Among Friends: The Making of Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind (Part 2)


For Bigfoot believers, it can be very therapeutic to be among friends. Same goes for actors, who have to quickly become a family with each new show and new cast. In Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind, this ragtag bunch may not be the best of friends, but they are united by their strange, mysterious circumstances, the glow of the campfire, and one very hairy star. Let’s let our cast of kooky campers share their thoughts on their characters and how they brought them from page to stage.

AMONG FRIENDS: The Making of Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind (Part 2)


James Ferguson (but you can all him Fudge) is a science teacher at Ridgeview High School.  He grew up in Ridgeview and only left his hometown long enough to complete his education out of state.  Fudge is considerate, compassionate, a natural leader, and optimistic almost to a fault. He is the one who started the “Ridgeview’s Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind” Facebook page and is running this campfire conference on Bigfoot. Founder and lead writer of Master Mystery Productions, Daniel Stallings, takes on the role of Fudge in his first MMP show not to be directed by him. While he’s written and directed the past twenty-three shows (including shows such as Murder at the Red FezGoodbye Hollywood, Hello Out There, Ex Luna, The Last Garden Party, Pauper’s Grave, Bury Me in Paris, Ode to Agatha, Anonymous, The Last Chapter, Exit Prima Donna, Famous Last Words, What Happens at Sundown, Mutiny on the Sea Witch, Eat Cake, and Foul Play), he’s also performed as Simon Pritchard in Goodbye Hollywood, General Major in The Last Garden Party, Edgar Giraud in Bury Me in Paris, Tobias Davenport in Ode to Agatha, Dr. Alan Fleming in Anonymous, and Elijah Samson in What Happens in Sundown. President and Scholarship Chair for Ridge Writers, who sponsors Weird Weekend, Daniel received the Jack London Award from the California Writers Club for his service to his branch of the organization. Here he shares his thoughts on Fudge’s character:

“Fudge is a Bigfoot believer to his core, but I wanted to make sure that I portrayed him as calm and rational as possible. What I think defines him the most is his sanity. There are lots of wacky and shifty characters in this show, so I wanted to counteract that by being much more level-headed and dependable. Fudge is just a really sweet, good person, generally well-liked by everyone, which of course causes conflict with the less…likable characters in the show. However, I see Fudge being very plan-focused and detail-oriented, approaching the matter of Bigfoot like a scientist with his detailed and exacting notes. Sudden surprises don’t make him happy. And there’s one sore spot in his life he wishes he could forget, and confronting this issue is enough to boil his secret temper.”

Captain Wallis

Captain Wallis is the head of the Ridgeview Police Department and a pillar of the community. Having been a police officer for more than twenty-five years, Wallis is nearing retirement and although she is undoubtedly looking forward to the time off, Wallis is reluctant to leave the position considering her questionable replacement. Street smart, Wallis also has a no-nonsense approach when it comes to her duties. MMP veteran company member, Janis Kunz returns for her fourth show after first joining Master Mystery Productions in Mutiny on the Sea Witch in November 2018 as Polly the Parrot, stealing scenes and the hearts of the crowds and critics, earning her the coveted Diamond Mask Award for Excellence in Performance and the Blood, Sweat, and Tears Award from Ridgecrest Community Theatre Troupe. She followed that up as a dedicated and passionate member of our crew for Eat Cake at Amargosa Opera House in Spring 2019, winning the Skeleton Key Award for her amazing work on the show. She then served as Stage Manager and played a Maid on closing night of Foul Play in Summer 2019. Here are Janis’ thoughts on the stoic Captain Wallis:

“Captain Penelope Louise Wallis – Penny to only her friends and family – has been on the Ridgeview Police force for twenty five years. Now it’s time for her retirement and she has to wrap up loose ends pertaining to her job before she hands the reins over to her successor, Officer Dixon. She’d be more comfortable with this arrangement if he had more, well, brains. Captain Wallis was always strongly involved in her community; the kind of officer, and then captain, that knows you by name and takes charge of a situation and cares as if you were one of her dogs, of which she has six. If a Bigfoot report were to come her way, she’d do like she does with any incident: try to maintain peace and order and get to the bottom of it. Ridgeview is her town and any conduct unbecoming the community is something she won’t take kindly to. I was thrilled to get the part of Captain Wallis. Not only do I get to work on another Mastery Mystery Production, I get to help develop an original character into a flesh and blood personality. What I want to bring to Captain Wallis is a sense of authority and quiet intelligence of her surroundings and the people she knows. But I also want to show that she is the kind of person who can laugh at a joke or show someone compassion – even if that someone might be one of the Hairy Kind!”


