SLEEPY EYE - Wanting to try something different this year for the annual production put on by the Sleepy Eye Community Theatre, the cast members turned to Director Gary Sassenberg to help find a play that kept both the audience and the actors interested and excited.
So Sassenberg dedicated many hours to the task, and in the end he found "Web of Murder" for the theatre's annual production. The play is written by Jonathan Troy.
The play will be presented Thursday, June 25 and Friday June 26 and Sunday, June 28 at the St. Mary's Auditorium in Sleepy Eye.
The cast pictured in the front from left: John Jahnke as The Man, Laurie Hammerschmidt as Minerva Osterman, Meggan Hoffmann as Nora the Housekeeper, Ann LaCourse (kneeling)as Stephanie Osterman, April Schutz as Mary Hamilton and Jared Schwab as Keith Latimer.
Back row: Amy Surprenant as Belle Hamilton, George Hirschboeck as Pete Martinelli and Todd Hammerschmidt as Dr. Adler.
This year, the community theater elected to do a murder mystery, so Sassenberg went out and looked at some possibilities.
"They asked me to find a script, so I started reading scripts for several months and I selected this one, because it's not just a murder mystery, but it's a murder suspense," Sassenberg said.
The play is about arrogant Minerva, who warns that someone will die before the weekend concludes. As dead bodies appear, fear and suspicion mount. No one escapes the mounting tension, and when the murderer is finally unveiled ...well, an unnerving reality reaches its climax as the curtain is about to close.
Sassenberg, who has worked in and directed plays all over the country, describes the play as a murder suspense. He describes a murder suspense as a drama which deals with not only discovering the murderer but also presenting suspenseful, frightful acts as the story unfolds.
He also said his goals for the play are to involve the community in the various aspects of assembling a production that not only entertains but displays the multitude of arts needed to produce a play.
The play itself has eight actors who will be performing during the three performances. Prices for the play are $8 for adults, $6 for students and $4 for children. Advance reserved tickets are available at the box office only, located in room 109 at Sleepy Eye High School.
Box office hours are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday, or you can call 794-7873. General admission tickets are available at the door one hour prior to the performance. Cost is $7 for adults, $5 for students and $3 for children.
The cast and behind-the-scenes work
Those who attend the play will no doubt see all the hard work put in by the cast members who worked hard at memorizing their lines. But in February, all of the work for the play began, ranging from script selection to set design.
After the cast is assembled for the specific parts of the play, each cast member and the production team puts in countless hours that go unseen except to the eyes of the director. There are about 20 people in the production area of the play.
"The set people will put in probably 40 hours a week individually," Sassenberg said. "Actors, by the time the production is over, will probably put in 300-400 hours in rehearsal time."
The actors range in experience, from performing in many plays to Ann LaCourse, who will be making her Sleepy Eye Community Theatre debut. It's the first time she's acted on stage since her high school years.
While she said it's been tough memorizing her lines, she is quick to point out that the crew and director have been very supportive and have helped her out a lot.
"The whole crew has been very patient and helps each other," LaCourse said. "It's a supportive group of actors and actresses and Gary is phenomenal."
Another actor, Jared Schwab, is acting in his first play in Sleepy Eye but has action experience in other plays.
"I was living out in Wyoming and I did three plays out there," Schwab said. "I grew up here and went to school here and was just coming home for the summer."
In a town the size of Sleepy Eye, there aren't always places readily available for rehearsals, something that Schwab said was difficult at first.
"The tough part was practicing in basketball courts when we didn't have a stage," he said.
Chuck Meyer is one of the behind-the-scenes guys who comes in and works on the set a couple of nights per week.
Meyer helps build the sets, and that includes everything from the actual construction of the scenery to painting and building other visuals that help give the play its look.
"It's all night stuff," he said. "We're usually working here while they're practicing. We start at about 5:30 at night and work until 10 two nights a week."
Meyer's son also helps with the scenery along with Jon Jahnke. He said that it's a lot easier to work when there's a director who has a good vision beforehand of what he wants the finished product to look like.
"Gary has everything in his mind and he comes up with the neatest stuff sometimes," Meyer said.
After all the hard work, the crew hopes to have everything ready and exact for the first performance. Tracy Meyer, who works with props and painting, is also excited for the play's first presentation.
And of course the play couldn't be performed without character costumes, and that's where Pam Krzmarzick comes into play. Krzmarzick has worked with the Sleepy Eye Community Theatre four times and enjoys the working with all of the cast members.
"Just working with Gary and working with the great cast members every year, it's really enjoyable," she said. "To see the talent, and to see it all come together as the finished production, it's a lot of fun, I enjoy it."