Unlocking LiFT 3 – Ruby’s Reprise

By Matt Powers

Never would I have thought that LiFT would get involved with murder mystery theater. Not that I had a bias against it, it just never crossed my mind. I always envisioned a mix of new, original plays and Elizabethan theater for LiFT, because that’s how we started. As luck would have it, we’ve added to our repertoire.

So this all started when the owners of the Overlook Mansion approached LiFT with a couple of ideas. One was for a Dia de Los Muertos event (which was a load fun, but for another post), and something like a “whole house Clue” event. Being the geek I am, I loved Clue the board game, and adored the film, but didn’t want to rehash Clue or Live Action Clue (which is actually a thing with ton of rules). We wanted something different, that people hadn’t seen before. Hence, our creation of Immersive Murder Mystery. Our idea was to create a highly interactive experience, part theater, part game, where the audience needs to engage with all the characters to get all the clues.

Some audience members interacting with Ruby and Diane.

What resulted was Rubbed Out at Ruby’s, an original murder mystery created by local author, Cynthia Quackenbush. She has written a number of murder mysteries, mostly the dinner theater kind, has a neat blog, and is very involved in the local theater scene. It is a fun show that keeps the audience, and actors, guessing. To be honest, it is surprisingly fun. We played for over 100 people at the Overlook, and then we were contacted to perform at a party hosted by the Jay Groah Group.

This is wholly unexpected and wonderful and I certainly don’t want to stop, but what is surprising is how this turn of events keeps with values integral to LiFT. I think quite a bit about art, its usefulness, community building through theater, education, and so on, and I see LiFT as more than simply putting on theater. It is a way to actively make life better for our community. To accomplish that, I always remind myself of the following goals and values:

  1. Accessibility
  2. Open minds
  3. Create and strengthen community bonds
  4. Improve quality of life

And Rubbed Out at Ruby’s hits all of them. We have the good fortune of being able to travel and take our shows places. Whether it is woodsy Caroga, or the more urban Utica, we bring theater to people. Obviously Ruby’s did this, twice.

We’ve opened minds to a new possibilities. The preconception that murder mystery is strictly dinner theater is so pervasive, that our spin on it surprised people. Also, by getting them to see this interactive theater in a new way, we open their minds to new enjoyment and experience. Perchance they will be inspired, or at least tell their friends.

Creating community is integral part of this show. From the outset the audience is told they are all here to solve a murder.  That bit of information makes them a unique group, suddenly they all have something in common. Some chose to work together, to team up on the actors, others went solo, but, to my recollection, no audience members worked against each other. There were many times when I heard people discussing their guesses with others, using their own powers of deduction to arrive at their best guess. People shared information willingly. Freely. It was amazing. Some friendships may have be newly formed there, others were strengthened simply because of a positive, collaborative experience. In the bigger picture, a group of strangers came together, worked together for an evening, and no one was unhappy. To me, that counts for something.

JG party
A new community: the Ruby’s cast with the audience after the show.

Finally, improving quality of life. This is such a subjective idea. And, really, how can we really pinpoint how quality of life is improved? It’s difficult to quantify. But that’s ok. As a theater group, have honor to bring people joy, to lift them out of their ordinary lives, if even for a moment, to let them forget their troubles for a while, to provide a temporary reprieve from burdens, to expand their imaginations, and, hopefully, reach and change them emotionally. That’s a lofty, and worthy, goal, and Ruby’s touches upon some of those things (though being changed emotionally is a stretch). The more pragmatic reason is that simply by providing entertainment we make our community more attractive. We offer something to do. We offer the possibility of new interests. Maybe even hope. And that counts for something.

The Tempest 2017

For LiFT’s Summer Shakespeare production of The Tempest we have a great mix of new faces and old mainstays, new actors and experienced, young people and old, this cast is surely going to be dynamic! Announcing the cast of The Tempest:

  • Prospero – Kim Darling
  • Miranda – Sarah Ahles
  • Ariel – Sarah Sagatis 
  • Caliban – Josh Eckard 
  • Alonso – Chris Avis
  • Ferdinand – Tucker Lester
  • Antonio – Christina Carroll
  • Sebastian – Alix Stolzer
  • Gonzalo – Cynthia Quackenbush 
  • Stephano – Matt Trombley 
  • Trinculo – Jason Belisle 
  • Francisco – Tom Malley
  • Boatswain – Tom Malley 

Congratulations to our players! There are many other things (like costumes, music, and props) that we need help with. So if you, or anyone you know is interested, have them contact us through the website or the Facebook page. 

