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Ensemble Stage to Present Suspense Thriller “The Business of Murder” Beginning August 20

By Harley Nefe

The latest cast and crew of Ensemble Stage in Banner Elk has been rehearsing hard to prepare for the premiere of their next main stage theater show titled “The Business of Murder,” which is a suspense thriller with show times starting tomorrow, August 20. 

“We open on Friday, and rehearsals have been going really well,” said Gary Smith, Artistic Director for Ensemble Stage. “We are still finding little nuances that are going to increase the tension and increase the intensity of the show for our audience, and I think they are going to enjoy this. If they like psychological thrillers, this is one to see.”

Centering around the theme of revenge, “The Business of Murder” follows the interlocking triangular relationships between a successful TV playwright, a detective-superintendent and a humorless, dour man.

 “It’s always a tough thing to try to explain this type of show because you don’t want to give too much away,” Smith said. “There’s this relationship between three completely different people that you would think wouldn’t have anything that connects them, but they do. As the show goes on, you start to realize that nothing is what your first impressions were. And later on, it’s nothing like your second impressions and so on because there are a lot of twists and turns. The minute you think you have it figured out, it takes a sharp left turn, and suddenly you’re rethinking where you thought it was going.”

As the plot carries on, the motive gradually becomes more and more clear. All the characters, it would seem, are in fact in the same business … the business of murder.

“To get the most out of it, you just really have to listen and pay attention to everything — not so much about the things that are necessarily said, but things or actions that are done that seem innocuous and don’t seem to have any relevance,” Smith said. “In the end, you realize that, ‘Oh yeah, that happened and that happened and that happened, and if I would have remembered that and followed that then I probably would have followed the strings a little bit better.’”

Smith further shared that he and the staff of Ensemble Stage have been wanting to do the show for a while now, but they wanted to get the right mix of people beforehand, and now they did that.

“We have three wonderful actors,” Smith said. “Two of them were in our last show and have been in numerous shows. Mark Allen Woodard and Scott Douglas Wilson were in ‘Beer for Breakfast,’ and it’s going to be kind of neat for the people who saw ‘Beer for Breakfast’ because the characters they are playing in ‘The Business of Murdur’ are completely different.”

The third person in the show is Margaret Dalton, who has also been in a few of Ensemble Stage’s shows.

“If people remember her from her performances here, they will see nothing like what they are expecting,” Smith said. “She’s never played this type of character for us before that she’s playing in this show. It’s nice for people to see actors they’ve seen before but have seen them in completely different roles. I think it’s kind of fun.”

Due to some of the staged violence in “The Business of Murder,” Ensemble Stage does not recommend the show for children. 

“The way I direct most of my shows and the way we do them, we don’t want it to feel like a theatrical production,” Smith explained. “I want it to feel like people are looking through the keyhole of someone’s house and watching this transpire. It keeps people guessing, and it keeps them attentive throughout the whole thing. In the end, it will leave them walking out of the theater arguing about who did what to who.”

Ensemble Stage is still following important health and safety guidelines developed for live theater by the CDC, North Carolina’s Executive Orders, Actori’s Equity Association and Best Practice Guidelines established by national theater organizations. 

These protocols include cleaning all areas between performances, reducing audience sizes and socially distancing all patrons. 

“We’re following the actor’s union guidelines, which means you have to wear a mask if you are inside the auditorium to see the show,” Smith said. “98% of the people understand it and accept it, and the other 2% we don’t let in the door. We worked long and hard as we spent four months negotiating with the actor’s union for us to be able to do live performances. There’s very few theaters around here and very few professional theaters around the region that are of our size and have been given the green light by the actor’s union to perform in person. We take that responsibility pretty seriously. If audience members are going to be in the theater seeing the show, they have to properly wear their mask to cover their nose and mouth and after that, they just need to sit back and enjoy the show.”

“The Business of Murder” is scheduled to have show times from August 20 through August 28 in the Hahn Auditorium at the Historic Banner Elk School, and ticket sales have been going really well. 

“We’ve sold like two thirds of all the tickets we can sell,” Smith said. “I would recommend getting tickets ahead of time by either calling or going on the website rather than coming in on the day of the show and expecting that there will be tickets. There may be, but there’s a good chance that there may not be anything available if they come on the day of the show.”

To purchase tickets and for more information about “The Business of Murder” and other upcoming performances, call Ensemble Stage at 828-414-1844 or visit their website at http://www.ensemblestage.com/.