A young cast leads Central’s fall play, ‘Murder by Membership Only’

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Keeley Curran (standing) plays Eve Hawkins and Olivia White portrays Hester Tandy in Central’s fall play, the murder mystery “Murder by Membership Only.”

Ella Beckman has the role of Mrs. Plimpton in the play, which will run Friday through Sunday, Nov. 11-13. Friday and Saturday shows are at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday is at 2 p.m.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


While Central’s fall play, “Murder by Membership Only,” is set to be a fun murder mystery with twists and turns galore, getting to opening night presented veteran play director Carolyn Yanda with numerous challenges. That ranged from student involvement to the inexperience of this year’s cast. 


Yanda is an obvious choice to overcome the obstacles, having directed plays since 2008. “Murder” marks the 15th play she will helm. 


The first challenge to bringing the inside of the exclusive Orczy Club—an “inner sanctum” for women mystery writers in London—to the stage was actually selecting it. Yanda relied on a survey of eighth through 11th grade students to gauge their interest in participating in the fall play, and while the response was good, it was composed entirely of female students. 


Yanda searched for plays that met the criteria, finally settling on “Murder by Membership Only.” It has exactly nine acting roles, all of which are female, and is a murder mystery comedy, a genre where Yanda has experience.


The next challenge was choosing roles for the students who auditioned, specifically the role of key character Octavia Sturges. It eventually went to first year actor Lexi Loan because she was able to “pull off the arrogance needed for the role,” Yanda said. 


According to the director, experience is a feature of this year’s cast, as only two of the nine actors have three years of experience, while four of them, including Loan, have just one. As a result, more time was dedicated to explaining stage presences, character development and walking through scenes.


“Usually I have two to three seniors who have been in the play all four years and others with three years of experience. This year, most of the cast has only one year of experience or this is the first time. It helps to have the experienced leadership,” Yanda said. “I tell the students to relate a believable backstory for their character to help with the development. I also instruct them to think about motivation.” 


The cast experience necessitated rehearsing as often as possible, but as previously noted, student schedules are often jammed full of other obligations, such as school, jobs, sports and other extra curricular activities. Some of those scheduling conflicts impact casting, because students need to be available to rehearse, especially if they have a larger role.  


“It’s near impossible to find a time when all students can be there,” Yanda said. 


Scheduling was mentioned by some of the actors as well, including Loan, who was also responsible for designing the poster for the play and painting and making props. 


“Being able to fit another big responsibility onto an already full plate, it can be a handful going between school, volleyball, work and the play,” Loan said.


Fellow Orczy Club member Clarice Furgusson is played by Brooke Tieden, who commented on the difficulty of finding time for rehearsals given her involvement in other activities. 


“If you have good time management, then you will be fine. For me, I am still working on that skill,” she said.


Some argue the challenges only enhance a play due to the tight-knit bonds and camaraderie it creates while preparing for the curtain to open. 


The “connections” made with other people outside her other activities is one of Loan’s favorite parts about participating in her first fall play. 


That was also touched on by Keeley Curran, who plays the role of Eve Hawkins, another Orczy Club member. “The people and the friends you make” is one thing she enjoys. 


The same goes for Tieden, who appreciates “the people that are also participating. They always help and keep the environment supportive.”


“This is one of the best relationships to have. You will create so many more friendships and you will overall just have fun. I have created so many bonds with people through the play,” Tieden added.


Yanda continues to return because it keeps her in touch with the students, and because she has “a strong passion for drama” and “loves sharing that with the young talent.”


“It’s so exciting when I see someone getting that same joy from performing,” Yanda said. 


With the young cast needing to overcome jitters, Yanda’s expectations remain high, yet reasonable. She wants everyone to simply “have fun” as well as “work hard and do the best they can do.” 


“Murder by Membership Only” is produced by special arrangement with The Dramatic Publishing Company of Woodstock, Ill. The audience should be prepared for a lot of “misleading twists and turns,” according to Loan, who added that one revelation of the play is that the “truth is not always what it seems.” 


Anyone interested in finding the truth about the murder of Octavia Sturges should make their way to the Central auditorium this weekend. The first show is Friday, Nov. 11, at 7:30 p.m. The play will also run Saturday, Nov. 12, at 7:30 p.m., then Sunday, Nov. 13, at 2 p.m. 

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