway) and her murderous butler, Aleistaire (played by Marcus Ellsworth).

The name was inspired by the production’s first venue, the Princess Theatre in South Pittsburg.

“Back in early 2013, Duke Raulston called me up and hired me to do some acting [and] directing for a horror hosting idea he had,” Holloway said. “After that call from Duke, I created Lady Gwendolyn and we brought on Marcus. He created Aleistaire and became a main writer.”

Rounding out the production team is Alisha Cline, who acts as a sponsor and photographer, and Holloway’s husband, John, who provides technical direction, costumes, weapons and plot points.

As the team developed content, they decided to expand their brand to include podcasting, special convention performances and live events, such as the annual Gwendolyn’s Bleeding Hearts Ball.

“We are [a] comedy-horror [production] that leans toward goth, steampunk, literature-geek, fantasy and even sci-fi tendencies,” Holloway said. “I’d definitely say our strong point is our story and our characters. Our whole crew is amazingly creative.”

Finding a following via the theater of the mind—or podcasting
Like the radio shows of olden days, podcasting allows listeners to tune in and be enveloped in the stories when they need a bit of escape from the humdrum of daily life.

“These characters are so alive—well, undead, really—amongst us that we must share them with you, and podcasting is an excellent medium,” she said. “People get to know us through our stories.”

To date, the podcast has gained a passionate following and listenership, which Holloway is humbled by.

“We call our fans our Dark Fanatics,” she said. “It is the best feeling to sit in a restaurant and hear someone a few booths over talking about your show … We had no idea how far-reaching the podcast would be.”

One particular experience stands out in Holloway’s mind. In addition to Dark Princess Theatre, she also acts as a guide for Chattanooga Ghost Tours. On one tour, it turns out that an out-of-town guest was an avid podcast listener, including Holloway’s.

Holloway said:

She said she listened to podcasts quite a bit, and I told her I directed and acted in one. She asked which one, and I told her that I was sure she hadn’t heard of it. But [I told her] … it had a black widow, a butler, a curse—before I could say anything else, she started exclaiming, “You’re Lady Gwendolyn!” That was intense. I smiled so big.

The crew is hard at work on the second season of the podcast, which Holloway promises will be worth the wait.

Creating something fresh yet old-fashioned
Holloway loves how local conventions can offer a reprieve from reality and counts Con Nooga, Steampunk and Gothic Expo, and Shuddercon as some of her favorites.

She’s brought Dark Princess Theatre to Con Nooga for the past eight years, and over that span of time, she was also inspired to have an annual costume ball. Held in February around St. Valentine’s Day, the themed ball gives both geeks and nongeeks a chance to kick up their heels.

The theme for this year’s ball is “gold diggers’ revenge,” and it takes participants to the Wild West.

Now in its fifth year, Gwendolyn’s Bleeding Hearts Ball will transport guests to the Wild West in 2018.

“Pull out your best Western steampunk horror attire and get gussied up,” she said. “We will have contests for best costume, best Nerf gun mod and best stick horse.”

The event will have music, catering, live skits, vendors, prizes and more.

Holloway said the podcast and events work in tandem to provide the whole story of Dark Princess Theatre.

“The podcast helps us to broadcast our story,” she said. “That’s vital to what we are and what we do. It’s really, truly unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. It’ll make you laugh and put you on edge all at the same time. It’s both fresh and old-fashioned.”

She said the ball helps people really “see” the group, which has a very specific look and feel.

The team spends a year developing each ball’s theme, from the venue to décor to music, but Holloway said their efforts are worth it.

“Alisha and I have said it somewhat feels like we are planning a wedding a year,” she said. “We always end up with a magical evening of enjoyment and connection with our fans.”

Rachel Stewart grew up in the ’80s on a healthy diet of pop culture. In 2005, she discovered “Doctor Who” and never looked back. Since then, she co-founded the Tennessee Who Authority—a “Doctor Who” fan group—and has served as a panelist at fan conventions across the Southeast, including Con Nooga, Wholanta, Hurricane Who and ConGT. She also reviews “Doctor Who” novels and “Big Finish” audios at “The Oncoming Storm” podcast. Want to show off your alter ego? Email Rachel at [email protected].

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