Monday, August 10, 2009

Launching New Theater with Murder Me Always

From Appleton Post Crescent - Kara Patterson
Lindsay Cummings isn't fazed by the cramped confines of the 560-square-foot Little Theater stage at her alma mater, Freedom High School.

To launch the newly formed Freedom Area Community Theater, Cummings chose a murder mystery that made the small space work to the 11-member cast's advantage.

"A lot of us were involved with our theater here at school," said Cummings, 19, a sophomore musical theater major at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. "I think the more interest we spark in the community, the more willing they will be to build a larger theater and support more programs."

Cummings and fellow Freedom alumni Andrew Beyer and Kurt Hardy co-founded the nonprofit theater troupe, which today wraps up the run of its inaugural summer show, "Murder Me Always." The play, which includes some improvisation and audience interaction, is a play-within-a-play involving a cast of zany characters.

The final performance starts at 2 p.m. today at Freedom High School, N4021 County E, Freedom. Tickets cost $8 for adults and $5 for children age 12 and under and include dessert during intermission.

A raffle drawing to benefit the troupe will take place after today's performance. Prize baskets include tickets for limousine rides and Weidner Center for the Performing Arts shows, and dinner gift certificates.

Corporate and individual contributions to the troupe so far total at least $2,000, which Cummings said is enough to cover production costs.

For "Murder Me Always,," the actors expanded the show into the aisles. On stage the set pieces themselves are stationary but intricate, including a revolving bookcase and a trap door underneath a staircase.

The set garnered praise from the murder mystery's Missouri-based playwright, Lee Mueller, who visited a rehearsal in response to Cummings' invitation.

"Now, every once in a blue moon, I may get an invitation to a performance of one of my plays, but what I found unique about her invitation was the fact that she was inviting me to visit the play in progress," Mueller said via e-mail. "That was the deciding factor." Mueller said he was "blown away" by the troupe's set.

"I don't want to give too much away to anyone who may attend the production but let's just say there are some 'secret' panels in the drawing room that move the action around," he said. "If I did not think it were too difficult for other theater groups to build, I am tempted to show them Freedom Area Community Theater's set and say 'There. This is the set you must use for the play. Build this.'"

Troupe members range in age from 14 to 25. Cummings said she hopes the troupe will attract younger youth and older adults, too.

"There are a couple roles that called for an older person (in 'Murder Me Always') but we dressed up the younger ones and worked with what we have," she said.

However, the troupe already is meeting one of its goals in drawing people with varying degrees of stage experience.

Aaron Linskens, 19, who plays a main role, was a three-sport athlete in Freedom but had never tried theater. A University of Wisconsin-Madison adviser suggested he take a college theater class.

"I did, and I liked it a lot," Linskens said. "This touches on your creativity and imagination, and I think in Freedom especially they need more programs like that because it's a small school."

Freedom senior Nikki Schommer, 17, has participated in theater since middle school.

"This is my first community theater show," she said. "I like the fact that it gets the whole community involved and I get to see my friends again since they've gone to college."

Cummings said the troupe hopes to raise enough money through community donations, ticket sales and other fundraisers so it can sponsor a scholarship fund for college-bound Freedom seniors who plan to study theater. She's expecting to start it in 2010.

"We'd probably give $1,000 per academic year to one person or split it to two people," she said. "We sent out letters to local businesses when we first started to form the organization. Once we started follow-up calling people and telling them about us, they were like, you guys are really serious about this."

Once it gathers steam the troupe, which has a board of directors and Freedom faculty and alumni advisers, intends to put on two shows per summer, one play and one musical.

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