Whodunit Gives Audience a Taste of Theater

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Newport Harbor High School students rehearse their student produced dinner theater production of “The Mousetrap,” showing Oct. 2 and 3. — Photo by Charles Weinberg
Newport Harbor High School students rehearse their student produced dinner theater production of “The Mousetrap,” showing Oct. 2 and 3.
— Photo by Charles Weinberg

Residents that are hungry for both food and entertainment don’t need to head to Hollywood, instead, opening next week, they can turn to a local high school.

Newport Harbor High School Theatre Arts presents “The Mousetrap,” an Agatha Christie classic, in their Black Box Theater at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 2 and 3.

The drama department is partnering with the award-winning NHHS culinary program to complete the experience.

“We wanted to do a show, but we also wanted to do something a bit different,” explained student director Chris Surridge, a junior . “Our culinary department is fantastic… Combining these two great departments together would benefit the both of us.”

The show is 99 percent student produced. From tech to props to dinner to directing, it’s all student run. The idea was even pitched and developed by students before school started in fall.

The plan sprouted a couple months ago when the students were given the opportunity to pick their own shows, Surridge said. He suggested “The Mousetrap.”

“We started it this summer in my backyard,” said senior actress Vita Muccia. “It was a spur of the moment idea that has come true.”

It would have been nearly impossible to produce so early in the school year if the students hadn’t met during summer, noted drama and art teacher Ally Esquivel Krause.

(left to right) NHHS student director and actor Chris Surridge, a junior, and senior actors Race Chambers and Vita Muccia perform a scene from “The Mousetrap.” — Photo by Charles Weinberg
(left to right) NHHS student director and actor Chris Surridge, a junior, and senior actors Race Chambers and Vita Muccia perform a scene from “The Mousetrap.”
— Photo by Charles Weinberg

“With their direction and motivation, it’s become possible,” she said. “They took it on themselves.”

And that’s exactly what they wanted.

It’s been great to make all the decisions and do everything how they want, Muccia noted.

“We’re very blessed,” she said. “How many schools give (students) that opportunity?”

It’s also unique for a school production to be directed by a student.

“It’s been an interesting journey,” Surridge said about his directorial debut. “I have to both act and direct this show, which has been an odyssey of its own.”

Each student has taken on various roles required for putting on a show.

“It’s interesting to see all the different jobs and exactly what goes into making a production,” said senior stage manager Caroline Wilkes. “One second… takes a lot of time (and planning).”

It’s been an exciting learning experience, added actor Race Chambers, an NHHS senior.

“It’s been a labor of love,” Muccia added.

Now, less than a month after school has started, the show is set to open next week with a bang.

Chambers is also excited about the intimate setting the dinner theater approach will provide.

“They (the audience) are – literally – right there,” he said. “It will be really personal.”

The show is very interactive, Surridge explained. Actors enter on different sides of the audience, the waiters/ushers are dressed in period costumes, the actors even break the fourth wall a few times.

Although there isn’t actual audience participation, since the play doesn’t really allow for it, guests should feel like they are part of the story, Surridge said.

“The purpose of dinner theater is about really getting the audience in on it,” Surridge said, “and then keeping them guessing.”

Students rehearse a scene from the show. — Photo by Charles Weinberg
Students rehearse a scene from the show.
— Photo by Charles Weinberg

The long-running whodunit play is not traditionally presented as dinner theater, he explained, but they wanted to do something different. After some discussion – and a few calls to the culinary department – the students decided to go for it.

The menu will include lasagna, Caesar salad and dessert, senior student and NHHS Culinary Program President Natalia Tortortello described.

The culinary program has expanded and improved over the last several years, earning top marks at both state and national competitions.

“I don’t think they’ll be disappointed,” Tortortello said of the dinner theater patrons. “They’ll enjoy the food… I think it will be a good experience for the diners and the two groups working together.”

The idea has worked out well for the culinary department as well.

“We’ve been looking to collaborate with some other group on campus,” Tortortello said.

The clubs working together is exciting, she continued. Students from each group will get a new perspective of the other.

“They don’t (normally) get to see what we do… in our kitchen, behind the scenes,” and vice versa, Tortortello said.

They’ve been trying to think of ways to integrate other departments into drama and work together, Surridge said.

It also peaked the interest of the English department, understandably big Agatha Christie fans, and they bought an entire table for the show.

“It’s really wonderful to see these kids come together,” Esquivel Krause said. “They’re all understanding each other a little better.”

Tickets include dinner and are available for purchase at the school’s ASB office. Cost is $15 for students and $20 for adults. Tickets will not be sold at the door.

For more information, visit nhhsdrama.com.

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