A South Whidbey contingent of actors were invited to attend the Discovering New Mysteries — International Mystery Writers Festival 2008 in Owensboro, Ky. in June.
Longtime radio show artists and Freeland residents, David Ossman and Judith Walcutt, invited actors Orson Ossman, Deana Duncan and Amy Walker to join the festival ensemble this year.
This is Duncan’s second year at the festival, and she was thrilled to both direct and act on the River Park Center Stage.
“We had a VIP actor each year,” Duncan said.
“In 2007 it was Harry Anderson, and this year was Gary Sandy of television’s WKRP fame. I was thrilled to direct him in the winning screenplay, ‘Hally Bowers,’ as well as work opposite him in a leading role.”
Duncan and Walker both mentioned how accommodating the staff and volunteers in Owensboro were to them, even though there were hundreds of people needing hospitality.
“They orchestrated the ever-changing housing and transportation needs of who knows how many artists,” Walker said. “Dozens and dozens from all over the country.”
Indeed, more than 500 people participate in the festival including writers, directors, actors, foley artists, stage hands, designers, producers and front-of-house staff who come from not only the immediate area but from all parts of the country.
This is a chance for mystery lovers worldwide to celebrate the great form of mystery theater and live radio theater at the only festival of its kind in the country.
Zev Buffman, a famed Broadway producer and the current president and CEO of the River Park Center, said the idea is to keep the great form of mystery theater alive.
Twelve plays written by 12 new writers are chosen from submissions.
The impetus is to present unique opportunities for artists and audiences alike to discover mystery-style plays, screenplays and short stories professionally performed, published or produced for the first time.
In addition to the theatrical performances, guests can also attend workshops featuring accomplished mystery writers discussing the tools of their trade.
“Who does not love a good mystery?” Buffman said. “It’s live theater to die for.”
David Ossman has been involved in live radio theater for most of his career.
“Of course it is wonderful to work on stage in the audio medium,” Ossman said.
“Working in front of a live audience makes what we do very real, very immediate. And who would skip the chance to work with legendary Broadway producer Zev Buffman!”
Some of the plays on the bill this year included such diverse entries as “It Burns Me Up,” by Ray Bradbury, “My Gal Sunday,” adapted from the book by Mary Higgins Clark and “An Armchair Detective — A Remember WENN Mystery Play Including Musical Selections,” by Rupert Holmes.
The grueling schedules require everyone involved to be at the top of their game; one actor could be in as many as four or five shows per day during 10 days of performances.
Walker described the agenda for one day.
“For each show, we had one read-through, a tech and a dress and that was it,” she said.
“Usually we’d have the dress rehearsal in the morning for the noon show and then maybe 15-30 minutes to change costumes and hair and slam down some food before the next show.”
She said the shows were all very different, which was part of the fun.
Most of the audience members came back to several shows to see an actor’s range and were interested to see the same actors with an entirely different voice and character than they saw them have before lunch, she said.
“It was very gratifying for that reason,” Walker said.
The team became a well-oiled machine under the leadership of Ossman and Walcutt, along with stage manager Sarah Caddell. The mystery festival is the perfect venue for the veteran couple.
“We are excited to go to Owensboro for several reasons,” Walcutt said.
“One is the chance to do brand new things, new stage pieces, new screenplays, new teleplays, things that have not been done before — and as we in the theatre know — the first time is ‘magic.’ And we get to work these new pieces up in a medium which is beloved to us — live radio theater — which is something we both have spent our careers refining as an art form,” she said.
Audience members cast ballots during the festival and select the winners for the final evening when The Angie Awards are handed out.
“The Angies” are named for the legendary Angela Lansbury, who participated in the 2007 festival and was named Kentucky’s “First Lady of Mystery, 2007.”
Walker won Angie awards for best actress for her role as Betty Roberts in “Remember WENN” Live Radio Theatre and best supporting actress for playing Elena in “The Help” Live Radio Theatre.
David Ossman took home the best supporting actor Angie for his role as Mr. Eldridge in “Remember WENN” Live Radio Theatre and for best director for “Flemming: An American Thriller” Live Radio Theatre.
Duncan said both her experiences at the festival were among the best of her career.
“Zev Buffman is a visionary leader, and he has a dream of reintroducing and supporting murder mysteries on the American stage,” Duncan said. I’ve always loved this genre and am thrilled and honored to be involved. I can’t thank David and Judith enough for their trust and belief in me.”