By Chloe Hunt '21
Murder on the Orient Express, a dramatic comedy written by Agatha Christie, will be brought to Fishburn this year. Well, not exactly Fishburn– the winter play will be recorded, and actors will be performing from their homes.
Accomplished director Jess Jones-Gausla, daughter of AP English instructor Polly Jones, took over the winter play this year. In order to best comply with the Covid-19 protocols, she decided that the production be entirely virtual.
“This is the way theatre has kept going during this pandemic while keeping everyone safe. We are doing our part,” Jones-Gausla said. “Doing this show online takes away many aspects of a theatre production, such as being able to work with a scene partner, and the use of the body is very different.”
Jones-Gausla also said that while the circumstances are not ideal, students are learning new skills.
“This necessity to work online does allow for a training that is more akin to a video audition or film work. I have done my best to provide our cast with as much information on how a professional actor works as possible and allowed them all to choose which aspect they will focus on to help themselves grow,” Jones-Gausla said. “This is a difficult year, and I have aimed to make this show both a place to lean into the work required to be part of the theatre industry and a place to have fun and unwind.”
Murder on the Orient Express is certainly a fun show. For students eager to see the production, Jones-Gausla provided a small preview of what to expect.
“This is an exciting tale of a mystery on a train,” Jones-Gausla said. “Students can expect a few tricks and turns, blood, and quite a few screams.”
As a new director at North Cross and an actor herself, Jones-Gausla brings a fresh perspective to the stage and wants to embrace each actor’s nuances.
“As a director, I very much enjoy introducing ideas to the actors and seeing when, if, and how they incorporate these ideas into their work. I am primarily an actor who delves deeply into the study of human life and directing, for me, is a study of that study,” Jones-Gausla said. “I get to see all the perspectives of human life that are not my own and how that plays into the building of a character. My focus this year, more than ever, is to allow the actors to work on what they want to work on, so you will see focuses in many different areas from different actors.”
The cast is composed of veterans of the North Cross stage, but the lead role of the detective, Hercule Poirot, is played by new student, Andrew Dupree ‘21.
Kaeleigh Howlett ‘24, a student since lower school, decided to audition for the winter play after seeing Clue! On Stage last year.
“In the play, I am Michel, Mother, and Radio,” Howlett said. “What prompted me to join was the play last year, Clue.”
Howlett has fostered her love for theatre through musicals over the years.
“At North Cross, this is not my first production. I have done a couple of musicals in the past,” Howlett said. “What inspired my interest in theater was in 5th grade my mother, without me knowing, signed me up for a show at the school. The show was Alice in Wonderland and at first, I did not enjoy it but, then I started to like it, and I fell in love.”
For Howlett, the most exciting part of the play is character development.
“My favorite part about the role is the building of the character,” Howlett said. “I don’t want to spoil anything in the show but each character has a lot of background that is important in the show. Also having to do a French accent is fun.”
In order to strengthen the actors’ accent abilities, Jones-Gausla brought in an acting coach from Los Angeles, Matthew Floyd Miller.
“Many are working with accents, and I was able to bring in an accent coach from LA who was a teacher of mine to provide the actors with the tools needed to do this work,” Jones-Gausla said. “Some are working with multiple characters; some, exploring ages vastly different from their own.”
Chloe Hunt ‘21 who plays Countess Andrenyi thoroughly enjoyed her session with Miller.
“The Hungarian accent is definitely difficult,” Hunt said. “I have not had to do an accent for any of the plays here in the past, so this role is definitely challenging. However, Mr. Miller has really helped me improve and embrace some of the nuances for Slavic accents.”
Phoebe Anderson ‘22, playing Greta and the nanny, likes having the opportunity to work on a new accent as well.
“My favorite part about the role is that I get to practice a Swedish accent,” Anderson said. “ I’ve never done an accent before.”
Overall, the play has been a joy for Jones-Gausla and the cast to put together.
“This group shines brightly as they work and watching these actors bring their characters to life more and more every day is a delight,” Jones-Gausla said. “I am a board to bounce ideas off that sometimes puts up an annoying wall for the cast to work around. They are the show.”
Students can watch the recorded version of the play the last weekend in January. In the meantime, be on the lookout for digital previews.