Officer Dixon, through family connections, gained employment with the Ridgeview Police Department several years ago, and, much to the chagrin of the community, he is next in line to fill the position of Captain once Wallis retires. Although serving his community to the best of his ability, his juvenile tendencies haven’t earned him the overall respect he feels he deserves. Jonathan Blair joins us for his fourth Master Mystery Production after making his stage debut in our pirate’s treasure mystery play, Mutiny on the Sea Witch, in November 2018, where his hilarious and high-spirited portrayal of Coxswain Pierce earned him the Diamond Mask Award for Excellence in Performance. Soon after, he gave a masterful performance of the Marquis Mauvais in our French Revolution murder mystery farce, Eat Cake, in Spring 2019 and as the Butler in Foul Play in Summer 2019. Here are Jonathan’s views of Dixon:

“Dixon is rough around the edges, not to mention a bit unfinished as a man. Almost like an immature child, mainly because he was spoiled quite a bit. His family is a powerful, wealthy, and influential one, being one of the founding families of the town. It’s one of the reasons of how he got the job as a police officer, as well as him replacing Captain Wallis. Frank is his hero, and he looks up to him like an older brother. He almost copies Frank in certain actions. Dixon, as a man child, has got some growing up to do; perhaps he will just make it…or not.”


Frank is the rogue resident of Ridgeview and frequenter of Big Red’s Tavern. That being said, one can say that Big Red is the only one willing to tolerate him seeing as he’s snarky to everyone he comes across. Frank is inconsiderate, blunt and pessimistic to a fault. No, you’re not seeing double. Diamond Mask Winner Jonathan Blair will be doubling the parts of both Officer Dixon and Frank, who are cousins, in Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind. He is the first male performer to double a role at MMP and the second performer overall after Elizabeth Pomazal played both Marta Roma and Signora in Exit Prima Donna in Spring 2018. Jonathan shares his thoughts on the character of Frank:

“Frank is one of those self-made men. His father, being a drunk, abused him and wounded his soul. Seeing Bigfoot as a young boy has also placed a burden on him that he wasn’t ready to handle. Frank comes from the same family as Dixon; They are cousins after all. Well-connected, Frank has all his needs met and does not have to work. Having a trust fund, Frank has taken to spending his days drinking and pulling shenanigans as well as antagonizing everyone around him as a way to cope. Confident, cocky, and hurt, Frank still has a chance for redemption.”


Mr. Benjamin Hughes is mail carrier for Ridgeview, the loving husband of Betty Hughes and owner of a German Shepard named Gimley. He has an easygoing disposition and although recently separated by unfortunate circumstances, he remains faithful and hopeful. Matthew Zanardo makes his MMP debut in Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind after first appearing onstage as an Ensemble performer in Law and Order: Fairy Tale Unit for the Community Light Opera and Theater Association (CLOTA) in June 2018. Matthew gives us his perspective into the character of Mr. Hughes:

“Born in 1971 to Myrtle and Henry Hughes, as a surviving twin, Benjamin’s parents raised him just outside of Skagway, Alaska. At the age of 19, he joined the Army, where he learned to fly the C-12. While stationed at the base just outside of Ridgeview, Benjamin met his future wife, Betsy. After being honorably discharged from the Army, Mr. Hughes and his now wife, Betsy, moved into his parents’ place up in Skagway. Here, he bought a small prop airplane. He would fly up to Anchorage to pick up the mail for Skagway, as well as occasionally flying search and rescue missions into the back country. After a head injury, Benjamin lost his ability to fly. Losing his ability to fly was devastating to him. So he sold his aircraft and his parents’ place and moved back down to Ridgeview, so Betsy could be close to her ailing mother.”

