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The Hightower Detective Agency

Jan 27, 2016 05:39PM ● Published by Jim

Gallery: The Hightower Detective Agency [4 Images] Click any image to expand.

By: Ron Wilke

Rich socialite Thomas Blackmore is killed in a car crash, driving home from the Wilson Auction house.  His sister Samantha doesn’t believe the D.A.’s report that it was reckless driving and hires Jason Hightower to find the real culprit.  Jason and his streetwise partner Mooch enter a world of wealthy snobs, corrupt cops, and gangsters, and their only clue is a half dollar bill with the letter “J” on it.  Let’s hope The Hightower Detective Agency can solve the case before their eager, naive junior detective Jodon screws it up. Synopsis, The Hightower Detective Agency


Preparing to interview Dan Landsness, playwright of the Beaver Dam Area Community Theater (BDACT) spring comedy The Hightower Detective Agency, the obligatory question was written down on my legal pad: What was your motivation for writing this play? He replied that after sitting through several standard plays, catching himself glancing at his watch…he frequently wished that playwrights would write a show designed to hold an audience’s attention from beginning to end. Unless watching a musical, where the music kept his attention, Dan would sit silently critiquing the work and formulating in his mind the components that would hold his attention for an entire show.  

What are the elements that Landsness longs to see in a good production? Mystery; give the audience something to figure out, or anticipate how the protagonist will solve the riddle. Movement; eliminate as many slow spots in the dialogue and inaction of the players on stage as possible. Humor; even a good drama needs some comedic relief to give the audience a break from the tension, but Dan wants to walk away from the venue smiling, and humor works the best.

To make a long story short, based upon some unsatisfying theater experiences, Dan challenged himself:  Okay hotshot, put your money where your mouth is and write a play that will hold the audience’s attention from beginning to end. From a few less than satisfying theater experience, and five years of knowing he could do better, came the brainchild of The Hightower Detective Agency.

Landsness, a relative newcomer to BDACT, is no stranger to the live entertainment scene. In the 90s, Dan enrolled in a series of improvisation workshops with the Madison troupe of Comedy Sportz. After completing all of the workshops, Dan hoped he would be able to join the troupe on stage. However, that phone call never came, and Dan gave up the thought of performing improvisational comedy; however, he continued to be an audience member at several of their weekend shows in Madison.  One night, while waiting in the audience to see a Comedy Sportz show, one of the cast members approached him at his table and whispered, “You’re one of the players tonight” and escorted him backstage. Landsness’ first improvisational performance took place with no rehearsal, weeks after completing the required workshops, on a night that he paid to get into the venue, and by the way, on a night that he brought a date to the show.  He performed well and from that evening forward Landsness was listed on every Friday and Saturday evening playbill for the Madison troupe of Comedy Sportz. What about the date? To say she was impressed would be an understatement. Kelli, his date, is now Dan’s wife and the couple have two children. Talk about making a good first impression!

Landsness stopped performing with Comedy Sportz when the Madison troupe dissolved in 2000. Life went on without improvisational theater. He and Kelli had two children and the acting bug went away for many years, and then he auditioned for a role in the Fall of 2014 BDACT production of Leaving Iowa.  When asked what brought him back to the theater, Dan said, “Timing. I quit Comedy Sportz when I had my firstborn. When they were older, I thought it best to ease back into stage performing again because I love it so, and everyone in my family was tired of me acting out scenes from movies in the house. I enjoy hearing people laugh.  They don't always laugh, but when they do its worth it!”

Dan was cast for multiple roles in Leaving Iowa and was an immediate hit with his portrayal of Lt. Dan Meechum and Jamie roadside diner waitress among others. Yes I typed the word waitress.  Of the eleven characters that Landsness was asked to portray in this show, three of them were female roles. Audiences howled with laughter each time he walked on stage as a woman, and Dan got the acting bug back.  With his new found energy for theater, that desire to write a play was also rekindled and from that inspiration we get The Hightower Detective Agency, a period piece reminiscent of the old Philip Marlow era, but with a touch of sarcasm and a healthy dose of tongue in cheek comedy. The story takes place in multiple locations, which lends to interesting and creative ways of scene changes in the small theater on Spring Street.  The set will be minimalistic with actors dressed in black either carrying set pieces on stage or actually being set pieces.  The story is told through the thoughts of protagonist Jason Hightower, the owner of The Hightower Detective Agency, voiced by narration and illustrated by the cast.

The cast includes Daniel Landsness, John Stratman, Tony Kikkert, Karen Pickhardt, Mercy Cook, Jason Bennett, Nancy Cook, Angel Aok Yako, Wes Reshel, Barbara Vockroth, Dan Bell, Patrick Breuer, Christina Miller, Harv Woebbeking, Bonnie Williams Franke, Mike Clawson and Trevor J. Kastein.  Co-directors are Ron Wilkie and Diane Rabehl, with producer Beth Jewell, stage manager Yvonne Amport, house manager Jean Pillsbury, playbill coordinators Ellen Sushak and Laura Congdon, and promotion handled by David Saniter, BDACT managing director.  

Show dates are March 4, 5, 8, 10, 11 and 12 with theater doors opening at 7:00 p.m. and lights up at 7:30 p.m.  Also, on March 6 and 13, theater doors will open at 1:30 p.m. for matinees at 2.  

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