Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 30
The Lompoc Civic Theatre begins its 40th season with an original play by Paul Allen Thornton
BY JOE PAYNE
Local actor and playwright Paul Allen Thornton was given the chance to premiere his play Audition for Murder 20 years ago thanks to the Lompoc Civic Theatre. Now celebrating its 40th anniversary, the community theater group asked Thornton if his work could be included in the anniversary season, which features favorite productions over the last four decades.
Thornton decided to make his production better by completely overhauling and rewriting the play, even adapting aspects of the plot to commemorate the theater group’s milestone of 40 years.
“I pulled the old script and rewrote it from beginning to end,” Thornton said. “It’s basically the same story but a completely different play, a revamping of the same script.”
In Audition for Murder, a cast and crew get together to perform a play that was canceled on its opening night many years prior due to the mysterious murder of the lead actress. In the former version, the play in question happened 20 years ago, but now Thornton has changed it to 40 years in homage to the Lompoc Civic Theatre.
“Not having read [the play] in 20 years, when I pulled it out and read it I said, ‘oh dear, I am going to have to rewrite this,’” he said. “There were characters that I eliminated. I cut it from three acts to two acts, and my sense of dialogue, plot, and drama are a lot different at 50 than at 23.”
Even after the elimination of characters, the play boasts a pretty large cast for a Civic Theatre production. The original production called on 22 people to make the story happen, but Thornton chopped the cast down to 18.
“For this production, we had an excellent turnout for auditions,” Thornton said. “There were several people I couldn’t even cast.”
The production will feature several Lompoc Civic Theatre veterans, Thornton explained, as well as some newcomers. One actor, Marian Stave, will be playing the same part she played in the previous production.
“It’s really fun because my dear friend Marian Stave, she originally performed the role of Sheila West, the director of the play in the show who comes back to do the revival,” he said. “She played the character in the production 20 years ago, and she is creating the character again for this production.”
Many of the changes Thornton made to his play were to update the time period in which the story takes place. Much has changed since 1986, he explained.
“There weren’t any cell phones back in the ’80s, not like today. So their means of communication is different now,” he said. “The cell phone thing was a big deal because there are clues that come up during the play. We used telegrams in the previous version and so now the information is transmitted by text rather than getting a telegram or a message on their answering service.”
Other than updating the characters’ technology, Thornton updated the pop culture references and the ways the characters talk. An actor himself, Thornton used his own skills to try out the new dialogue as he was writing the play.
“So much of my personality comes out in different characters,” he said. “I think this [play] is better. It’s a better reflection of me as a person and a playwright, especially me now.”
Thornton has penned several murder mysteries, many of which he wrote in the ’80s for murder-mystery dinner parties. He has always had a keen interest in such dubious plots.
“I love murder mysteries,” he said. “I love finding out who had the motive and who benefited. I love the theatrics of murder mysteries, and there is always the obligatory confession scene or the obligatory piecing together and recounting events that tells how it all played out.”
Using many different plot twists, Thornton tries to make his murder mysteries entertaining, interesting, and hopefully solvable by the audience.
“I heard this a long time ago and I always wanted to keep this in mind,” he said, “that the purpose of the murder mystery writer is … to take the audience by the hand and lead them in the wrong direction.
“There are a lot of red herrings in this show,” he added. “Those are always fun.”
As much as Thornton has enjoyed writing the updated play, he has also enjoyed returning to directing as well. He directed many of the shows he wrote in the past, and likes working with other actors, he said.
“I’m very fortunate to have this cast of people and the Lompoc Civic Theatre,” he said. “This is a different type of show than we have done recently, but the whole ensemble of people in the show seem to be having a good time.”
Arts Editor Joe Payne thinks red herrings are deliciously distracting. Send him some at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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