Big Red

Big Red is the proprietor of Big Red’s Tavern in Ridgeview. She is well known, well-loved and well respected in the community. Big Red can’t help being funny, friendly and vibrant. But be warned: The lady comes armed with free coasters that you just have to have. After all, “they’re free!” Nicole Johnson is an award-winning actress and audience favorite who has delighted patrons in several Master Mystery Productions with Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind being her fifth. Debuting in our sold-out production of Ode to Agatha (July 2017), she won both the Skeleton Key Award and a Diamond Mask Award for the role of Miriam Lancaster, only the second person in our history to receive both awards for the same show. She followed that with voice acting in C. R. Rowenson’s The Silent City. In Spring 2018, she received universal praise for her role as Leonora in Exit Prima Donna at Amargosa Opera House, earning Nicole her second Diamond Mask Award. In Spring 2019, she performed brilliantly as the rebel maid, Marianne, in Eat Cake. Nicole gives us the full backstory she created for the boisterous Big Red:

“My inspiration for a Big Red was Dolly Parton from Steel Magnolias. I have tried to capture her warmness and her down-home friendliness. So, without further ado, I present to you Big Red’s character. Big Red was born in the back hills of Kentucky under a bright moonlit night with a thousand falling stars falling deep into the words right at the moment of her birth.  This was said to be good luck.  She was named Big Red (It’s on her birth certificate.  First name Big , middle name Red, last name Moon) because of her crazy red hair. Her family were a loving bunch of moonshiners.  Because they couldn’t legally sell their moonshine, they bottled it and sold it as ‘The Cure for All that Ails Ya.’  They were very successful and were able to build a double wide cabin. When Big Red married her husband, they moved to Ridgeview.  Because she was a girl, her kin folk didn’t let her help make the moonshine.  But they did let her sell it.  She found she a natural at running a business.  With the help of her husband and the First Bank of Ridgeview, she able to buy the dilapidated Ridgeview Inn and revamp it into the wildly successful Big Red’s Tavern! Big Red’s Tavern is the most happening place in all of Ridgeview!  Big Red serves up drinks to all the residents of Ridgeview.  While alcohol is her main money maker, she has many customers who ask for milk, tea, or soda.  She’s happy to serve everyone! Big Red is a very friendly lady.  She has many friends in town.  She gets along with pretty much everyone.  She has sort of a brother/sister relationship with Frank.  She’d be happy to see him drink less and stop being so darned contrary!  Big Red knows what’s bothering Frank, but she can’t force him to unburden himself no matter how hard she tries! Big Red has a great respect for Fudge and wholeheartedly supports his Bigfoot group.  Networking with Fudge has really helped her business. So remember, if you got a powerful thirst, just head down to Big Red’s Tavern on Main.  And don’t forget to take a free coaster!”


Madeline Conrad is the reclusive proprietor of Billy’s Bigfoot Fresh Jerky in Ridgeview as well as an unfortunate widow. Although she is intelligent and cosmopolitan by nature, she’s seen as materialistic and cunning. Heather McGaha, joining us for her sixth Master Mystery Production, is a critical-and-crowd-darling performer with a huge list of stage credits prior to her work with Master Mystery Productions, work which has since won her numerous awards. She debuted in Spring 2017 as closing night Chantal in Bury Me in Paris, winning the Skeleton Key Award for her hard work. In fall that year, she portrayed Willow, the supermodel, in Femme Fatales. In Spring 2018, she won the Diamond Mask Award for her leading role as Donatella Violetta in our murder mystery opera, Exit Prima Donna, at Amargosa Opera House. She then played Moll Flint in Mutiny on the Sea Witch in November 2018. Her most recent triumph was winning her second Diamond Mask for a brilliant, landmark performance as Brigitte the Bawd in Eat Cake (Spring 2019). Here Heather will share her thoughts on what makes Madeline tick:

“Conrad, Madeline Conrad is a force to be reckoned with. She is strong willed, determined, and doesn’t yield to anyone’s criticism. Life hasn’t dealt her an easy hand. It has been almost four years since she became a widow. Coming to terms with her husband’s death has been a difficult experience to say the least. After overcoming many a personal lows, she recommitted herself to the success of her business. Mrs. Conrad takes pride in running the successful Billy’s Bigfoot Fresh Jerky establishment and strives to keep her family’s names and stories alive in the process. But how far will she go to keep her business afloat? Where will she draw the line? Only time will tell.”


