When Royce Rolstad III, was a junior at Apalachicola High School, Royce Hodge gave him his theatrical start when he directed the comedy “The Curious Savage” for the Panhandle Players.
That was 17 years ago, and in the intervening 17 years, with the exception of those he spent in Tallahassee completing a degree at Florida State, Rolstad, now 34, has done about everything a talented man can for the Players.
He’s acted, playing leading roles as well as smaller ones, he’s sang, he’s directed, he’s built sets, did a little dance here and there, all part of becoming a vitally important, youthful force for the community theatre troupe.
This winter it was time to go one step forward, to write a play.
“It came to me one night. I was laying in bed and it came to me, ‘The Oyster City Mystery,” said Rolstad. “I plan to do more.”
So, brushing aside the tears on his pillow from a romantic break-up, he penned a full-length murder mystery, set in the heart of his hometown, at its most prominent inn. "It was a way to help me cope," he said.
“I grew up watching murder mysteries with my parents, “Murder She Wrote,” Father Dowling mysteries,” he said, taking a break from the three-day-a -week rehearsals that will soon become nightly in the lead-up to the Oct. 20-22 premiere of “Murder at The Gibson Inn.”
Rolstad was adamant from the start, when it came time over the summer for the Panhandle Players to decide to make the play the opening production of the season, that he would have to be the one who directed the show. He attracted Judy Loftus to be his assistant director, as well as to be perform a small part as Miss Cleo, the exotic desk clerk who sets the play rolling with her announcement to two curious tourists (Jerry Hurley and Sally Crown) that the spacious hotel where they plan to bed may well be embedded with ghosts from the 1930s who became dead there back then.
“It’s all family friendly,” said Rolstad. “Even now we’re still adding some things in and chopping some things out. We’re going to continue to make changes.”
By not using the last names of any of the characters, except for Dr. Chapman (who died in 1899), Rolstad lived up to the terms of the disclaimer that “any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.”
The premise of the show is stock, a battle over how a pirate's hidden treasure in the sands of St. George Island was the seed for mayhem among townfolk. What Rolstad hopes will come alive, as the ghosts (portrayed by Wes Davis, Megan Shiver, Katie Maxwell, Teresa Ann Martin, Ed Aguiar, Rodney Reeves, Bob Inguagiato, and David Stedman), in the midst of a hurricane, become entangled in the search for riches, is laughter.
What is happening with the ensemble as they shape the show, is comedy is coming through, and Rolstad, a lively comic actor if there ever was one, couldn’t be more pleased.
“I didn’t write is as a comedy,” he said. “I write certain lines to be funny, but what the actors have done, when they’ve brought it to life, they have essentially turned it into a comedy.
“I am excited,” he said. “The actors have been doing an amazing job from day one. It’s been such a fun time doing this show. It’s been great.”
With Karen Berkley as stage manager. Mark and Natalie Parsley are designing and constructing the set to resemble the Gibson Inn's lobby in the 1930s.
Tickets are $15 and are available online at panhandleplayers.com or at the door. Box office opens one hour before curtain.
The Chapman Auditorium is located in Apalachicola at the corner of Highway 98 and 14th Street.