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Fine Arts Series: Sherlock Holmes

  • Fine Arts Sherlock Homes 221B Baker Street stage Set
  • Fine Arts Sherlock Homes
  • Fine Arts Sherlock Homes Moriarty stage Set
  • Fine Arts Sherlock Homes Moriarty stage Set
  • Fine Arts Sherlock Homes warehouse stage Set
  • Fine Arts Sherlock Homes
  • Fine Arts Sherlock Homes
  • Fine Arts Sherlock Homes
  • Fine Arts Sherlock Homes lobby decor

A sudden ring of the bell stopped the commotion happening inside Chetwood Lodging House. Madge Larrabee carefully peered outside to see the would-be intruder. “Tall, slim man in a long coat,” she describes, “deerstalker, sharp face, carries an ebony cane—”

A first for Pensacola Christian College, the Fine Arts Series production of Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Purloined Letters transported audiences to 1888 London, immersing them in the famous detective’s investigation. Students, faculty, staff, and even some children worked together to bring this intriguing story to life in an exciting, interactive presentation. In the story, sickly Alice Adler and aristocrat Jonathan Leighton plan to marry in secret, but the Leighton family learns of their correspondence and thwarts their plans. Alice’s older sister, Irene, possesses her sister’s letters and gifted jewels; but the Leightons begin tracking her to recover the items and keep their family’s name out of the press. Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, the elusive criminal mastermind, both catch wind of the case and use it to go after each other.

The game’s afoot!

A Study of Sherlock Holmes

The play is an adaptation of William Gillette’s 1899 Sherlock Holmes script, written with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s blessing, that contained dialogue from “A Scandal in Bohemia,” “The Final Problem,” and “A Study in Scarlet.” “While this script originated with Doyle, Gillette’s derivative kept the desires of the late Victorian/early Edwardian American audience in mind,” said Director Liz Thomason. “He added a romantic interest for Sherlock (which this adaptation downplays to better fit the original Sherlock stories), he combined plot points and characters from multiple stories, and he created new content and character arcs. I think the most interesting thing for me is the number of locations. In the production process, each location takes on its own personality, and that part is really fun to develop.”

Actors on the Fine Arts production Sherlock Homes and the Purloined Letters Stepney Warehouse stage set.

Each location’s set brought strong individualism, from the simple yet transportive Milan Cemetery to the detailed 221B Baker Street to the atmospheric Stepney Warehouse set that stood at 14.5 feet tall. “My favorite thing to see change over time would definitely be the set pieces. Shout out to the Scene Shop and tech crew. Those guys have gone above and beyond with their work!” said Drew Sorensen (Sr., SC), who played John Forman. “I remember several times walking backstage and observing small or large changes in the set that made me stand back in awe to the attention to detail. I have no doubt that the audience felt the same on show day!”

Many in the cast were interested in auditioning for the production not only because of the script, but also because of the director. “I was extremely interested [in auditioning] because I heard that Miss Liz Thomason was directing it,” Drew continued. “Ever since watching A Christmas Carol, I had wanted to be in a play that [she] directed. Her talent and ability to tell a story was something I wanted to be a part of. Thankfully, my opportunity came.”

“It was quite an eye-opening experience to see how hard all these actors work.”

For Mr. Talani Tupua (General Studies: Bible ’02), a PCC staff member who played Lord Leighton, this was his first time in a production. “Being new to theater, I was not prepared for how much energy it took to make your character a believable one. It was quite an eye-opening experience to see how hard all these actors work,” he said. He also shared the stage with his young daughter, Audrey, who played one of the newsies and has eagerly taken roles as youth in on-campus PCC productions. “It has been a joy to see her interact with all her friends. Seeing how much work she puts in for her role (in and out of rehearsals) is exciting to me.”

