Starting off a new season

MARSHALL – It’s no mystery as to how the Marshall Area Stage Company has stayed strong throughout its 15 years of providing theater entertainment for the community – by providing a variety of quality theatrical offerings.

To celebrate its 15th anniversary, MASC is presenting a project every month throughout 2014.

“We usually start the season with a spring production,” said MASC member Maureen Keimig, “but we thought we would offer something in the dead of winter.”

“Ellery Queen Mystery: A Live Radio Drama” is now in rehearsals to be performed next weekend.

Keimig, who is directing the set of four radio scripts, said the radio broadcast will air depending on when the local station has time available in its schedule.

“Ellery Queen Mystery” is Southwest Minnesota State University fine arts professor Sharron Hope’s first MASC production. She was active in high school and college theater and thought a radio production would be the perfect re-entry into the theater.

With radio, she said, “you don’t have to memorize the script.” Hope voices Mrs. Brown in “Adventure of the Murdered Ship” and Josie Mayfield Bullens in “The Adventure of The Scarecrow and the Snowman.”

Hope is enjoying the experience.

“I can be dramatic, go all in, with just my voice,” Hope said.

Ross Holmberg, who portrays Inspector Queen’s right hand man, Sgt. Velie, in all four scripts, also appreciates the radio format.

“You can pretend to be someone completely different without having to change clothes,” he said.

“We’re saving a mint on costumes,” Jim Radloff joked. Radloff plays Goliath in “The Adventure of the Circus Train,” Messenger in “Disappearance of Mr. James Phillimore” and Pa Mayfield in “The Adventure of the Scarecrow and the Snowman.”

Radloff added that with radio, “you don’t have to look like your character.”

Radio acting offers an opportunity for actors to perfect their craft.

“It’s a challenge as an actor to use just your voice,” said Julie Walker, who portrays Ellery’s personal secretary, Nikki Porter. “You have to paint a picture through just your voice.”

The MASC production is keeping radio theater alive as an art form, Hope said.

“People don’t know how much fun it can be to create mysteries in your mind,” she said.

Keimig said that the name “Ellery Queen” is the pseudonym of two cousins who entered a writing contest in the 1930s and won. The fictional character of Ellery Queen is a mystery writer and amateur detective who helps his New York City police inspector father solve murders. The character appeared in books, radio dramas and TV series.

“The radio dramas were known as ‘armchair detectives’ because listeners could follow the clues and when the play broke for a sponsor, people could try to give the answer,” she said.

The MASC production will also allow the audience to be “armchair detectives,” Keimig said.

“Ellery Queen Mystery” is a MASC production, in collaboration with KMHL Marshall Radio, the SMSU radio/TV club and National Broadcasting Society.