Post Mortem: TÊTE-À-TÊTE

Memory persists…

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

Along the banks of the Seine as it winds its way through the City of Lights, artists, booksellers, and sidewalk cafes form a river of creativity through the heart of Paris. Getting creative is part of the soul of this cultural capital of Europe, and we wanted to embrace that spirit of unrestrained imagination, Surrealist thinking, and unconventional design to close our 2022 season and christen a brand new venue. We painted the stage not in oil, watercolor, or acrylics, but in character, costume, set pieces, props, and lights. And we created a living, breathing work of art called Tête-à-Tête.

This idea’s got legs!

Photo by Judyth Greenburgh

We partnered with a brand new venue and organization for this production. Goodent, a non-profit, reached out to Master Mystery Productions to work with us to help christen their new space–The Forum Theater in Lone Pine, CA. We love working in new venues and opening new spaces to the magic of theatre, and after a preliminary look at the space, we began picturing sidewalk cafes, a multi-tiered use of the space, and a story that embraced the original artwork decorating the theater walls. We wanted to celebrate the intimacy of the Forum by crafting a tale of two friends, down-and-out artists making work true to their vision but not lucrative to their pocketbooks. And the image of a pair of legs sticking out from under a cafe table would not escape our minds. It became a show that blended Surrealist humor and heart as two lifelong friends collaborate to try and solve the murder of their patron. But the art of deduction is very different from the art they are used to…

“So…Genevieve’s dead.”

What Yves Dufort and Salome Auclair (played by the dynamic duo of multi-award winners Calvin Johnson and Olivia Holm) may lack in terms of funds to pay their outstanding cafe bills, they make up for in boundless imagination as they take the bohemians who occupy their world and transform them, with a simple donning of a hat or flick of the wrist, into all the suspects. Without the traditional method of evidence, tests, and interrogations, Yves and Salome relied on their memories, on “stolen moments” they’ve eavesdropped on, on a collage of experiences with the suspects. And by carefully placing this patchwork of puzzle pieces together, they hope an image will form of who killed Genevieve Welbourne.

Visions of absinthe…
Collage artist Yves Dufort (played by Calvin Johnson) speaks about his artistic philosophy to Genevieve (Cat Kreidt), an heiress looking to commission him.

Photo by Judyth Greenburgh.
Camille (Leslie Blake) remembers the charms of her late husband…”an artiste”
Genevieve puts a greedy Viv Coniston (Nicole Johnson) in her place when Viv angles to get her life story written up for a magazine.

But the moments they overheard start leading to more sinister and shocking revelations. Is that Camille Welbourne-Pryce, Genevieve’s impoverished sister, scheming with Diego Ruiz, Genevieve’s lover, to get their hands on the money sooner? Are Viv Coniston, a writer, and Erik Lavigne, an art critic and collector, in cahoots? Everyone seems to have their eyes on the fortune in Genevieve’s hands and are anxious to learn how she plans to dispose of her money after she passes. And so were Yves and Salome as they were commissioned to turn the will into a work of Surrealist art. Or they were…until Genevieve was found strangled. And Salome’s discovery of the legs under their table–legs attached to an all-too-realistic corpse–adds further wrinkles into the mystery surrounding them. Who could have killed Genevieve? Ah, but with imagination, the answer may be right at hand…

Denise Pryce (Allison Mitchell) is disgusted by her mother’s antics.
Diego (Calvin Johnson) flirts with a displeased Michelle (Janis Kunz).
Erik Lavigne (Ed Kramer) tries to dissuade Camille (Valerie Kramer) from the plot of framing Genevieve for murder.
Real tears from Cat Kreidt in an emotional scene where Genevieve reveals her deepest secret to Diego.
Viv (Heather McGaha) tries to convince Denise (Libby Mitchell) to sell the story of her aunt’s murder to a publication…maybe the one she publishes?

