I have a confession. I underestimated this whole pandemic thing. I recall thinking last year we might need to postpone our May production a few months. Here we are, over a year later. And, while the May 2020 production may still be sidelined, the May 2021 virtual production is alive and well.
A Virtual Whodunnit, is the latest foray into the virtual realm for the Lake County Theatre Company (LCTC). The company’s A Virtual Christmas Carol was presented as a series of video calls and was recorded over Zoom. One of the biggest drawbacks of using Zoom was not being able to instantly play back what was recorded. The team had to wait until the meeting ended and the recording finished uploading to the cloud before viewing.
While this next production will once again be pre-recorded, this time around, the group will be using different software, something called OBS (Open Broadcast System). Of course, anything new comes with a learning curve, but this program gives the group greater control. And, according to Director Larry Richardson, the ability to instantly playback outweighed any learning curve.
The Whodunnit will be presented in May, and I personally cannot wait to see it! I have to give you the official plot summary that appears on the LCTC website because none of the cast and crew felt they could tell me anything without giving away the plot. “Preston Sterling is hosting a Zoom meeting with his children, third wife, and closest staff to celebrate his birthday. The bitter old billionaire is bullying everyone once again and threatening to change his will when—ZZZZZT! Sterling is electrocuted through his phone: Enter Sloan, Detective Sloan, homicide. Through a series of Zoom conferences, Sloan questions the usual suspects, all of whom had a motive. When every suspect has motive and opportunity, it’s up to our brave detective AND the audience to find the killer. With three possible endings, every performance means you’ll never be sure Whodunnit.” The one thing that Richardson would tell me is that you have to stick around for ALL of the credits. There may or may not be a few surprises (plural), and you won’t want to miss them.
These virtual productions have been attracting out-of-town actors who would not normally audition for LCTC. Case in point, Christine Fraser, who plays Juniper (Daddy’s little girl) and resides in Canada. Currently, she’s directing a show and acting in two or three others, including this one. Her castmates aren’t sure how she manages it all. Jeremiah Deaquin, a high school student who “really loves acting,” is also from out of state. He plays Fraiser’s husband and lives in Connecticut.
But, this show also attracted locals who have never worked with the company before. In fact, the only two cast members who regularly work with LCTC are Zoe Richardson and Benjamin Lopez, who play the trophy wife and the firstborn son, respectively. They most recently appeared together in A Virtual Christmas Carol and Chicago. The only other returning actor is Natalie Farrell, who plays the show’s Detective Sloan. She recently moved from San Francisco to New York during rehearsals for the production. Cast members were surprised to find that they couldn’t really tell that she had moved as she took a photo of her previous home and used it as her virtual background.
The rest of the cast is rounded out by newcomers. David Moon-Wainwright, the local pastor of United Christian Parish, plays Sterling’s lawyer. Tony Barthel, the local podcaster and writer in the RV space, plays Sterling, the family patriarch. Barthel says that he appreciates Richardson’s faith in him as his last acting gig was in the 5th grade playing Oscar the Grouch. Though, anyone that knows Tony knows that he has a flair for the dramatic and is pretty much suited for this kind of role.
Typically, actors and crew members live closer to the North shore of Clearlake. It is a constant challenge for the company to attract actors and patrons from the other side of the lake. However, this production did just that. Elizabeth Wetmore is rehearsing virtually from her home in Clearlake, and Nara Dahlbacka, a recent transplant from the Bay Area, lives in Hidden Valley.
While Wetmore, who plays the under-appreciated VP of technology, had heard of LCTC, she’d never actually been to one of their shows. She hadn’t thought about acting since high school, but she saw an article about the auditions and thought that it sounded “exciting and not too intimidating.” She wasn’t sure what to expect from a virtual production, but she found the whole experience enjoyable. Her biggest challenge was” trying to keep a quiet room in her house during rehearsals and recordings with a six-year-old and two dogs.”
Dahlbacka, who holds an MFA in Playwriting, hadn’t really acted since she switched to directing as an undergrad. She describes her character, Macy (the flower child), as doing “whatever it takes” to save the planet. The thing that surprised her most about the rehearsal process was the internet here. She watched various actors give perfect takes only to have to redo them due to internet issues. She says the “internet hasn’t caught up with the speed of the arts.”
When I asked about the differences between working on a virtual show and working in person, the actors all mentioned missing the social aspect of rehearsals. When you are in person, you get to watch the scenes that you aren’t in. And, you have side conversations with other cast members while you wait for your scene. When you are rehearsing virtually, you can’t exactly have a side conversation without disrupting the online rehearsal. Wetmore mentioned that while it’s great to work with castmates from different parts of the country, the trade-off is that there’s not a lot of interaction. And, she lamented the fact that she won’t even have seen all of the show until the night of the performance.
One of the ways that the Director tried to combat the lack of socialization and potentially a lack of relationships on screen was to have a virtual ice breaker so that the cast could get to know one another before they started. Richardson just asked a few random questions to get the conversation started. Then he had the cast and crew take turns telling two truths and a lie about themselves while the others tried to figure out which was the lie. The cast really enjoyed it. And, it turned out to be interesting for the folks that already knew each other. Some of the “truths” were things that they had never known about each other.
If you would like to see this show and try to figure out which characters are telling the truth and who’s telling a lie, performances are on May 14, 15, and 16. Tickets are only $5 and can be purchased by visiting LCTC.us and clicking on the button labeled A Virtual Whodunnit. The link to the show will be sent by 4:00 pm PDT the day of the show. An electronic program will also be available on the LCTC website.