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Blankenship Plays Lone Female Role in Recent Drama


October 23, 2019

Sitting on Snick Vorbit's lap, MaryBeth Blankenship, playing Andromeda, informs the Lieutenant, played by Clayton Twombly, that the world will end when the clock strikes midnight.

This past weekend, Bear Paw Mountain Outfitters produced the closing of The Vorbit Incident at the Montana Actors' Little Theater on the campus of MSU-Northern in Havre. Former Blaine County resident and 2008 Chinook High School graduate, MaryBeth Blankenship was a member of the cast. She recently shared her challenges and satisfactions in personifying the lone female role of Andromeda, a mythical princess featured in the drama.

The play, with its adult humor and language, as well as some mild violence, is set in a missile silo outside of Great Falls. As the story unfolds, the plot follows rookie missileer Lieutenant Snick Vorbit of the United States Air Force 341st Strategic Wing. Vorbit, whose job is literally waiting for the end of the world, doesn't have much to do at his job that isn't routine-that is until his job enters the "twilight zone." Then, he must decide whether to follow orders and launch his flight of ten nuclear missiles or to trust the advice of his spiritual mentor, who may or may not be a hallucination. With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Vorbit looks to the sky for answers.

Under the direction of Montana Actors' Theater (MAT) Marketing Director Andi Daniel, rehearsals started in August. Blankenship identified the freshness of the role as the most satisfying aspect of portraying Andromeda. "This character is brand new and has never been performed on stage, so I got to play her how I wanted. My instincts and my ideas for how she would act and react were a joy to discover," Blankenship stated.

Daniel also described working with a script that had never been produced before, calling the experience both challenging and exhilarating: "Often a director can look to other performances to get inspiration for set or costume design, but I didn't have that option, so we got to make the show our own, and that's pretty exciting. Furthermore, the playwright was in the audience, and he really enjoyed our interpretation," Daniel added.

The Vorbit Incident was written by Jay Kettering, a working playwright, humorist, and native Montanan who has seen several of his productions produced in the last few years. When the play opened on October 10, that opening marked the first-ever production of Kettering's dark but quirky comedy.

Although Kettering currently lives in Missoula, he has Central Montana roots; his mother grew up in the dryland farming community of Winifred, where his father coached the high school football team. Kettering enjoys writing fiction and occasionally tries his hand at poetry, some of which readers can sample on his blog, "Bird Droppings: A Blog of Occasional Musings." Even though he also writes children's books and advertising, playwriting-for both the stage and the radio-has dominated the last decade of Kettering's creative imagination.

Because the playwright was in Havre during some of the rehearsals of his play, whenever Blankenship struggled with her attempts at interpretation, she consulted with him about his vision for the character he had created. "I picked his brain, asking him what he envisioned Andromeda might say or how she might act out certain moments. Those consultations were really helpful to me," she said.

This same presence, however, also carried with it some anxiety-inducing pressure. "Knowing the playwright would be in the audience and feeling the weight of his dream realized without disappointing him with my take on Andromeda's character was especially daunting," Blankenship reported.

As another one of the challenges, Blankenship named performing "in the round." The actress recalled: "The tech cues and props for this show all shared a limited stage space, making it incredibly difficult and that much more satisfying when we were able to pull off a good show without mistakes that might distract the audience's attention from visualizing the story."

According to Director Daniel, when a play is presented "in the round," the audience surrounds the acting area instead of sitting in a more traditional theater configuration. "This seating style is less forgiving because the audience is within a few feet of the actors," she explained.

"The great thing about working with MAT, and being in the theater in general, is that everybody is incredibly welcoming and equally weird. This is my eighth production with MAT and my third show with Andi Daniel directing, so it feels like coming home whenever I get back into the theater. It's always nice to have new faces audition and perform with MAT, and this time around it was fun to introduce Walter Gonzalez to the world of theater, complete with rehearsals, stress, fears, and exhilaration after a great show," Blankenship said.

MaryBeth Blankenship, playing Andromeda, the only female role in the Vorbit Incident.

When asked to think about the most humorous aspect of The Vorbit Incident, Blankenship decided, "The idea of certain characters only appearing to Snick and interacting with him in front of Captain Moon without Moon's knowledge or sight was a fun way to demonstrate Snick's descent into possible madness. Are these people real or not? How did Andromeda know the two military men would be getting the go-ahead to release the missiles if she's not real? Finally, watching Snick's reactions to these different characters who attempt to manipulate his actions is also pretty unreal since they force Snick to wonder whether he is actually reconciled to the fact that he may be responsible for the end of the world after only his second shift on the job!"

The Vorbit Incident kicked off MAT's Montana Playwrights Network 2019 Premiere Project. This Project provides opportunities for playwrights to receive a fully realized production of their original scripts.


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