We often ask a lot of our performers - and directors, designers, and everyone else of course as well, but this post is performer-focused.
We especially ask a lot of our performers in a summer stock rehearsal setting.
But sometimes we ask for even a little more.
Perhaps you have a special skill that the director would like to include in a show. For example: you play an instrument, you tumble, you’re a gymnast, you can juggle, you can do impersonations…or a thousand other possible talents.
And then there are shows that ask for even more than a little more, and to do it all in 8 days.
And that, my friends, is the zany, fast-paced romp that is Murder For Two at Bristol Valley Theater!
When I first saw Murder For Two Off-Broadway in 2013, I was thrilled at the insane talent level of these two performers onstage in front of me.
I knew very little about the show, except that it was supposed to be extremely funny and constantly surprising - and both of those turned out to be spot on assessments. My delight was then followed by two thoughts:
“A show like this that requires so little will most certainly be done everywhere once licensed!”
And “Wow…maybe not. That show asks soooooo much from its performers that it might be difficult to find people to do it!”
Oddly, I think I was partially correct on both accounts.
As I mentioned to people this past spring that I would be playing Marcus (the detective role) in Murder For Two this summer, theatre people kept saying to me:
“Wow, everyone is doing that show!”
And that makes me chuckle a little.
Now, I will say that since the licensing for this show became available a few years ago, a lot of theaters immediately pounced with a desire to do it. However! We are talking about around a dozen professional theaters that have actually slated to do this show this season.
And it’s a two-person show.
How many theaters did Mamma Mia! this year, or Legally Blonde? I don’t know the numbers, but these were both on the top 10 most produced list for several of the past few years.
But for such a highly specialized type of show like Murder For Two, suddenly around a dozen seems like a large number.
And why is that? What does this show require?
And The Kitchen Sink
I’ve done plenty of shows that have asked for me to include a multitude of skills other than the basics of theatre or musical theatre performance - playing piano, arranging, a cappella singing, composition, puppetry and tap dancing (both learned for specific shows), stylized singing, physical comedy, dance, etc.
But Murder For Two asks its performers for a very specific set of skills.
We begin with the basics:
Acting - I would hope so!
Singing - Not a terribly large amount, but some challenging material (especially lyrically).
Dancing - Not necessarily required by the text, but certainly utilized in this production!
Then more specialized skills:
Stylized Physical Comedy - The show calls for some very specific physical moments between the two actors, some of which are tricky, and all of which rely on very strong physical presence and spot-on comedic timing. Definitely not the most natural style for many actors, myself included.
Multiple Characters - The suspects role calls for the actor to play 10 extremely distinct and varied characters throughout the show. Not only is this difficult to do in general, but both actors then have to keep track of exactly whom is being spoken to and where they are on the stage, which was quite the challenge in the rehearsal process. And even though the detective role does not play more than one character, they do have to impersonate three characters during the show. It can be a crazy time!
Tracking Invisible People - Not a skill I would put on the resume, but it’s necessary nonetheless! Not only do we have the multiple characters to track, the detective role spends much of the show speaking to an invisible character as well. Ever tried convincing an audience that you’re speaking to someone who doesn’t exist? It’s a touch tricky!
Accompaniment - The first of the piano skills! Not all pianists are good accompanists, but this is a definitive requirement for this show. Both performers must be able to play musical theatre music extremely comfortably for this show to take place, and they must be able to accompany themselves as well as the other performer. Not the easiest task.
Stride Piano - This is a very specific type of piano playing that not everyone is aware of, though I’m certain most people have heard it at some point. It’s a style of playing that derives heavily from ragtime and jazz, which was then infused in a great deal of early musical theatre. Basically, it requires the left hand to constantly jump from the bottom of the piano to the middle of the piano and back again, while the right hand plays unrelated melodies and harmonies up top. If you haven’t grown up playing or mastering this style - and I did not - this can take a looooooooot of practice to master for this show.
Piano Duet - One of my favorite parts of both seeing and performing this show is the dueting that occurs between the two performers at various points. Not often do you get to see two pianists playing simultaneously on the same keyboard, but it’s so delightful when it’s done well!
Line Sequencing - This is more for the detective role. Much of the show is the suspects role changing characters and getting laughs, which can be a big challenge for them. The greatest challenge for the detective role, however, is that following those laughs they must move the plot forward in a way that does not usually connect to what was just said. This sort of line and plot sequencing that doesn’t follow a logical pattern was one of my personal biggest challenges in putting this show together so quickly. Lines are sometimes difficult enough to memorize, but when it’s an illogical jump, it’s even harder!
95 Minutes On Stage - Not so much a skill, but still something difficult being asked of the performers. There are only two actors and they are both onstage for almost the entirety of the show’s 95ish fast-paced minutes. It’s excellent fun once you have it down!
So, as you see, it’s only a few things that are required for this show. No problem at all!
And That’s How We Grow
I won’t pretend that this show has not been a challenge to learn - it certainly has been!
But where and when else could I find myself in a position to push my limitations and overcome such specific challenges?
I’m definitely thankful for the opportunity to join the ranks of those performers who have performed Murder For Two and tackled the insanity that is this show. And once it’s set, as it now is, there’s nothing left to do but have a blast! Which is precisely what I intend to do. :-)
I hope to see you there!