Post Mortem: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE HAIRY KIND

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Searching the woods…

Welcome to Post Mortem! This is where Master Mystery Productions looks back on the performance of its most recent show.

The end of September is a time of great change. The summer heat dwindles away. A strange breeze blows in. And the shadows shifting in the starlit night might be more than just windswept trees. With that as our muse, we had a more rustic Weird Weekend this year than previous seasons. We set up camp, turned out the lights, and started the search for Bigfoot in our 24th Master Mystery Production, Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind.

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Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind was a very important show for us. It marked the first production to feature an outside director in training to become a full-fledged MMP director. Monica Lorenz-Dwyer, as she was credited for this production, also became only the second person to write a solo show for the company after C. R. Rowenson’s The Silent City in 2017. A lot was on her shoulders, but Monica handled it all with grace and composure worthy of Lady Elizabeth, her first role with MMP. And she helped us to transform Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church into her vision of Crestwood Lake Campground. Custom-made signage leading to places Dis Way, Dat Way, O’er Yonder, A Hop Skip ‘n a Jump, Stumblin’ Distance, and so on surrounded the audience and greeted them on their walk up to the venue door. Don’t forget about the billboards for Billy’s Bigfoot Fresh Jerky also seen on that walk. Guests were immediately thrust into the story before crossing the threshold. A large sign welcomed them to Crestwood Lake Campground, a popular spot for Bigfoot spotters. And the immersion continued as we served Bigfoot-themed camp meals featuring homemade treats to our guests with jerky, trail mix, s’mores brownie cupcakes, gingerbread wildman cookies, and cinnamon sugar footprint cookies.

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Welcome to Crestwood Lake Campground…

Then we dimmed the lights, let the sounds of crickets and owls play underneath, lit our “campfire,” and brought out our curious cast of campers. They came from all walks of life with stories of Bigfoot sightings they had. Some ranged from the hilarious and high-spirited. Others tragic and heartbreaking. But they all have the legendary creature in common. Some of the campers are deep believers in Bigfoot. Others viciously skeptic. But one of their number is hunting for the legend, offering $10,000 on a wanted poster for information leading to its capture. What could they want with Bigfoot? Is there any way to offer it sanctuary?

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Wanted: One Bigfoot
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Honey (Olivia Holm) shares her story around the campfire.
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Fudge (Daniel Stallings) takes a moment to support and comfort a heartbroken April Collins (Faith Thoms).
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Evan (Sebastian Lorenz) shows off his prized plaster cast.
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Madeline Conrad (Heather McGaha) reads an account of Bigfoot her late father-in-law had from his old journal.

But the arrival of unexpected (and in some cases, inebriated) guests, a bizarre business proposition, and a box of evidence crucial to establishing the sanctuary vanishing into the shadows transform this bucolic Bigfoot gathering into a menacing mystery. Armed with only their flashlight and lanterns, the party splits up to search the darkening woods for a missing guest and the equally missing evidence. But the truths and secrets they uncover will change many of them for good. On a wild night like this, fights and falling in love are a matter of course. Not to mention more felonious intentions. Who is responsible for the chaos at camp? Who is behind the wanted posters? And who…or what…is lurking in the shadows, knocking on trees?

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Fudge and his ex-best friend Frank (Jonathan Blair) having some…differences between them.
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What is Officer Dixon (Jonathan Blair) up to?
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Captain Wallis (Janis Kunz) and Mr. Hughes (Matthew Zanardo) search the woods for the missing evidence.
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Big Red (Nicole Johnson) looks on the bright side of not being as tall as Fudge. “If I fell, I wouldn’t have too far to fall, now would I?”
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Evan, Dixon, Captain Wallis, and Mr. Hughes continue the evidence search. Not sure how they fare as scavenger hunters against a “Hide and Seek World Champion.”

Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind provided us with a chance to expand our mystery writing team and introduce new talent into the fields of playwriting, directing, acting, and theatrical design. We wanted to do something different with this unique show. We chose a “lights out” production, using only camping lanterns, flashlights, and out campfire to light the whole show, creating eerie shadows and an unforgettable atmosphere audiences really responded to.

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Listening in…

But did they like the rest of the show?

A resounding YES. Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind sold out both performances, making it the most successful Weird Weekend show MMP has ever created. Critics called the show “pleasantly spooky,” “entertaining,” “funny throughout,” and much more, especially commenting on the immense heart found in the play. Audiences adored the show, laughing brightly and cheering loudly at bows. We loved performing for our guests, and they loved what we put on that stage. Maybe we made some of them into Bigfoot believers. Who knows?

Read the full review from The Daily Independent here.

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Wait…You don’t think…?

Closing night is our traditional awards night. First up was The Skeleton Key Award for Service Above and Beyond, our oldest award. Each designed to uniquely reflect the show it was made for, the Skeleton Key Award is a symbol of an individual putting their heart and soul into a Master Mystery Production, going above and beyond their assigned jobs in the show to make it the best it can be. They are inspirations to us in the company, and they remain celebrated in our programs and on our website for years to come. Monica Dwyer, with emotion trembling in her voice, presented two awards that night. Congratulations to Steven Dwyer and Mark Zanardo on your Skeleton Key Awards for Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind!

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Awards for Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind
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Congratulations Steven!
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Congratulations Mark!

