And Then There Were None was a “first” for me in a lot of different ways. It was the first time I held a leading role, and learned how both rewarding and challenging that kind of role can be. It was the first time I worked with a different director. And it was also the first time I played a psychopathic mass murderer, but that one’s a bit specific. I had to become more focused on my role than I ever had before, and thus had little time to goof around offstage (although there was plenty of goofing around onstage during rehearsals). But the entire process was so fun and rewarding that it’s one of the shows that I look the most fondly back on.
I’ve written four previous articles about my time in my high school’s theater department, so if you want to read about my experiences with Wonderful Town, The Cherry Orchard, Julius Caesar, and Ragtime, then you can in the links I’ve included.
And Then There Were None is a 1943 play adapted from the famous 1939 novel by Agatha Christie, although the original title was… unfortunate, to say the least. The play version, adapted by Christie herself, closely follows the plot of the original, although there is a slightly happier ending. Ten people become trapped in a house on a small island, and people start dying in unnatural ways, their deaths adhering to the lyrics of an old nursery rhyme. Tensions rise as people start suspecting one another and people keep on dropping dead.
With four shows, and thus auditions, under my belt, I’d learned most of my lessons on how to prepare for an audition: Watch or at least read the play beforehand, focus on one or two characters but be familiar with all of them, and be willing to follow any character direction given during the actual audition. I was still nervous for the audition, of course, but I’d prepared well enough that I also felt more confident than I ever had before, and that evidently showed. Just as a funny anecdote, I was actually asked to play the role of an old woman for auditions just because there weren’t enough actresses at that time. I can actually do a pretty spot-on impression of Professor McGonagall from Harry Potter, and since I obviously wasn’t taking that part seriously, I just went with that. While I’m glad I didn’t get that part, it was pretty fun to play just that once.
I was elated when I found out what my part was. In fact, I was so excited that I texted my parents and girlfriend at the time, “I’M THE MURDERER!!!” before realizing that, oh, maybe I shouldn’t spoil who the killer is in a murder mystery. For that reason, I won’t be saying the actual name of the character I played, even though you’ve had 79 years to catch up.
As the play is set on the coast of England, we decided that everyone should use their original character’s accents. Most of them, including mine, was standard British. As previously mentioned, I’ve been doing British voices to read Harry Potter for my little sister for years, so I had very little trouble with it. Most of the others picked it up pretty quickly, although some of the people who had more northern accents had a tough time. One guy in particular who just had to do a “normal” British voice just could not do it for whatever reason. He would try, but he’d just say his words loooongeeeer, not actually doing anything with his accent. After a while, we just went with it.
But my voice was particularly fun because I got to not just play a British person, but an old and pompous British person. That’s perfect, because I’d wanted to play either an old, pompous, or British character ever since I joined the theater department, and I was getting to do all three here! Add to that being a murderous villain who’s also very polite, and you’ve got pretty much my dream role.
But reality hit me when I went to highlight all of my lines and saw how many I had to memorize. There were a lot, exponentially more than I’d ever had to deal with, and for a long time I was terrified that I would forget a line for the actual performance. Some actors can memorize their lines just through rehearsal, but I’m just not that type of person. So instead, I decided to make an audio recording of all of the other lines, and leave roughly the amount of time I thought it would take for me to say my actual lines. Since I skipped pages I wasn’t on, it added up to about an hour of cues, which lined up perfectly with the length of my study hall. I let my teachers know where I was then, and made it my routine to say my lines every single school day in a music practice room. It took a lot of discipline to do that for around two months, but the results were very worth it.
We were told to not be in character all the time, but to constantly talk in our accents. After a four-hour rehearsal, I would often get picked up by my mom and talk to her in my deep British accent on accident. An accent-ent, if you will.
By far the funniest things that happened during rehearsal involved props, specifically the noose I held at the final scene. I had to hide behind the stage so I could maniacally laugh and enter right after the second-to-last character “died,” but the noose I was holding would often come undone, or I would straight-up forget it. A few times, I snuck into where the director sat to watch, and asked her or someone else to fix it for me. I’m an Eagle Scout, but I can’t tie knots for the life of me. But even funnier was when I forgot it, and instead of yelling the dramatic line, “I must have my hanging!”, I yelled “I must have my strangling!” That line quickly became a meme among people involved with the show, although it thankfully happened during a rehearsal and not an actual performance.
Fortunately, everything went smoothly for all three of the actual performances. It’s so incredibly mentally exhausting to have all of the stage directions and lines crammed in your brain, and since I was among the lead roles, I was now helping the play flow along, instead of just kinda being there. It’s very different, and both big and small parts are equally important, (yes, they are!) but I’m very glad I got to experience. Who knows, maybe the discipline I got from practicing lines every day for two months prepared me to write an article every day for two months!