Photo by Judyth Greenburgh

As we built up steam with the show’s run, we started selling out performances, and audiences from all over the East Sierra got to see and experience the magic of Tête-à-Tête. It has been super fun breathing new life into a reclaimed space and introducing a another part of our world to the artistry of Master Mystery productions. We had great responses from our guests and our show partner, Goodent. Our cast and crew worked really hard to bring the show to life. Even when illness cut a wide swath through our cast, the actors worked to take over new parts in a few short days, helped by the Surrealist design of the production, and kept the play running no matter what. “The show must go on” is the edict of theatre, and our amazing actors took that to heart. Our guests never noticed the difference. We kept out show running as smoothly as possible. That’s part of the drama of working in drama. And bravo to our irreplaceable artists for pushing through and working together to keep the show alive. Without them, we are nothing. Bravo, bravo!

Sold out show!

Photo by Judyth Greenburgh.

Closing night is our traditional awards night. And as our final show of the 2022 season, Tête-à-Tête was a big show with lots of honors to present. First up was The Skeleton Key Award for Service Above and Beyond, our company’s oldest award. Each plaque is designed to uniquely reflect the show it was made for, making the Skeleton Key Award a symbol of an individual putting their unique 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. Tête-à-Tête presented two very equal candidates, and to celebrate the title of the show, we awarded two Skeleton Keys for the production. Congratulations Ed Kramer and Cat Kreidt for winning the Skeleton Key Award for Tête-à-Tête!

This award is extra special as it features original watercolor art created and signed by MMP Hall of Fame Artist Devanne Fredette. The winners also received larger original copies of the Skeleton Key art as a gift from Devanne. C’est magnifique!

Awards for Tête-à-Tête
Congratulations Cat!
Congratulations Ed!

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 Tête-à-Tête. Congratulations to Olivia Holm, Cat Kreidt, Calvin Johnson, and Ed Kramer for your Diamond Mask-winning performances!

After a sudden casting change, Assistant Director Olivia Holm had to make a sharp pivot in her characters and take the reins as a leading role in the bubbly, bright-eyed, and bursting with even brighter ideas Salome Auclair. Finding the verve and vivaciousness that tickles the funny bone in just the right way takes talent, which Olivia has in spades as she delivered a sparkling portrayal full of wit and sass that kept us laughing and smiling throughout the show. But Olivia was also able to temper the Surreal with some beautiful, heart-touching humanity that made her Salome a delight for audiences. As such, she continues her reign as one of our premier actresses with her fifth Diamond Mask Award for Excellence in Performance, becoming the first woman to reach that milestone. Olivia continues to give us gorgeous performances that delight all of us. Congratulations Olivia!
Multi-award winning actress Cat Kreidt returned to the Master Mystery Productions stage in the role of Genevieve Welbourne in Tête-à-Tête, and it has become one of her most wonderful performances in her career as she takes home her much-deserved fourth Diamond Mask Award for Excellence in Performance. Capturing Genevieve’s glamour and class onstage was just one task; Cat’s phenomenal acting brought about her heart and humanity in a devastating scene about sacrifice for the sake of another which brought her to genuine tears on closing night, a performance that ranks up there as one of the greatest in MMP history. She brought true pathos to the show, and it was an honor to watch it happen. And the audience felt it, awarding her the coveted prize. Bravo, Cat, for another magical performance!
It takes a phenomenal and deep talent to win the Diamond Mask Award a record eight times in front of diverse and changing audiences, venues, and productions, and Calvin Johnson continues his historic streak as the most decorated performer in MMP history with a stunning performance as Yves Dufort in Tête-à-Tête. Whether it’s a sober, serious moment pondering the nature of his art or when he dons a Surrealist hat to impersonate Diego Ruiz, the lascivious Lothario of the Left Bank whose passion for the ladies eclipses his artistic gifts, Calvin portrayed the whole arc from tender and quiet to laugh-out-loud hilarious. His range as a performer and ability to nuance a scene with the most careful considerations of character and tone mark him as a standout actor no matter what show he is in and have made him a true legend in our history. With yet another brilliant performance as Yves, Calvin adds one more historic credit to his name: He is the first performer to win three Diamond Mask Awards in a single theatrical season with wins in Closer to Heaven, Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind 2022 Revival, and now Tête-à-Tête. Bravo, Calvin!
Ed Kramer has emerged as a bright, fresh talent to local theatre this season, and he has already brought his raw talent and energy to his roles and his work backstage. As a bohemian artist along the Seine who surreally transforms into the art critic Erik Lavigne, he brought his energy, humor, and variety to his performance. Whether haggling for a piece of Genevieve’s art collection or revealing a painful secret that brought tears to his eyes, Ed’s delivery was vibrant and unforgettable and uniquely his own, true hallmarks of great acting. As such, audiences awarded him with his very first Diamond Mask Award for Excellence in Performance, an achievement certainly well-deserved. Congratulations Ed!

