Grab your boots and sailing maps, the production of “Mary O’” will be coming to the college for its world premiere. Join the crew of the Mary O’ as they cut through the waves of the Arctic Sea in search of ship that disappeared a decade earlier. As the expedition continues, the crew learns some of the dark and ghastly secrets the waters hold. “Mary O’” is written by a professor at the college, Matthew Schmidli, and will be directed by Trevor Belt.
Schmidli is a local actor, playwright and director who teaches multiple classes at the college as an adjunct assistant professor of theatre. His classes cover acting, playwriting and stage movements. Schmidli has directed around town at different venues, including the Coterie Theatre. Schmidli is also currently starring in the two-person play “The Way We Get By” at the The Unicorn Theatre from Oct. 19 through Nov. 13.
Schmidli has written a few short plays for UMKC Playwright’s Showcase and had a story published in a literary magazine. Most of Schmidli’s written work is done when he isn’t acting or directing, however. Schmidli says he has always had a fascination with ghost stories, especially ones that included ghost ships. With his fascination in ghost ships and sea shanties (songs that sailors sang while working), Schmidli started piecing together the idea of a ghost ship play.
“I’ve been ruminating on the idea for the play for about two years and when I pitched the idea to the faculty, they loved it,” Schmidli said. “So, I set forth in finally putting it on paper. I’m beyond thrilled and truly humbled to have this world premiere at such an outstanding college and theatre program.”
Belt, who has been professionally directing for around nine years, has had to handle the challenges of working with a cast and crew he’s never worked with before and taking a play that’s never been performed and put it on the stage. A world premiere of a play can be nerve-wracking for some. Most plays that take place at the college have past productions to look at and see what can work and what can’t, so not having anything to base their production off of has been a challenge but also an exciting experience for everyone involved. For most, this is their first time doing a world premiere of a play.
“What’s unique about this play is it’s the first time it’s been done anywhere, so the unique challenge has been for young student actors to have the opportunity to completely build something from the ground up,” Belt said. “So as rehearsals have been going we have discovered lots of things that don’t work and lots of things that really do work. The idea of not only doing a play but figuring out if it works and creating something that no one has ever seen before makes it a little more difficult than normal but also exciting.”
Besides the fact that this is a world premiere, the play also falls into a horror genre, which is difficult to perform on stage. The cast and crew have been figuring out how to take such a tricky genre, put it on stage and make it seem realistic to audiences. Belt had to figure out how to convince audiences of an unseen presence during the production and stage combat between actors.
Belt talked about how rare it is to see a supernatural play happen and that it requires a lot of effort from everyone to make it convincing to the audience. It’s not a genre that is played out live too often, so the cast and crew have been putting in extra time to make this play as frightening and realistic as possible. Overall, the story takes the audience in a completely different direction than assumed.
“You get a few hints towards the beginning of what’s to come but really everything just takes off really quick and all of a sudden there’s really dark stuff going on and I think what happens next will be a shock to everyone,” said student Hannah Oldham, who plays Maggie in the production.
“Mary O’” will be performed at the Polsky Theatre in the Carlson Center from Nov. 11 through Nov. 13 and Nov. 18 through Nov. 20. The Friday and Saturday night performances will start at 7:30 p.m. and the Saturday and Sunday matinees will begin at 2 p.m. Admission is free and seating is given out on a first come, first serve basis.