June 13, 2024

Matthew Furness (top left), sophomore theater technical design major, Santino Alvarado, sophomore film major, and Seth Suguitan, junior theater major, inspect the crime scene featuring Kaleb Bravo, sophomore theater major.

The Orient Express chugs through a snowstorm, but it stops just after the clock strikes midnight. A horrific discovery has been made: an American tycoon with eight stab wounds lies dead in his compartment. The strangest part? The compartment door is locked from the inside. The remaining passengers are on edge with a potential killer on the loose and Detective Hercule Poirot must find the murderer before they find their next victim.

“Murder on the Orient Express” hit the Wallace Theatre stage on Feb. 23 and will run weekends through March 3 at the Wallace Theatre. But, this isn’t a typical telling of the play, as California Baptist University has chosen to adapt this story, based on Agatha Christie’s mystery novel, into a comedic stage production. 

To prepare for the role, the actors spent a lot of time analyzing the text in the play. They focused especially on their character to best understand who they are playing.

Abigail Durham, junior theater major, has the role of Mary Debenham in the play, a British governess who is a young and sophisticated passenger on the train. 

“If you walk into the theater right now, we have pages of character development work on the walls,” said Durham. “So taking a look at the text and seeing what the story truly means is something that the whole cast is doing to prepare for putting these characters on stage and bringing them to life.”

Santino Alvarado, sophomore film major, is the lead in the play, Hercule Poirot, the detective responsible for solving the case. A challenging part of preparing for his role was mastering his character’s accent, however, he had a unique way of doing so. 

“During auditions and callbacks, I was listening to the Ratatouille song on repeat,” Alvarado stated. “I just needed to hear the French accent.” 

Memorizing lines and mastering accents is not the only thing that goes into acting onstage. Actors also have to perfect their movements, how they say certain words and even their facial expressions. One of the many responsibilities of a director is to show the actors how to master these things. 

Ethan Park, adjunct professor of the theater division in the Collinsworth School of Performing Arts, is the director for “Murder on the Orient Express.” A crucial part of a successful show is effective communication between the director and the cast. Part of this comes as a result of being open-minded and working together as a team, which is an environment Park has tried to create.

“I would make a suggestion and we try it, but then we realize my suggestion doesn’t really work. So I say, ‘OK, what do you want to do?’ And then they try something and it works way better than what I suggested,” Park said. “I’ve really appreciated the exchange between us, that it’s not just me saying ‘You do this,’ but, ‘Let’s figure this out together.’ So I have appreciated them collaborating with me.”

With lengthy four-hour rehearsals every Monday through Friday for weeks, the cast said they started to feel like one family. 

“I grow in each show that I direct here as much as the actors do and I always want them to know that as much as I’m their teacher, they’re mine. They have made some truly beautiful work this time, and I’m really proud of them,” Park said. 

One of the best aspects of performing onstage is having your friends and family come to support you. Alvarado has particularly experienced this kindness from fellow CBU students.

“I feel really supported because my friends know that it’s my first role, and so they’re all like ‘You’re gonna kill it. You’re doing so good. I can’t wait to see it.’’ Alvarado said. 

After a long week of production, the lights dim, and the quiet chatter of the audience silences. All of the hard work the cast, crew, and director have put into the play will pay off in the next couple of hours, which are full of suspense and excitement as the mystery unfolds. 

“My philosophy is always we do the show for God, then we do the show for the audience, then we do the show for our fellow actors, and then we do the show for ourselves,” Park said. “So we put ourselves last in that order. We give our gifts back to God and the passion that he’s given us for this art form. In the play, it so many funny moments. There’s some heartfelt, tragic moments. There’s some that make your hair stand on end moments. So my hope is that the audience sits back and lets themselves experience it all.”

I thought a man like Victor would behave like. Then, with the assistance of my awesome director Zachary Bortot, I reeled Victor back in to discover the truth in the character, playing more of myself in the role,” Abrahams said. “It’s a really fun challenge for me to play such a complex and serious character. Victor is a very layered character with a lot going on in his head and I love the challenge of portraying his internal thoughts outward for the audience.”

