ADA — A familiar face in East Central University Theatre has a taken on a formidable behind-the-scenes role for ECU’s last main-stage production of the year, “I Bet Your Life.” The fast-paced comedy and murder mystery will be presented at 8 p.m. today through Saturday in the Dorothy Summers Theatre.

B.J. Echard of Macomb, the red-haired actor who has had major roles in ECU productions for four years, is directing the play to fulfill his senior project requirement as a speech/theatre major.

Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for non-ECU students and senior citizens. ECU students, faculty and staff will be admitted free with valid ID cards. Reservations are recommended by calling (580) 310-5483.

“I Bet Your Life,” by Fred Carmichael, is the story of a mystery contest between two friends, a soap opera writer and his agent. The writer has written a movie script, but his agent says the premise of the plot is not plausible and refuses to send it to Hollywood.

The friends often play pranks on each other and make wagers, but now the writer, Matthew Stoddard, played by ECU freshman Bobby Reed of Marietta, comes up with the ultimate bet.

“He makes the biggest bet of their lives,” Echard said. “He has hired a hit man to kill the agent. If the agent agrees to take the script to Hollywood, the writer will call off the bet.”

The bet happens to mirror the plot of the disputed screenplay, in which a terminally ill man hires a hit man to kill him, then learns he was misdiagnosed. However, he has no idea who the hit man is.

Stoddard’s real hit man has hired a group of strangers to attend a party, and one of the guests is the gunman who will kill Greg Larson, the agent played by Latta senior Sam Caton.

When Stoddard and Larson learn the hit man has been killed in an accident, they realize they do not know who the killer is or how to get the word to him or her to call off the plan.

“I wanted a fast-paced comedy,” Echard said. “I chose this with the student body in mind. It develops fast and the characters are so diverse. Carmichael mixes mystery and comedy really well.”

Freshman Lacey Skaggs of Purcell will portray Stacy Kingsley, the agent’s secretary. Senior Catie Parker of Sapulpa will play Laura Pudney, a cook hired by the hit man for the party.

Other actors who will portray guests, including the possible killer, are Lynn Davison, Sulphur senior, as Gerta; Stephen Goodman, Ringling freshman, as Burton Finley, the plumber; Melanie Logan, Ada freshman, as neighbor Henrietta Squires; Clay Wesley, Okemah senior, as neighbor Ira Watson; and Whitney Harbour, Leon freshman, as Lila, an actress.

Handing over one of the theatre season’s four major plays to a student director is not the norm. While each speech/theatre major is required to complete a senior project in performance, design or directing – worth three credit hours – only a few students reach the level to direct a major production, said Dr. Delma Hall, associate professor of education and Echard’s adviser.

“He’s one of those outstanding students.” she said. “He’s very involved in the play process, from writing his own plays to directing. He’s handling it very well. He’s done an outstanding job and the cast is very supportive because they know it’s his senior project.”

Amazingly, Echard had no theatre experience when he came to ECU. Macomb High School, with only 12 students in Echard’s graduating class, had no theatre department and the arts were not really an option, he said.

He was a “Saturday Night Live” fan who liked comedy skits and enjoyed acting in and making short videos. As an ECU freshman, he was drawn to the theatre area in Science Hall where he was noticed by Hall, who was directing “Barefoot in the Park.”

“She asked me if I’d like to be in a bit role she forgot to cast,” Echard said. “I found out later she had not forgotten anything.”

He took the part she created and “I was just hooked,” he said. He auditioned for the next play and has been in a number of productions since then.

“I took a directing class last year and had a lot of fun with it,” Echard said. “I enjoy directing. I’ve worked with all the directors (at ECU), so I thought I could combine all their techniques and the things that work best for me.

“I thought it would be interesting to work on a student-to-student level, plus I thought it would be a lot of fun seeing it develop in front of us.”

Echard has a double major, both speech/theatre and mass communications (electronic/print media), so he will have another senior project next fall – a full-length movie. After graduating from ECU he wants a career in the film industry.

“If I work in front of the camera, that would be great,” he said, “but I wouldn’t mind being behind the camera, either.”

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