Putting on a show is seldom flawless. One can always expect complications along the way. But when times are difficult and challenges arise, some people find the strength and dedication to help us cross the finish line. We are forever grateful to these individuals. We awarded three Special Commendations to Olivia Holm, Allison Mitchell, and Libby Mitchell as an expression of tremendous gratitude for their work on the show and willingness to step up and help in times of difficulty. They took on larger roles after a major casting shake-up happened two months into the production and remained flexible and took on more work when illness cut its way through our cast and crew. To say we are grateful is an understatement. Congratulations to our Special Commendation superstars!

Congratulations Olivia, Allison, and Libby!

Then there came the most prestigious award of the night: The Founder’s Award for a Year of Outstanding Service. This award is one of the hardest to achieve at Master Mystery Productions and is the company’s highest honor. It is given to an individual, company, organization, etc. who has gone above and beyond to promote and grow Master Mystery Productions over the course of an entire production year, in this case from January to November. The winners of this award have stood out as some of the most dedicated members of the company and have done so much to make Master Mystery Productions one of the best theatre producers in the area.

Heather McGaha returned to the stage after lockdown and has commanded a blossoming range of talents and responsibilities across the 2022 season. Working on every MMP show this season from Closer to Heaven to Unlucky Seven to Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind 2022 Revival to Tête-à-Tête, she brought not only her immense acting gifts and nuanced portrayals, but also a careful, practiced theatrical eye to the aesthetics of our shows to lift our sets to even greater heights than ever before. She worked as the Set Dresser for Closer to Heaven, creating one of the most layered and beautiful set designs we ever had, along with delivering a landmark performance as Erin Rochester, earning her third Diamond Mask Award for Excellence in Performance. Her work backstage on the show won her the Skeleton Key Award for Service Above and Beyond, becoming only the second person in MMP history to win the award twice and the first and only to win it for two live productions. She performed as Witness the Sixth in Unlucky Seven that summer, where her quick-thinking alone with castmate Monica Dwyer helped create a stand-in prop when one was left behind. She followed that with a Diamond Mask-winning revival of her role of Madeline Conrad in Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind 2022 Revival, where she also donated her own furniture to the set design. And finally, for Tête-à-Tête, she again provided set pieces and set dressing for the production alongside a wonderful portrayal of Viv Coniston in Act 2. She has worked this season as everything from a scenic artist to a model to an actress to a prop stylist to set dresser to a set designer and much more. For this commitment and high-caliber work across the entire year, we awarded Heather the Founder’s Award for a Year of Outstanding Service for the 2022 Season. Super congratulations, Heather, on a landmark season for you and all your hard work. You have totally earned it!

Congratulations Heather! Our 2022 champion!

Two final honors were presented on closing night. We have recently started the MMP Hall of Fame to recognize artists who have made significant impact to the company over the years. These artists have influenced the creativity, the personal brand, the expertise, and the excellence of the company and have been inspirations to us as gifted performers, creatives, and human beings. We were honored to induct Heather McGaha and Leslie Blake into the MMP Hall of Fame.