Assuming an Identity

Since early in the spring semester, lights, sound, set, and costumes have been working together to provide an immersive Victorian London experience for audiences, allowing them to easily follow along with the new adventure. PCC staff member Mrs. Marlene Jekel has been part of the Costume Production team for about 20 years. “It has been my dream job because I love to create. I enjoy designing the costumes, choosing the fabrics and trim,” she said. “The costumes help the actors get into character and provide movement and color. It has been fun researching the time period and creating the costumes, watching it all come alive on stage.”

Fine Arts Sherlock Homes and the Purloined Letters newsies outside 221B Baker Street set.

“The cast prayed with me as the challenges came, and they rejoiced with me as God answered prayers.”

The cast adjusted and improved their performance at each rehearsal, developing each name in the script into people with individual lives and a sense of identity. “Sherlock Holmes is a calculating machine. He sees everything in terms of their value and necessity,” said Mr. Avery Gardner, natural sciences faculty who played the consulting detective. “Every rehearsal was an opportunity to improve your character—their blocking, interpretation, and physicality. Blending the character’s voice and accent with my natural voice: this has been a real challenge. The physicality required for all the scenes also has been demanding; it has stretched me.”

As the first performance night got closer, so did the cast. “Miss Thomason did prayer requests with us every night, and it was a great time to band together in praying for each other,” shared Rebekah Koonce (Sr., IL), who played Therese, the family friend of Alice and Irene Adler. “I’ve had some big projects and some family situations that were rather difficult this semester. The cast prayed with me as the challenges came, and they rejoiced with me as God answered prayers.”

“There was a sense of ‘we’re all in this together’ and that it’s a collaborative effort,” said Miss Deneisha Mesquita (Accounting ’18), a PCC staff member who played a newsie. “Everyone was willing to support each other and care for each other as much as we could.”

“This cast is diverse, invested, and creative,” said Miss Liz Thomason. “There are staff, youth, faculty, and students in this cast, which makes for a really interesting mix. They’re so invested in the overall story, and they’ve taken ownership of their roles. They were frequently bringing me different creative angles or staging ideas that they wanted to try. I love seeing this type of collaboration, and I’m so proud of the work they’ve put into this entire production.”

The Last Bow

Performance nights prove to always be the most exciting! Audience members trickled into their seats across the Dale Horton Auditorium (DHA) as riveting versions of Mozart’s Moonlight Sonata, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons played over the speakers. During each show, attendees were thrilled by the added details, on-stage action sequences, and spectacle of the production’s unique set pieces. “I’ve never seen the audience clap after a set change. You don’t see that happen normally,” said Kelsey Thoman (Graduate Assistant). “As soon as they opened [221B Baker Street set] like a book, everyone was like, ‘Whoa, that was really cool.’ I’ve never seen that before.”

“As a senior, it’s really neat to have another opportunity to hang out with friends and make memories together.”

Students at a photo op set up for Sherlock Holmes and the Purloined Letters Fine Arts production.

“It was cool to be in the audience because we all reacted the same at the same time to everything, and we were all so impressed with it,” Rebekah Cheatham (Sr., IL) shared. “All of the details, and the scenery, the projections, the details in the pamphlets—all the little things brought it together and made it an experience that I’m so glad that I got to have.”

The formal event preceded a busy week of final exams and Commencement rehearsals, but students choose to treat the production as a last hurrah before summer break or graduation. “People would pay so much money to come to shows like this, and we get to go see them for free, essentially. It’s a great chance to just relax in that weird period between the end of classes and [beginning of] finals,” said Michael McIntyre (Sr., GA). “And especially as a senior, it’s really neat to have another opportunity to hang out with friends and make memories together before going our separate ways.”

Fine Arts performances in the DHA are PCC-produced stage productions, and any student can audition for future shows. For Jillian Sanchez (Fr., AL), who played Alice Adler, it was her sister, Makayla (Sr., AL) who encouraged her to attend an audition for a role. “She told me to just try out once. It was an amazing opportunity and honor to be a part of [Fine Arts],” Jillian said. “Just try out for fun! You won’t regret it.”