Members of Seton Hall Theater are used to memorizing scripts, but memorizing how to pronounce each word correctly in a British accent posed a new challenge as they learned their roles for "A Murder is Announced," performed at the South Orange Performing Arts Center on Oct. 20-23.
This is the first play Seton Hall Theater has performed for an audience this fall semester. The play was directed by Stephanie Silberstein, a theater instructor for Rutgers University.
Any student who chose to audition for the production was given a choice of monologues from other Agatha Christie plays. Some who auditioned were asked to speak with a British accent.
Justin Dell Valle, a freshman theater major, said during the casting process everyone was fit for their own part.
“The students played their parts so well that it kept the audience on the edge of their seats,” he said.
Dell Valle added that keeping the British accent throughout the production’s dialect was the hardest part in taking on his role.
“At first, the character I envisioned for my role was Chandler Bing, but then I had to make him British which messed with my rhythm and the chemistry of the cast,” Dell Valle said.
Kyus Wright, a sophomore theater major, also said he caught himself losing his British accent while acting in the production.
“There were some words that took me so long to figure out, and the director had to keep calling me out,” Wright said.
Wright added that his character interrogated a lot of people in the play, which he said was “very fun.”
“Trying to pull out the little clues for the audience, making sure I said the lines the right way so they would catch on and then hearing the gasps at the right moments was so fun,” Wright said.
Alex Milanowski, a junior English literature major, said this production was similar to learning two scripts.
“Rather than just memorizing the words, it was memorizing the words and how they sound,” Milanowski said.
Milanowski said she loves murder mysteries, so being in the production was a way to explore the genre from a different perspective.
“When you’re watching murder mysteries, you act as the detective trying to figure out the ending, but, being in it, you don’t have to worry about that.”
Milanowski also said she loved how honest her character was in the play.
“She was really one of the few people in the play who didn’t have any secrets, and that was really fun compared to the secrets that all the other characters were keeping,” she said.
For others like Kat Matos, a senior creative writing major, said getting out of the accent was one of the hardest parts of this production.
“After doing the accent during often occurring rehearsals, it was hard to get out of the British accent in regular, everyday encounters,” Matos said. “I had ordered a Domino's pizza all with my Miss Marple accent.”
The production was rehearsed and performed in a month and a half time frame. In the past, fall productions were performed on the weekend before Halloween, but this play was performed a week sooner.
Matos said it was interesting to see the cast come together and learn the British dialect and be able to sound uniform in a short amount of time.
“I think it’s really cool that we could put together such a good production in such a short time,” Matos said.
Some of the actors, like Claire Wolfe, a senior visual and sound media major, said she had never performed in a play at Seton Hall before, which made her more anxious because of the limited timeframe.
“With musicals, we would have 3 months to prepare, plus you sing songs which get stuck in your head,” Wolfe said. “With a play like this, the lines were anywhere from conversational to a page monologue with full family trees attached.”
Wolfe said she decided to audition for the play only 48 hours prior to auditioning. She said when she received her role, she was surprised by the reality of theater.
“The energy is so different with this production,” Wolfe said. “The script can take you so far, and I think it’s a super fun script with super fun and unique characters, and so much of the energy comes from the cast.”
Seton Hall Theatre included an ensemble cast in this performance. With an ensemble cast, each character plays a part in the story while sharing roughly the same amount of stage time with lead actors.
“I thought because of seniority and social class, as a freshman, I wouldn’t be having a part in this show as big as I thought it would be,” Dell Valle said. “But I was grateful and really excited to show off what I can because I wanted to do my part and seek my passion, which was awesome.”
Wright said there was the most auditions from freshman students that Seton Hall theater has seen in some time.
“I liked getting to work with them and be able to show them the process of the theater and prepare them for their years to come,” he said.
Dell Valle said the people in the audience were engaged in the plot and the performance itself.
“I had never been a part of a production where the audience was so engaged and so thrilled to see what was going to happen next,” Dell Valle said. “When everyone gasps and figures out who has done the murder, or find out the characters’ secrets, the success of the show was the shock factor from the crowd themselves.”
Dell Valle said he felt like he became his character even out of rehearsal.
“Because Patrick is a man who masks his own secrecy with comedy, being in that headspace a lot,” Dell Valle said. “When you start to play a character on stage, you start to see the similarity of it in real life.”
Wolfe said it takes a team to make a play’s performance successful and organized.
“Everything you do that is worthwhile is going to be scary and stressful, and you’re going to have moments where you doubt it,” Wolfe said. “If you push through and lean on the people around you, and really rely on yourself to get the work done, it will be extremely rewarding in the end.”
Jessica Lameiras can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.