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Pulling their own weight

Fast-paced and funny murder mystery keeps SMSU actors and stage crew on their toes

October 20, 2012
By Cindy Votruba , Marshall Independent

MARSHALL - Not only do the actors in the first production of the theater season at Southwest Minnesota State University have to get physically prepared for the show, they had to learn about the time period they will have to portray.

Because the show has several references to people and places from the 1940s, director Nadine Purvis Schmidt had the actors and crew bone up on them.

"I gave each of them a research list of the terms, so they know what they mean and how to pronounce them," she said.

Article Photos

Photo by Cindy Votruba
Jacob Gilmore, Ryan Risa, Tony Falk and Briana Helmer rehearse a scene from the upcoming Southwest Minnesota State University production of “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.”

The Southwest Minnesota State University theater department is presenting "The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940" at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 25-27, and Nov. 2-3 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4, at the SMSU Fine Arts Theatre.

The actors and crew members said the show is very involved, both acting and props-wise.

"We have a total of 19 weapons in the show," said Emma Davis, the props manager. "That was a very big challenge for us."

And then there's the hundreds of books for set and the period pieces as well, Davis said.

"It's very intricate," she said. Davis said she did a lot of research on the 1940s in her search for props.

SMSU freshmen Briana Helmer and Peter Buffie are making their debut on the SMSU stage. Although they've been in productions in high school, they appreciate the guidance they've received from SMSU's veteran actors.

"It's fun working with the upperclassmen," Helmer said.

"It's useful to pick people's brains," Buffie said. Buffie said the upperclassmen have their own techniques in theater, which includes how they approach a character. "It's good for us."

"The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940" is a fast-paced show, Helmer and Buffie said.

"You have to be able to jump right after somebody else's line," Helmer said.

"It's a show where you have to pull your own weight," Buffie said. He added that the "techies" are just as much of the cast as the actors are.

"It's as much of a show backstage as it is onstage," Davis added.

"The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940" takes the elements of a murder mystery and mixes it with the humor of a farce. It's about a group of people in show business who come to the mansion of a wealthy investor to pitch a show. But what they don't know it's all been a ruse to ferret out "The Slasher," who has killed three chorus girls. Jacob Gilmore, one of the SMSU actors, said the show has a lot of humor to it.

"And the plot is intriguing as heck," he said.

Besides having to learn dialects, which included German, Irish and New York, the students also got some tips on fight choreography from guest artist Michael H. Speck of Minneapolis. The show is a group effort, Helmer and Buffie said.

"It's very ensemble-based that forces you to work together, it's a very physical show," Buffie said. "It's a very physically demanding show for a lot of the actors."

"The nice part is where there are bigger roles, there is no star," Helmer said.

Helmer said the plot of the play will keep everyone guessing until the very end.

"It's definitely a show were you can't tell 'whodunit,'" Helmer said. "It's very 'Clue-esque.'"



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