One of the allures of seeing a live play is the connection that you feel with the actors in front of you.
The Grand Theatre at Salt Lake Community College aims to bring audiences a unique kind of intimate experience by performing different plays with the audience on stage with them.
Kim Blackett, a professional actor for over 30 years, is a part of “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940,” the latest production in the “Backstage at the Grand” series. This was his first opportunity to perform a play with the audience in arms reach.
“I was scared to death at first day of rehearsals when I found out we’re going to do it,” Blackett says. “I was really terrified to be that close to the audience, and after we got an audience I was really surprised at how much I don’t notice they’re there.”
“The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940” is a unique story to tell because the cast is somewhat large and the stories between all the characters involve subtle emotion. The audience can pick up these subtleties much easier by being so close to the action.
“Because the audience is so close, we can do more with expressions. We’d have to make a huge house,” Blackett says. “This way, we can do really subtle expressions and get a laugh.”
David Hanson, director of the play, pointed out that the way the set had to be designed was more meticulous than he’s done in the past. The set utilizes secret doors and required everything be placed in just the right spot. Any errors, even by an inch, could make things difficult for the actors and the audience. Hanson has been involved with a few other plays that have been performed at the Grand.
“Backstage at the Grand” was an idea first conceived by Richard Scott, dean of the SLCC School of Arts, Communication and Media. The Grand has performed many larger-scale plays like “Hairspray,” but wanted to provide the audience with a more intimate and relatable experience so they can feel engaged in ways they never thought they’d see.
Seth Miller, artistic executive director of the Grand Theatre, says certain productions are better suited for the backstage format.
“These really intimate shows would sort of be lost in the mainstage,” Miller explains. “‘The Musical Comedy Murders’ was a good choice [for backstage] because while it does have a bigger cast, being that close to the set is kind of fun. It lets you have a connection with the show and the secret passages … that you might not [have] if you were sitting in the house on the mainstage [where] the set was twice as big.”
Students are able to get one free ticket to Grand Theatre productions with their OneCard. Miller encourages students to check out a production not only because it’s free, but because the experience could be eye-opening.
“This is a good way to experience a form of entertainment that you might not necessarily be familiar with but you might really enjoy,” Miller says. “There’s a whole different kind of energy watching a live performance and the connection you make with the story and the actors.”
“The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940” runs until Saturday, Feb. 24. Visit the Grand Theatre for ticket prices and show information.