The audience in All College Theatre’s most recent production, “Trial By Error,” got the chance to experience being members of a 150-person jury at the two performances on Thursday, Nov. 21 and Friday, Nov. 22.
The show was interactive, as the members of the audience actually did determine which character would be found guilty. While the audience ate food from Mama Flora’s, the cast members wove their way through the packed crowd before the play and during intermission, and much of the play’s second act revolved around audience questions for the panel of suspects.
“I was nervous about interacting with the audience because I wasn’t sure how people would take talking to a character and not talking to you,” said Emily Brady, an international student focusing on African American studies who portrayed prosecutor Eleanor Ashwood. “But I was happily surprised to find how happy people were to talk to us, how people would come up to us at intermission and talk about what was going on, and how receptive people were us.”
Garrett Verdone, a junior marketing major who played defendant Brandon Weatherby, a man accused of killing his own father, said that on both nights they got different questions and answers.
“That’s the best thing about a murder mystery, you get a completely different show with each performance,” Verdone said.
The actors were tested by not only the audience, but also by several members of the cast who acted as “reporters” for the case, interviewing audience members and trial witnesses alike.
“It took a good amount of practice to get used to thinking on your feet,” said Anthony Coppola, senior interactive multimedia major and the secondary suspect, Colonel Henry Blake. “It helped you get into character when you spent an hour in character before the show working with the ‘media.’ After weeks and many practices, staying in character was easier and it really stopped being like a show, we all enjoyed doing it.”
The challenges in doing the production did not just come from the improvised nature of the performances.
“Last year, ACT performed a courtroom show, and two years ago we did a courtroom show, so we wanted to really make sure that it was not like anything we’d done,” said Robert O’Connor, a senior sociology major who co-directed the show with graduate counseling education student John Eldis and co-wrote the show with Eldis and senior English secondary education double major Bree Florek. “This is the first murder mystery we’ve had in some time that actually had multiple endings, and I think it worked really well.”
In a show with multiple endings, sometimes the audience is left wondering what the other outcomes could have been. Not so with this performance, as the cast showed both endings — one in which Brandon Weatherby is found guilty and confesses that he not only did it, also but wishes to kill more members of his family, and the other showing the downtrodden Henry Blake wrongly convicted as Weatherby confesses to the audience anyway.
“One thing we wanted to make sure of during the writing process was that each ending was super clear-cut,” Eldis said. “And obviously one of them is the good ending and one is the bad ending.”
Luckily, the audience chose to convict the right man, showing that even an oversized jury watching a comedy does not always judge in error.