From a storytelling perspective, “Frankenstein” explores themes of morality, pride, sin and suffering. One key theme is that uncontrolled ambition and arrogance can cause chaos and destruction. 

“I start every production by finding the controlling idea that I base all of my choices around,” Bortot explained. “For this play, I identified the following: Cyclical alienation and suffering dominate personal experience when pursuing advancement without restraint. Victor Frankenstein interferes with the natural order of life, taking the power to create life from God but he doesn’t even try to help others. Rather, he keeps the power for himself. We then see the destruction that transpires as a result of that,” he said.

From a Christian perspective, “Frankenstein” is a dire story warning against sin. Audiences are forced to grapple with the idea that people’s choices are the ultimate deciding factor in what makes someone a man or a monster.

“We believe this is a story that Christian universities should be willing to undertake because of our trust in the goodness of God and our knowledge that what Victor does is truly horrific,” Bortot said. “In many ways, the play acts as a morality tale, warning us against the dangers of pride, unchecked ambition and social isolation. I pray our team has been able to draw out the idea that we are capable of monstrous things when we choose to distort God’s creation.”meaning that writers will now receive bonuses on shows that are trending on streaming services. 

They will also receive a guarantee of staff for certain amounts of episodes in a series and employment of at least 10 weeks for shows airing along with AI regulation. The Eastern and Western WGA branches all voted to accept the deal two days after the agreement, according to the Associated Press. 

“After the vote, they declared that the strike would be over and writers would be free to start on scripts at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday [Sept. 27],” according to AP. 

Now that the strike lifted, writers may return to work but they will still need to ratify the contract themselves in October, the guild announced.

Hollywood is composed of many guilds and unions, such as the WGA, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the Directors Guild of America (DGA), the International Cinematographers Guild (ICG), and the Producers Guild. 

According to WGA’s website, the point of these unions is to arrange and administer contracts to protect their creatives within the union. These guilds hold power over many of the jobs in the industry. Within WGA alone, 11,500 people involved in the guild went on strike, according to WGA.

Many in these guilds lost jobs and work due to the strike, which has resulted in the cancellation and postponement of shows and movies. The writers were unsure when they would return as the strike had been ongoing for nearly five months. 

Michael Eaton, professor of film studies and film production, works as a director, writer, editor, producer, and cinematographer who is part of the ICG. 

“I do know some writers who are out of work as well as many others who are out of work, such as actors and DPs [directors of hotography]. I have also lost a little bit of work,” Eaton said.

The main reason for the strike is insufficient payment. Back in the days of cable TV, writers initially received payment for writing the story and selling it to someone in the industry to use and possibly get hired to continue writing. Then actors and writers were paid through the box office with a percentage or fixed payment, and television writers would earn a certain residual for shows and reruns aired on cable TV.

“The issue is that the way that the television structure for cable television and cable networking was working is how all the contracts and revenue were set up through that. Obviously, that’s not applicable anymore,” said Brooke Donovan, senior film production major Brooke Donovan. 

Eaton mentions his perspective on why residuals with streaming wouldn’t make as much sense as they did with cable TV.

“Should actors and writers get paid for every single stream on every single platform? I actually don’t think so. Nobody else gets paid that way. Book authors get paid to write the book and for each book sold, not for each time that book is read. Most people who work on TV shows and movies get paid for their work on those days that they work only and I’m not sure that it’s administratively possible to continue paying actors and writers of these productions for each stream,” Eaton said.

A lack of writers can significantly impact the entertainment industry as they write the stories that lead to film productions.

“Writers are so essential in every aspect of the film industry,” said Hannah Lee, senior film production and screenwriting major. “Everything you see on screen has been planned and written out by the writers. Everything unique about a show or film begins in the writer’s room.”

While this strike is significant, it is also important to note that the WGA does not represent everyone in the industry. 

According to Eaton, with the WGA on strike, everyone in the union is not working, but independent writers are still able to. 

“What is worth noting for people 

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