Honey Boudin was a truck driver when she initially passed through Ridgeview; but is now only a school bus driver. As her name implies, she has the sweetest disposition of anyone. Although she is a kind-hearted young woman, she can be naïve at times. Olivia Holm, returning for her second MMP show, is a supremely talented theatre artist both behind the scenes and on stage.  A recent graduate from the BHS Drama Department, she has appeared as The Grand Duchess Olga Katrina in You Can’t Take It with You, one of the Hamlet’s in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Rock Star Soloist in Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, Ensemble in Trojan Women, Prentiss in Peter and the Star Catcher, and Ensemble in The Laramie Project. She is also a talented Special Effect Makeup artist who has been working with it for several years, even attending the Cinema Makeup School for two summers. She made her MMP debut as our Head of Special FX Makeup in What Happens at Sundown, winning the Skeleton Key Award for her work. Olivia will now shed some light on Honey:

“Honey Boudin is like Laffy Taffy wrapped in sweet Southern sunshine. Her sweet and often naive nature makes her such a fun character to play. Throughout my theatre history I’ve never played the sweet character, so I had to change up my method of developing characters. I started out with creating a music playlist to listen to that would get me in the mentality of Honey. Then came the physicality which came along while working in rehearsals. But what helped the most with creating Honey was working with my other cast members and making the story and the jokes our own. All in all, Honey is such a fun character to play and creating her was twice as fun.”


Evan is a full-time college student and has been a seasonal resident of Ridgeview most of his life. While having a rustic charm, he is brave, benevolent, helpful and has a cat named Dewey. Sebastian Lorenz returns to Master Mystery Productions for his second show after first joining in July 2016 where he played Paul Walliscroft in The Last Garden Party, but he has been a longtime theatrical artist with many stage roles behind him. He has appeared in roles such as the Russian Officer in Arms and the Man, Rocky in The Rocky Horror Show, Skunk in As Bees in Honey Drown, Anthony in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Prince John in The Lion in Winter. Additional stage credits include Of Mice and Men, Runaways, La Boheme, and Scrooge and Marley. A talented singer and performer, we welcome Sebastian’s return to MMP. Here are Sebastian’s thoughts on his character, Evan:

“Evan is of two worlds, living in the city of Litchfield with his mom and spending his summers in Ridgeview with his Uncle Jack and Aunt June where they have a remote cabin with lots and lots of windows on the north end of Crestwood Lake. His Uncle Jack taught him wilderness skills while his Aunt June taught him to appreciate the art world. Because of his aunt and uncle, Evan believes in and respects Bigfoot. Evan is an only child and is currently going to college in hopes of becoming a podiatrist. His best friend for the last ten years has been his cat, Dewey, and their favorite thing to do is to watch Lifetime movies late night on the TV. Even though he has been focusing on his school work, he hopes that fate will help him meet his soulmate someday, in fact, Evan only has two preferences in his ideal woman, she has to believe in Bigfoot and have a drippingly sweet demeanor.”


Mrs. April Collins is the forlorn widow of Peter Collins. Since his untimely death, she’s been withdrawn and introverted from most everyone but has made the effort in recent days to come back out of her shell. When not overcome with sadness, she is thoughtful and caring. Faith Thoms joins us for her first Master Mystery Production after appearing in several productions for the Christian Home Educators of Ridgecrest (CHER) as a narrator in Lincoln the Compassionate Hero, Lady Merle in Robin Hood, and, most recently, a narrator in The Tale of Two Cities (June 2019). We welcome her as she starts her MMP journey with Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind. Here is how she viewed the character of Mrs. Collins:

“In portraying April Collins, I have seen a side of her that some might not see at first glance. Mrs. Collins was widowed at a young age, but she still chooses to come to the Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind Event and share her story. When you first meet her, she might seem shy and unsure of herself, but, thanks to the encouragement of the other guests, she soon faces her fears. Mrs. Collins is always kind to others and ready to help them in whatever way she possibly can, and that is one of the things I like most about playing her.”

Official Cast Poster

There we have our cast of Bigfoot believers and naysayers. But a cast has to be seen to be appreciated, and we have designed a unique lighting scheme that will truly plunge our audience into the woods in the darkest of nights. How do you made a theatrical campfire? We’ll tell you all about it in Lights Out: The Making of Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind (part 3)!

And we’ll see you all at the show! Tickets are on sale now at Red Rock Books!

–Master Mystery Productions


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