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HS Fall Production: Juno Steel and the Case of the Murderous Mask

Sharanya Devgon

Straying away from typical high-school plays, this year’s fall production is going to be something that has never been done before at AES. Juno Steel and the Case of the Murderous Mask is based on a self-managed anthology audio drama known as The Penumbra Podcast; originally produced by Kevin Vibert and Harley Takagi Kaner. The play was adapted by the two student directors, Ananya Nadguada and Caroline Laubacher, and will be brought to AES on the 19th and 20th of November.

The script is largely adapted from the pilot episode of the podcast. Set in the fictional city of Hyperion, it is a murder mystery that follows Juno Steel, a sarcastic and cynical private eye, accompanied by an unexpected partner, Agent Rex Glass.

Unlike other plays and musicals, which usually come with a script, the production team created the script themselves. They transformed the monologues that composed the podcast into their own version without altering major aspects of the original plot, something a lot of movie adaptations have been known to fail at. One key difference that the directors want the audience to be aware of is that the original actors did not have to memorise their lines, but in this production, they do. Originally, there are two different plots to the Murderous Mask arc of the podcast. The first is what the play is predominantly based on, although it does encompass both versions, while the second could not be featured due to COVID safety and logistics. However, both versions have the same themes and are fascinating in their own ways, though the second version of the story is more compliant with the show’s overall canon.

Ananya is an HL IB Theatre student this year, and both she and Caroline are members of the Thespians Honour Society. They both wanted to direct a unique mainstage production for AES, something that the audience would not have watched before, and therefore have no prior expectations. The Penumbra Podcast has been a show dear to their hearts ever since the beginning of lockdown. A majority of people have never heard of an audio drama, and they desired that the audience would be captivated by the creativity present in the story without the restraints of visual effects (VFX) and computer-generated imagery (CGI), as in a podcast, the visualisation of the story is mostly left to the imagination of the audience.

The Penumbra Podcast is self-managed, allowing the producers to have complete creative control over what is in the story, such as the diversity of the characters, the matters discussed, and timelines. The downside is that because of this self-management, it is difficult for people to discover the show, and the revenue for the show relies heavily on Patreon donors. It is the hope of the directors that after watching the production, more people will become interested in listening to the podcast and recommend the show to others.

The play has been in the works for six weeks now, and everyone is quite excited about where it is headed due to all of the creative control they had with the writing, stage design, characters and production. The directors are in contact with Kevin and Harley, who are the creators of the original show, for their advice when it comes to building the world of Penumbra. Currently, the stage is being developed while the actors become comfortable with each other and develop their chemistry. The stage crew and AES carpenters are achieving the difficult task of being able to bring a science-fiction world to life, once again without VFX or CGI.

The production team hopes that the school comes together and enjoys watching their final product as much as they enjoyed creating it. This thrilling murder mystery that takes place in a fictional land with diverse characters.