The Detroit Mercy Theatre Company (DMTC) is drawing inspiration from the past with the presentation of Hitchcocked!: An Audio Serial, an original, five-episode adventure comedy based on the work of Alfred Hitchcock.
The world premiere audio play, commissioned by the DMTC thanks to a donation from alumnus Tom Page ’71, ’76, is a response to the pandemic closing theaters, thereby eliminating live performances in front of an audience.
“We kept asking ourselves, ‘How can we continue to be creative and offer our students opportunities to perform and still be safe,’” said Andrew Papa, who directed the show.
Papa, who is an assistant professor of Theatre, contacted playwright Joe Landry, whose work Papa was familiar with, and asked whether DMTC could adapt one of Landry’s works for an audio presentation. Landry did him one better, saying he would write an entirely new piece.
Landry worked on the piece from April through December 2020, with Papa serving as a sounding board. The final result is a story about two young people in Detroit, whose experience in an immersive game goes horribly awry. The two friends find themselves drawn into a plot that involves a cross-country chase to stop a mad bomber. It’s part Hitchcock, part adventure comedy, part old-time radio serial and completely modern.
The show also includes some original music by Theatre student Jeremy St. Martin and illustrations of scenes and characters for each episode by Assistant Professor of Theatre Mary Liz Valesano.
Its cast and crew of more than 20 includes two alumni and is the largest group Papa has directed for the DMTC. He said that despite doing much of this work virtually, the experience has been great.
“They have been having a blast,” Papa said.
Third-year Theatre student Elise Pannemann agrees. Her first show with DMTC was also a radio-style show written by Landry, so she says it’s fun to come full circle with Hitchcocked!, in which she has a lead role
“I would, obviously, like to be onstage, but this experience has been very interesting,” she said. “I use my body and facial expressions a lot when I’m acting, so I really had to learn to do that even though the audience can’t see me. The director would tell me ‘Smile, the audience can hear you smile.’”
Preston Cornelius, a senior Theatre student, takes on more than a dozen parts in the radio play.
“It’s been a fun challenge,” he said. “I get to play characters I’d probably never be able to play in real life because I’m not old enough or don’t have the right look, but because the audience can’t see me, they get to imagine me based on the voice.”
Landry participated in the rehearsal process, Cornelius said, tweaking the script here and there, which was another illuminating first for him.
Freshman Adam El-Zein said he’s been interested in voice acting since he was a child watching cartoons, so his participation in Hitchcocked! allows him to explore that dream. He plays the part of Grant, who he calls a free spirit, and confesses “it’s so weird not being able to convey my emotion onstage with my body or face.”
Papa said the experience is also teaching students a valuable skill. With podcasting such an important and growing part of the entertainment world, it is important students learn the skills of voice over acting. Students are working with a voice over actor who will help students understand that form of acting and give them tips on breaking into that area of show business.
“And what we’re also showing is that we can think outside the box,” Papa said. “Having to adapt to the pandemic has shown us that we have to rethink what theatre is. And what we’re saying is that it doesn’t have to be this, or this. Theatre can be many different things. And it should be.”
El-Zein says he believes listeners will “hear that spark that they do in a live performance and will realize that things are hopefully getting back to the way they used to be.”
Pannemann said she thinks audiences will be just as thrilled with the final product as she is.
“It’s a very trying time for everyone and this show is fun and escapist and I think people will get lost in the adventure,” she said.
The episodes are recorded and will be released on five consecutive Fridays at 8 p.m. starting March 19. A 30-minute “making of” video will be available at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The episodes will be available to listen to for free through Spotify and Apple Podcasts through July 19. Links to all episodes and the program can be found at udmercy.edu/hitchcocked.