    Unlocking LiFT 2 – To Edit or Not to Edit

    How dare I touch a single word of Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare is SHAKESPEARE. His renown is god-like, and I revered him. His work is perfect and should not be altered. To edit his work felt like desecrating a monument, or something to boost my vanity, or being cruel to a friend. Not a pleasant feeling.

    But in the course of my studies, I came across prompt books for Shakespeare’s actors. Sometimes these were used in London, and often used on tour in the country side. Even the first folio and second folio show in inconsistencies. Shows were trimmed and reordered, sometimes ruthlessly, to fit a certain time frame and audience taste. For instance, it took Shakespeare about 4000 lines to give Hamlet full expression, but early performances needed to cut the length (about four hours) to about two hours. That meant cutting 1500 lines or more, and, in some cases, moving scenes for continuity. There was no official “director” or “editor” of the play for performance, and it seems most likely that the actors decided what to keep and cut, albeit the theater owner may have had a say, so these decisions were made as a group. Despite his genius, and brilliance of the work, Shakespeare must have known that his shows needed to be cut for time and audience.

    All this has made me feel much better about editing.

    So I take those two ideas as first principles, and have added a third: location. Since we perform Shakespeare outside, with no amplification, and often in areas not architecturally designed for the human voice, how language travels in those spaces is a primary concern.  True, an actor’s skill in projection and their volume matter, but language matters too. Single syllable words with strong, clear sounds, like “whips and scorns of time,” are more discernible to the ear and are more easily projected rather than polysyllabic words like “contumely,” or “consummation,” which are often more difficult to project because they are a mouthful, especially outdoors with little for the voice to bounce off.

    Redundancies and trimming.

    It is primarily these considerations I keep in mind when I edit a script. Many of my edits involve trimming speeches or cutting redundancies (as in the first example). When trimming Prospero’s first speech, I focused on what the audience needs to hear to follow the story, and felt the exclamation “that a brother should be so perfidious!” was enough to convey Prospero’s ire. The second speech is repeated after Miranda’s line, so the audience gets the same information, and, while these long speeches coupled with Miranda’s inattentiveness convey character and a relationship, the audience will be able to get it the  first time, and not need the repetition.

    Or sometimes it helps to cut obscure jokes and references. This cuts run time, and removes things the majority of audiences won’t understand or find funny. In the second photo, I’ve marked a section to cut, but wanted to hear it with my actors and talk about it with them first, and come to a decision together. There are even short scenes I will ask the cast about to see if we can cut them.

    Old humor that may get cut.

    Or sometimes edits are made to suit an actor’s range.  There have been moments in rehearsals where an actor has difficulty with a line, or feels uncomfortable with it, or can’t quite make the line sing, and we take a step back, ask ourselves is the line necessary. If it is for story, or for character development, information on relationships, or is just a fun moment to play we work on it more. If it isn’t, sometimes the line is cut, though I wouldn’t say this happens frequently. We make every attempt to preserve lines before cutting them in rehearsals.

    Or sometimes the script is edited for production reasons. For example, in Much Ado About Nothing, we had an actress play Conrade and Margaret. Normally this was fine, except for one point in Act 3 where she was Conrade at the end of one scene, and Margaret at the beginning of the next. Not even the speediest quick change would help with this exit and entrance. So, we ended up rearranging the scenes to give her time, but only did so because it did not interfere with the story. If it were to interfere with the story we had two contingencies: stall with music, or, if all else failed, recast Margaret. Thankfully we had to do neither.

    While story, time, and location should govern most editorial changes, I would advise against editing for personal bias, politcal purposes, or other ideological reasons because that is a sure fire way to ruin the integrity and complexity of Shakespeare’s work. For me, editing is not about cutting, it is about preserving as much of story, character, action, and ideas as possible, but trimming to suit our time needs. Give the audience what is absolutely necessary, don’t alter the play radically, and enjoy the ride.