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Dinner Theater Knocks ‘em Dead

By: Kathy Diener

Date Posted: 2000-10-13

The Pacific Okinawa Players (POPS) are set to open their 2000-2001 performance season with a twist, whodunit, in the form of a dinner theater. The murder mystery “Knock ‘em Dead” opens October 19 at the Camp Kinser Surfside Club.

POPS is producing this dinner theater in cooperation with Animal Welfare League, and proceeds will benefit AWL’s No-Kill Shelter Fund. In addition to the play, there will be an all-you-can-eat buffet.

In keeping with POPS’ tradition, the season opener is a comedy. They plan to follow it with a drama and then a musical next spring.

Producer Mary Larson helped select the play, which features characters with names like Bamby, Roxie Barn, Lou Dumbello, Somnambulo, and Fifi the lip-syncing dog.

“It’s a small play, so it’s good for dinner theater,” Larson says. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.” The audience participates in the play by acting as witnesses and assisting police in the murder investigation. They will also get to meet and question the characters during the intermission and decide for themselves who the guilty party is. Each performance will have a different murderer, so every show will be different.

Larson has been with POPS since she arrived on Okinawa three years ago. In 1999, she directed “The Phantom Tollbooth.” Before that, she was active in community theater in the US, and even helped found her high school theater group in Fort Valley, Georgia. She says POPS has been interested in “Knock ‘em Dead” since last season but never got around to doing it.

Director Lauren Lowell has been a member of POPS since March of last year when she was cast as Cinderella. Before coming to Okinawa, Lowell gained considerable theater experience in her home state of Main, including dance, dance instruction and choreography. “Knock ‘em Dead” will be her directorial debut. She says she enjoys the work, but it’s challenging.

“You have to try not to hurt anyone’s feelings,” Lowell says. “It’s not an easy job, but all in all it’s very rewarding.” Lowell says the difference between a murder mystery and traditional theater is the audience interaction, which makes the experience more personal. It is especially popular with people who like to get involved with the performance. It’s exciting to them because they don’t know what to expect,” she says.

Formed in 1988, POPS is now beginning its 13th season. The group is comprised of about 100 members, including a seven-member board of directors. While auditions are open to everyone, selected actors must become members in order to perform.

Despite the relatively small American population on Okinawa, Lowell says there is a large pool of talent to choose from. In the past, as many as 200 people have turned out to audition for a musical for which only 40 were needed. Lowell says many high school drama students audition, as well as adults who have stateside acting experience.

POPS tries to hold three production per season, but Lowell says “it really depends on the number of directors who volunteer.” Though those with experience are preferred, she encourages anyone who is interested to contact POPS. Volunteers are also needed to help with props and lighting equipment. Tim Rossio, who became involved with the theater group when he did the lighting for “Cinderella,” is making his POPS stage debut in “Knock ‘em Dead.” Rossio began his show business career as a stand up comic and improvisation artist in Chicago, where one of his stock characters was a flamboyant homosexual with a falsetto voice. When he read the part of Ian, the drag queen dog trainer, it seemed perfect for him.

Skoshi, who was once a homeless puppy before being rescued at the Sunabe seawall by her owner, plays Christine Smith Fifi the dog. Smith also appears in the play as the singer Lotta Verboten.

Lowell promises that the characters are “incredibly funny,” and that each performance holds “great surprises.”

Tickets are on sale at the Futenma USO until 4:00 p.m. on October 16. More information is available by calling 637-4024.

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