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Halloween murder mystery drama benefits Marshall Artists Series

Nov. 08, 2012 @ 11:10 PM

HUNTINGTON -- It was a dark and stormy Halloween night, but inside events turned even darker and colder than the night.

Relatives and associates of the world-famous opera singer, Luciano Manicotti fought and even killed to get their greedy paws on the fallen star's fortune.

That boiling pot of costumed drama was stirred up by George Snider's murder mystery troupe, Murder and Merriment, on Halloween night, as Huntington High School seniors Zoey Stull and Elizabeth Schmitz presented "Murder at the Opera!" as a special benefit for the Marshall Artists Series at Stull's home near the Huntington Museum of Art.

The girls' senior project raised about $1,800 for the Artists Series fund for helping schools afford tickets to its school shows.

Both members of the Honors Scholar Academy and both highly involved in the arts as an actress and dancer, respectively, Schmitz and Stull, said they were inspired to help the Artists Series reach more youth because of their lifelong love of the arts and the recognition of its impact on youth.

"When I did an internship with them I became aware of their financial problems and found out they struggle every year to the meet the minimum," Stull said in a previous interview. "This not only helps Marshall Artists Series but also helps the Keith-Albee stay alive."

The two raised $300 to help put on the event by presenting their idea in August to C.A.F.E. (Creative Arts Funding Endeavor) Huntington.

George Snider, the playwright, actor and director who now has some 22 different murder mysteries they can pull from, said it was an honor to get to put on the living "Clue" game in the sprawling 11,000-square-foot old Freeman Estate, also known as the Park Hill Farm, which was built in 1914 and which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

"This is probably the most ideal setting we've ever had," Snider said. "We love Heritage Station, and it's a jewel and a destination, but when it comes to an elegant, private home that could pass for Luciano Manicotti's mansion -- this is it."

Frank Sampson, who has been attending Marshall Artists Series events for the past 50 years since he was a student at Marshall, said the murder mystery fundraiser seemed like too much fun to miss on a Halloween night.

"Well, I thought what the heck else am I going to do? It's the 31st of October, and I am a little old to trick-or-treat," Sampson said getting a big laugh in the kitchen before the event. "I've been very involved with attending the Artists Series about the past 10 years, and I always enjoy their type of programs."

Halloween night, it was all hands on deck as Schmitz and Stull enlisted half a dozen friends to take coats, park cars, and even family and friends to make the appetizers and serve the guests.

Stull's mom, Joan St. Clair, dressed as wait staff with her husband Sam, said Stull and Schmitz impressed her with their attention to detail.

"She really thought out every detail from parking cars and taking coats to hiring the caterers," St. Clair said. "She went to an event they had at HIMG to set the menu for this."

Caterers Dave and Yvonne Ball, of Bon Appetit, said it's a bit surreal working an event put on by Stull since they've known her since she was a little girl as Dave and Sam both play in the 1937 Flood string band.

"It's a bit surreal since we've known Zoey since she was about 9 dancing Irish jigs with the Flood and here she is getting ready to graduate. She contacted us and set the whole thing up and to be honest it's really not surprising, she's been generous her whole life so it's not that unusual. It's just the kind of person she is."

Marshall Artists Series executive director Penny Watkins said they were elated and impressed with the fundraising effort by the Huntington High school students.

Watkins, whose small office and board must fundraise throughout the year to support the series, which is now in its 76th season, said it's humbling to see how folks are impacted by the Artists Series and want to give back to the community.

"In this past year it's been humbling, whether it's been the Governor's Award for the Arts or throughout the 75th Anniversary season, to hear from so many people about what the series means to them and how they have embraced it and how the series impacts them in different ways. It's exciting to see all these kids stepping up and doing this. I always tell my kids that the good stuff comes from giving of yourself, and it doesn't just come from getting paid for things. These kids are a prime example of good Huntington families stepping up to support the good stuff."

Watkins said these kinds of efforts can really assist the Artists Series which is facing down the sobering reality that the historic Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center, which was built in 1928, really needs several new roofs, at a cost that has been estimated at $400,000.

"The Keith-Albee has been saved thanks to efforts and support from Sen. Bob Plymale and David Tyson, but we are desperate for support for repairs and we're looking at $400,000 just for the roofs."