The Panhandle Players kicks off its fourth season at the Chapman Theatre this weekend, Oct. 25-27 in true ‘80s style, with the newest play by Apalachicola native Royce Rolstad, III.
"The Boarders," is a throwback to his childhood of ‘80s horror and thriller movies. “The 1980s is my favorite decade,” said Rolstad, born in 1982.
He remembers a lot about that decade, despite being a kid. “Many of my favorite movies were made in that 10-year time span, and it was an easy choice for the period I wanted my newest play set is,” Rolstad said.
Rolstad is changing gears with his latest show, which he describes as “mostly a thriller with a few funny lines on occasion. My previous two shows were mystery/comedies and I wanted this show to be a true thriller.
“Right after I finished writing it, I sent it to a few people to read and the one word they all came back with was ‘creepy,’” he said.
Two season ago, with Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap,” Panhandle Players tackled a crackling mystery, but “Boarders” promises to set a precedent for the theatre troupe with a pure thriller.
The play centers on Amanda and Sarah, two college friends on a cross country trip, who end up in a bed-and-breakfast where things just don’t seem right. Rolstad said the play is loosely based on a story told him by two ladies staying at a friend’s cottage in St. Joe Beach.
“When they told me this story, my immediate reaction was ‘I can create a play around this’,” said Rolstad.
The leading ladies’ names are the same, along with the guy who runs the B&B, but the rest are fictitious. Rolstad said many elements of the show are verbatim of what the ladies told him, but a lot is made up to shape a creepy thriller.
A special treat for Rolstad is that the real Amanda and Sarah are flying down from Ohio to see the performance. “I was ecstatic when I heard they were coming. They will be with me on the front row opening night,” he said.
Following the auditions in early August, the actors got to work memorizing the lines. Faith Lynch, who made her Panhandle Players debut in Rolstad’s last production, is taking on the character of Amanda. The Sarah character is played by veteran actor Jeana Crozier.
“These two leading ladies are my scream queens. They do lots of screaming and crying,” said Rolstad, with a creepy grin.
Robbie Johnson, away from the stage for nearly four years, will bring to life Richard, the shy creep who runs the B&B. “Robbie creeped me out when he auditioned. I literally had chills,” said Rolstad. “Not even horror movies do that to me."
Eric Olson, who debuted last season in “Secrets & Sweet Tea,” appears as Sheriff Taylor, along with newcomer Victoria Cooper as Girl. The character most intriguing for Rolstad is Mother, voiced by another newcomer, Rose Griffin.
“The girls never saw Richard’s mother during their stay in the B&B, but they did hear her," recalled Rolstad. “Rose is bringing a sweet and creepy voice to this character which I love."
Something new Rolstad brings to the table, not done in his previous two shows, is music. “I remember seeing an interview with John Carpenter where he talked about not having a music budget for his movie ‘Halloween’ and how he wrote the music himself,” he said. “I thought that was so interesting.”
Rolstad, a musician himself, wrote background music for the show. “I knew I wanted something different so I put my piano skills to work and composed music using synthesizer sounds, in true 80s fashion” he said.
Jim Morris, the show’s sound engineer, added extra touches to the songs and sound elements.
David Stedman, the show’s lighting technician, got in on the music fun too and wrote lyrics based on Rolstad‘s script. Stedman asked local musician David Lloyd to set those words to music and the two created “Mother’s Song,” to be played at the very beginning of the production.
Mark and Natalie Parsley built the set, with Renee Valentine adding finishing touches to bring the B&B to life. The entire play takes place in the parlor and a bedroom of the boarding house.
Everything in this show is 80s, from the music, to the costumes, even little things thrown in that people who know ‘80s horror well will get. “If you are a fan of that decade or a recent fan of a show like ‘Stranger Things’ or the current season of ‘American Horror Story,’ this is the play for you,” Rolstad said.
Like most plays you find in various parts of the country, the original productions the Panhandle Players produce can only be seen in Apalachicola.
“I wish you could see it in Atlanta, New York, or Los Angeles, but you can’t," said Rolstad. “What makes these local shows so special is that you can only see them in Apalachicola. This may be your only chance to ever see this show.”
How to get tickets
This play is rated PG-13 for adult language and violent content. Tickets are $18 online and $20 at the door. You can get tickets online at PanhandlePlayers.com. See the show Friday and Saturday evenings, Oct. 25 and 26, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, Oct. 27 at 3 p.m.
Those who purchase tickets online can enter the theatre and take their seats 45-minutes before curtain. The box office opens one-hour prior to curtain and patrons who purchase tickets at the door may enter the theatre 30-minutes before curtain.
Seating is limited at each performance. Runtime for the show is around 90 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.