Students put on a production of a famous murder mystery

Virginia Taylor
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Students prepare for a production based off of a classic murder mystery.
“I want people to be a little spooked,” said Mo Hakala, a senior health and wellness student  portraying the character of Dr. Armstrong in the production.
Based off English writer Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel, the plot follows 10 strangers who have been summoned to an island, only to realize foul play is at work. The novel is widely considered to be Christie’s masterpiece, according to the Telegraph.
“(We) want it to be a sort of cathartic moment. We aren’t expecting our audience to leave feeling like ‘Oh, this made me feel better about my life,’” said Dylan Jones, a sophomore political science and philosophy major who portrays Justice Wargrave in the production. “This is a play that is intended to put you on edge and make you question everything and worry, which is kind of the state that we find ourselves in all the time nowadays.”
Run by the theater honor society at UNCA, Alpha Psi Omega, the production is produced, directed, designed and performed by students.
“The whole thing is student-driven so all of the designs, costumes, sets, props, it’s all done by students,” Hakala said. “With this, we can just get our hands on it, to see what works and what doesn’t, cause with theater it’s how you learn.”
For student Lea Gilbert, this will be her first time directing.
“I think the most challenging thing (about directing) is having a specific vision in your mind and figuring out how to translate that vision to the stage,” said Gilbert, a sophomore drama student. “The most rewarding part of directing is seeing it all come together. Knowing that there were all these working parts behind this cohesive movement that you see before you just makes it all the more special.”
Gilbert, along with junior student Morgan Fuller, are co-directing the production.
“(Lea and Morgan) do a really great job of balancing out each other and supporting each other. I really appreciate it,” Hakala said. “You could tell they were nervous at the start but they really warmed up to it and filled really great shows. They’re doing a really great job.”
Fuller  said finding a balance between peers and professionals has not been a problem for this cast and crew.
“We have a great cast and crew for this show. Lea and I are always talking about how lucky we are,” said Fuller. “Of course finding the distinction between friends and professionals is a balance. When we all get to rehearsal every day, we check in with each other and we check our problems and issues at the door and get ready to work.”
The show intends to break the traditional format of a theater production and make the audience a more interactive part of the story.
“There are three main actor sections that actors interact with and to balance that out there are three main audience sections that basically fill up any holes,” Hakala said. “For those who come to see it, tuck your feet because an actor will come right past you!”
The show hopes that doing the performance in a different format will bring in a bigger audience.
“I hope that by doing a show in an unconventional and new performance space that APO is able to expand the reach of its theater to even more people on the UNCA campus,” Fuller said.
While the cast and crew are working to remain true to the time period and style of the piece, they assure the audience will be surprised whether they know the ending of Christie’s novel or not.
“We’ve tried to keep very true to the time period and aesthetics of the piece,” Jones said. “Everyone’s doing British accents. We’re using received pronunciation British, which is what you would hear if you turned on BBC right now.”
Even with a lower budget than a mainstage production, the show is working to make the overall feel of the production as convincing as possible.
“We’re trying to keep it honest,” Hakala said. “We’re not the theater department. We’re the theater club, so we don’t have as many resources available to us, but based on what we do have, we’re gonna get as period accurate clothing-wise as we can. We’re keeping all the slang and keeping close to the dialect.”
While the story is a murder mystery, the characters in “And Then There Were None” are far more complex than the typical murder mystery victim.
“I don’t necessarily think the murders are what spotlight the show,” Gilbert said. “The characters’ actions in life were what led them to their death. Although they didn’t have a choice in how they died, they had a choice in how they lived and I want that to be very clearly seen in the show.”
Fuller added she hopes the show will make audiences think about how things might not always be as they seem in a story.
“I want audiences to come away with a sense of the difference between how circumstances may seem on the surface and the reality of how things may actually be,” Fuller said. “Most of the characters in the show have stories regarding who they are and why they are called to the island. As time goes on, however, these stories unravel into the truth of the matter and their true personalities and stories.”
The cast and crew hope people will come out to see the show and that it will gain interest for Alpha Psi Omega.
“We want to make theater more accessible to students and staff. We want to be another outlet for students to be able to produce their art and work with the theater outside of just the mainstage productions at UNCA,” Jones said. “I think that’s very much what we’re becoming. We’re doing real shows. We’re an actual theater company and we’re gonna keep doing so as long as we can do it.”
Gilbert hopes student-run shows will continue to grow on campus.
“I hope our student productions will start to get known throughout campus and eventually have a really diverse crowd to come see our shows,” Gilbert said. “Theater is to be enjoyed by all and I hope we can do that with this piece. We’ve had an entire cast, design team, accent coach and production team hard at work to make this show come to life and I am very excited to share this show with UNCA.”