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Behind the Scenes: Mike Hammer Encore for Murder

Published: January 11, 2018

Shows come and go at Ruth Eckerd Hall but it’s not every day that a show is created and produced in-house by our amazing staff.  We are excited to present the world-premiere of a murder mystery written by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins. This thriller is the first in a series of a new form of theatre as Ruth Eckerd Hall paves the way to the future. We present to you:

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In addition to national talent and the best actors in the Tampa Bay area, this home grown production also includes actors and professionals from Ruth Eckerd Hall!

Before the first curtain rises on Opening Night, January 18, we took a look behind-the-scenes on this production by talking with some key Ruth Eckerd Hall staff who are involved in the play including our President and CEO and Encore for Murder Producer, the incomparable Zev Buffman:

What’s it like going from producing Broadway hits on the Main Stage to bringing a Broadway play to the intimate Murray Theatre, a much smaller stage?

It’s virtually the same!  It all has to do with discipline, preparation and execution.

 What is your personal interest in producing Mike Hammer’s Encore for Murder?

Quite simply, there are bestselling books, television shows and motion pictures for the audience who enjoy thrillers and mysteries but there aren’t any live theatre productions in that genre. The recipe for these is often found by a producer to be a niche.  We MUST bring mysteries and thrillers back to the American stage.  Ruth Eckerd Hall is totally capable to lead the charge and this is what we are going to do!

We had a chance to catch up with Thom Jay, an in-house Graphic Designer & actor, who has THREE acting roles in the production. In addition, Thom designed all of the original projection art that you will see during the production!

You’re a Graphic Designer at Ruth Eckerd Hall by day and an actor by night. Now, you’re acting in the world premiere of Mike Hammer’s Encore For Murder at the Murray Theatre. What’s it like creating the art for the show and also playing several roles in the production?

Like any art or creative endeavor, it’s both exciting and challenging. Having performed on the stage since I was nine, acting has always come easy to me but with most shows you’re only cast in one role. With Encore For Murder, I’m creating three roles, which each need to be unique, engaging and entertaining. I’m having fun playing with voices, physicality, and seeing where they might lead. The talent gathered for this production is top notch and so I’m always conscious of that, wanting to shine alongside these talented actors.

My second task for this show, as a Graphic Designer at Ruth Eckerd Hall, is more of a challenge to me, conceptually. My media here is a theatrical environment, which will lend itself to the actor’s performances, a far cry from print ads. The work I’m doing is also much more stylized, to convey a mood/atmosphere as well as space.

I’m still not sure whether I’m more excited for my debut performance in the Murray Theatre, or seeing design work brought to life in such a grand fashion. Either way, being invested on many different levels, it will definitely be a memorable production for me.

We asked Sharon Reid-Kane, Vice President of the Marcia P. Hoffman School of the Arts at Ruth Eckerd Hall, about her involvement with the production.

You oversee the education and outreach department at the Marcia P. Hoffman School of the Arts. Can you tell us a little about what your involvement is with the production of Mike Hammer Encore For Murder?

The Encore For Murder production “lives” in our Education & Outreach Department, and is exactly what our mission is all about – providing new arts education experiences and involving the talented artists in our community. My Team and I began the casting process and put the basic production pieces into place. We continue to work directly with Zev, along with the cast and production team, to ensure that all of those pieces are in synch. So much goes into a production like this and we take great pride in bringing an idea to life and providing an unforgettable experience for all involved.

We also asked her about Stephen Fisher, who is the Education & Producing Associate and what that position entails:

A little bit of everything! Steve is an invaluable part of our team, supporting our educational programs as an Instructor AND in coordinating productions such as this. He is a multi-talented artist and educator and serves as a Company Manager in these cases, overseeing all pre-production aspects and casting processes. We couldn’t do it without him!

Directed by Richard Rice with a cast of 10 actors playing 18 different roles, the production features state-of-the-art technology including a cinematic screen with continuous projections, more than 200 stunning sound effects and an original musical score! With several shows already sold out, a third week of performances were recently added as the excitement builds for opening night!

Zev Buffman added:

“In the first act alone, Hammer’s Colt 45 kills six gangsters! But don’t be misled, there are four-times as many laughs as killings in this all-new production.”

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 Gary Sandy as Mike Hammer (left) and Tony Brewer, Foley Artist (right)

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Tony Brewer, Foley Artist

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Mary Rachel Dudley as Rita Vance (left) and Rand Smith as Andrew Gold (right)

Photo credit:  Jeff O’Kelley