Heather McGaha is a longtime, legacy performer in theatre before she even joined Master Mystery Productions, but since she rescued us in Bury Me in Paris to play Chantal on closing night in 2017, she has built a storied and acclaimed theatrical career that has showcased her greatest gifts. She won the Skeleton Key Award for Service Above and Beyond for Bury Me in Paris and became the first person to win the award twice for live productions only with a win for Closer to Heaven in 2022. She has performed as the supermodel Willow in Femme Fatales in October 2017. She has won four Diamond Mask Awards for Excellence in Performance for the roles of Donatella Violetta in Exit Prima Donna, Brigitte the Bawd in Eat Cake, Erin Rochester in Closer to Heaven, and Madeline Conrad in Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind 2022 Revival. Additional MMP roles include Moll Flint in Mutiny on the Sea Witch, Madeline Conrad in the original production Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind, Witness the Sixth in Unlucky Seven, and Act Two Viv Coniston in Tête-à-Tête. And for her astounding work and commitment on the 2022 season, she won the Founder’s Award for a Year of Outstanding Service. Heather McGaha’s artistry continues to lift her up as one of the finest performers at Master Mystery Productions with a growing collection of star roles in everything from musicals to plays to Reader’s Theatre. She has been a brave, exemplary actress who has been willing to embrace the silly or the serious ideas for a show, performing them with grace, confidence, and precision. Her intelligent, deeply nuanced portrayals have become legend at MMP, and she continues to grow and excel as an actress, creating more exquisite moments and memories for our audiences and actors to remember for years to come. We now officially induct her into the Master Mystery Productions Hall of Fame.

Leslie Blake is a treasured member of the company who first joined Master Mystery Productions and the theatre community at large in August 2017 in her first ever role as Agent Paxton in our sold-out show Anonymous, where her work behind the scenes earned her the Skeleton Key Award. She has since gone on to work on productions such as The Silent City, Eat Cake, Lenore Nevermore, and Tête-à-Tête. She is the winner of two Diamond Mask Awards for her acting for a legendary performance as Kim Hyatt in What Happens at Sundown in 2018 and for the hilarious Witness the Fourth in Unlucky Seven in 2022, which also marked the 50th Diamond Mask ever awarded now known as the Golden Diamond Mask. She is one of the first recipients of the Special Commendation certificates which she won for Eat Cake when she understudied as Marie Antoinette on closing night. Additional roles she has played at MMP are Heather Violette in Foul Play, Dream Lenore in Lenore Nevermore, Ms. Squeak in Who’s Who?, Dawn Schuyler in Closer to Heaven, and Act One Camille Welbourne-Pryce in Tête-à-Tête. Leslie’s journey at Master Mystery Productions has been a moving story of finding your tribe, of discovering your talents and worth, and of growing your family and creating a special home for maturing artistic gifts. She has been a symbol of personal growth, artistic discovery, and heartfelt support for all of us in the MMP family. She has shown tremendous commitment as an artist and has learned skills and unveiled great strengths within her own heart that has allowed to blossom from a theatre newbie to a seasoned performer. She has found at Master Mystery Productions that continues to allow her to grow, change, and adapt as a performer and person. Her dedication and love for the company has continually inspired us to make a safe, productive, and creative home for our talented creators. We now induct her officially into the Master Mystery Productions Hall of Fame.

As Hall of Fame Artists, Heather and Leslie represent the very best of what Master Mystery Productions offers in the way of its amazing talent and creativity. Congratulations!

Heather McGaha, one of our newest Hall of Fame Artists!
Leslie Blake, one of our newest Hall of Fame Artists!

Tête-à-Tête gave us a chance to play, to dream, to experiment. Three of our favorite things to do. Part of the sheer joy of working in theatre is taking a blank slate, the canvas of an empty stage, and filling it with art. Creating a world from nothing. Pulling out character and personality from the collage pieces of costume, set, and makeup. It’s alchemy to watch these creative talents, each as unique as a person’s DNA, come together to form one special live experience. And that’s why we come back to this work again and again and again.

The cast of Tête-à-Tête

Photo by Judyth Greenburgh.

2022 has been a phenomenal, landmark season for as we returned to a full roster of live performances again. Across four unique and memorable shows, we have had cheers, laughs, tears, and so much more. We reunited with so many of our brilliant performers from past productions as well as welcomed new voices into the company. It’s been a joy to perform again at the height of our powers. But now our eyes turn to the future as we plan our next season at Master Mystery Productions. What’s in store for 2023? Be ready for adventures that take you through the sky, over the land, and across the sea. Can you solve those clues? Keep an eye out for more mysteries on the horizon.

We’ll see you in the new year!

–Master Mystery Productions

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