Southwestern Michigan College’s Educational Talent Search (ETS) has joined forces with Beckwith Theatre’s summer youth program to present Edith Weiss’s “UnMurdered” this weekend.
Eight ETS students, who make up half the cast directed by Jack Gannon, assisted by Peggy Gannon and Ryan Murray, entered their second week of 9 a.m.-noon rehearsals June 17.
Their free 45-minute performance will be presented to the community Friday, June 21, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, June 22, at 2 p.m. at the Beckwith, 100 New York Ave., Dowagiac. Cast members range in age from middle school to the just-graduated Dowagiac Union High School Class of 2019.
Arrogant mystery writer Dashiel Reznor (Jonathan Stockwell) arrives at the Bygone Days Artists Retreat ready for rest, relaxation and relief from writer’s block and his girlfriend only to find his room occupied by a penniless opera singer who refuses to leave.
Other colorful guests include: Antelope Twomey, Wyoming poet laureate (Olivia Shafer); interpretive dancers Astrid Torvaldasdottir (Caleb Wolfe), Victor Vaz (Zac Weller), Vivian Vaz (Annalise Zimmerman) and Veronica Vaz (Kayden Stokes); and a woman who thinks she is Princess Anastasia of Russia’s Romanov aristocracy (Allyson Hatter).
When Anna Maria Mangioni (Gwen Gulliver) appears to have been tossed from a window, Detective Binnix (Clayton Miller) is quickly convinced of Dash’s guilt. Not long after, Binnix suffers a similar fate, and Dash was the only one upstairs with the detective. How can Dash prove his innocence when everyone is so quick to leap to conclusions? With an unexpected twist, not everything is as it seems in this mystery, keeping the audience guessing until the “gotcha” ending.
The cast also includes retreat owner Euphemia Stryx (Alexis Janes), cook Amelia Easby (Athena Butryn), Euphemia’s sister Bettina Sipe (Emily Gonzalez), widow Addalinda Swem (Hannah Christner), butler Eustace Huth (Jonathan Brooks), Madelyn the caretaker (Emelia Livingston) and Lurvy the handyman (Calvin Diamond). Nick Saltzman and Ethan Stout operate lights and sound, with Donovan Hill organizing props and Juliana Stanger choreographing dances.
Christner, 16, will be a DUHS junior. “I really like acting,” she discovered performing in school musicals. “After high school I want to go into the medical field. This is a fun hobby. I can play piano and I’m learning percussion instruments.”
The just-graduated Janes, 18, is considering becoming a CNA, or certified nursing assistant. “Eventually I’m going to take paramedic courses,” the former choir member said. “I was in dance and did musicals, but had never done anything with acting, so I wanted to try it. I definitely see it as something I want to continue doing.”
Gonzalez, 15, will also be a DUHS junior. “Beckwith has helped me realize I like acting,” though she’s still formulating her post-high-school future.
Sophomore Gulliver, 15, seems the most transformed by the experience. “The first time I did it I was going into eighth grade,” Gulliver said. “I’ve gone from so nervous, shaking on stage, to getting lead roles. This is where I found I’m really good and want to do this after high school for a career! I’ve changed so much. This has given me so much confidence.”
“This is our fourth year,” Gannon said of Beckwith’s community outreach effort. “We run a two-week program that’s free to students, who get an opportunity to be on-stage unless they’re interested in how to run tech. They get to do the whole gamut of a production. They’re kind to each other, earnest and enthusiastic, learn their lines and put on a very nice show. It’s very rewarding.”
“It’s an accelerated pace,” Murray said, “but the kids are up for it.”
Murray works for the Dowagiac Police Department and has served as its school resource officer for the past eight years. “We do special shows, such as improv, for fundraising,” Murray said. “That’s how we got to know Maria (Kulka) and Bethani (Eichel) from ETS.”
ETS, a federal TRiO support program based on SMC’s Dowagiac campus, serves 750 Brandywine, Cassopolis, Dowagiac, Edwardsburg and Marcellus sixth-12th graders, developing good study habits and providing career, post-secondary education and financial aid information to fully develop their potential.