Following the Skeleton Key, we presented the coveted Diamond Mask Awards for Excellence in Performance. Voted by audiences, guests select their nominees for the award based on the performances they liked best. The actors with the most votes win. On their first win, they receive a special diamond pin and subsequent wins will receive a diamond chain to create a cascade of diamonds. Four people won the award for Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind. Congratulations to Nicole Johnson, Jonathan Blair, Olivia Holm, and Janis Kunz on your Diamond Mask-winning performances!

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Veteran actress, Nicole Johnson, had one goal. To, in her words, “come back with a vengeance.” Having earlier won two Diamond Mask Awards for stellar performances as Miriam Lancaster in Ode to Agatha and Leonora in Exit Prima Donna, she missed her chance to take one for Eat Cake. But she came back ready to fight for her crown. As the boisterous and bubbly Big Red (owner of Big Red’s Tavern on Main), a role her producer said was the best one she ever played, Nicole finally won her THIRD Diamond Mask Award for Excellence in Performance for Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind, only the third performer in history to do so. Her delightful antics and down-home sass made it impossible for audiences not to love her. Bravo, Nicole, for your much-deserved Diamond Mask win!
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Jonathan Blair conquered two roles for Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind, both the oafish Officer Dixon and the surly partier Frank, and performed them to perfection. Audience members and critics were amazed at Jonathan’s quick turn-around for each character and his exquisite distinction behind each man. As such, they awarded him his second Diamond Mask Award for Excellence in Performance after previously winning for Coxswain Pierce in 2018’s Mutiny on Sea Witch. Jonathan is the first and so far only performer to win the award for playing two characters. Congratulations on your historic Diamond Mask win!
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Olivia Holm’s portrayal of the sweet yet still sassy Honey Boudin not only won Evan’s heart, but also the hearts of the crowd. Her infectious energy, willingness to have fun onstage, and indomitable spirit made her stand out from her first story and lasted through “sneezing fits” and “sprained ankles.” She was at the top of her game every night. And Bigfoot or not, you can’t keep a good actress down as Olivia takes home her first Diamond Mask Award for Excellence in Performance. Bravo, Olivia!
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With grace, professionalism, and a real-to-the-bone performance that grounded her character and the entire show, Janis Kunz gave a masterful rendition of the role of Captain Wallis, a veteran policewoman nearing retirement. Janis’ commitment to the character, believable performing, and attention to detail (which included an actual police ride-along to help enhance her characterization) earned her her second Diamond Mask Award. Quite a difference from her first award-winning role as the trouble-making Polly the Parrot in 2018’s pirate play, Mutiny on the Sea Witch. Congrats, Janis, on your second win!

But what’s this? Another award? That’s right. The Partners in Crime Award honors those who make significant contributions to the writing of a Master Mystery Production. Without them, some of our Master Mystery Productions would never see the light of day. With a lighthearted, funny, and touching script full of heart, a heart as big as her own, congratulations Monica Dwyer for winning the Partners in Crime Award for Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind!

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Award for Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind
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Congratulations, Monica!

There was one final honor to be had that night. Monica has become the first person EVER to win every single award offered by Master Mystery Productions, an amazing and historic feat that spanned four theatrical seasons and eight productions. She has a total of six awards to her name: The Skeleton Key Award (The Last Garden Party), three Diamond Mask Awards (Bury Me in Paris, Ode to Agatha, Eat Cake), The Partners in Crime Award (Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind), and The Founder’s Award (2017). As such, we are delighted to announce that Monica Dwyer is the inaugural inductee into the Master Mystery Productions Hall of Fame for her landmark contributions to the company and theatre as a whole. As a Hall of Fame artist, Monica represents the very best of what Master Mystery Productions offers in the way of its amazing talent and creativity. Mega super congratulations, Monica, for this humongous honor!

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The cast of Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind

Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind proved that you didn’t have to believe in Bigfoot to be swept up by the legend and have a wonderful time sharing stories around a campfire. Featuring our largest main cast yet, our Bigfoot play bonded us even closer as a family, like a community of oddball creatures just looking for their place in the world. With those sold-out shows, we can definitely say we found where we belong. Thank you so much to our cast, crew, audience, and especially to our fearless writer/director, Monica Dwyer, for taking us on this journey into legends and beyond. Congratulations on all your successes! We are so proud of all of you!

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But don’t fly away just yet! One final Master Mystery Production plans to swoop in to close out our 2019 season of new shows. For our landmark 25th Master Mystery Production, we plan to resurrect a famous Edgar Allan Poe poem and raise some serious questions about the nature of grief, obsession, and madness. What really happened to Lenore? And what does that supernatural Raven want? Inspired by “The Raven,” join us for a dramatic journey into the depths of one man’s memories in…

LENORE NEVERMORE

Lenore Nevermore is our first ever touring production with two different performance venues. It performs Saturday, October 19 at 2 p.m. at Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church (633 W. Las Flores Ave.) and Saturday, October 26 at 2 p.m. at Amargosa Opera House in Death Valley Junction, CA. Tickets are $20 general admission, $10 kids 12 and under. The Ridgecrest show tickets are sold at Red Rock Books. The Amargosa show tickets are sold through the Amargosa Hotel Front Desk.

We can’t wait to see you there!

–Master Mystery Productions

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