Toughest challenge for Belleville teen actor? Playing (and staying) dead

Belleville teen makes her theater acting debut with a death scene

Morgan Murphy, 13, will make her professional acting debut by being “murdered” in nine performances of “Macbeth” at St. Louis’ Ivory Theater. Morgan is a student at Central Junior High School in Belleville.
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Morgan Murphy, 13, will make her professional acting debut by being “murdered” in nine performances of “Macbeth” at St. Louis’ Ivory Theater. Morgan is a student at Central Junior High School in Belleville.

Next month, 13-year-old Morgan Murphy will make her professional acting debut by being “murdered” in nine performances of “Macbeth” at St. Louis’ Ivory Theater.

But the Central Junior High School student, who plays Macduff’s daughter, says the stabbing is no big deal. The hardest part for Morgan is acting dead afterward.

“... You can’t move and you’re not supposed to laugh, and that was the hardest thing,” Morgan said. “Everyone would laugh. If somebody giggled or something, then somebody else would and then everybody else would. You gotta work on not laughing. It’s really hard because we’re always messing around in a way.”

Morgan said one of the best things about her experience with St. Louis Shakespeare so far has been meeting her fellow actors. That includes her “murderer,” Shane Signorino, who is a theater and dance lecturer at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

Morgan’s mom Laura, who comes with her to rehearsals, describes Signorino as a “burly biker-looking guy.”

“I mean, he is huge,” Laura Murphy said. “And he’s a great big huge marshmallow. He’s just the sweetest, most wonderful guy that you could ever meet.”

“Macbeth” will premiere Oct. 7 and will run until Oct. 16. There is an age recommendation of 11 years old or older for the performance — Morgan just makes the cut herself.

It’s more fun being in the production because you get to make friends and you get to meet all these cool people who are really nice.

Morgan Murphy, Central Junior High School student

At 13 years old, Morgan has thought about her future career, but said she hasn’t made up her mind yet. She’s having fun with this role, which also includes a scene as an apparition who haunts Macbeth. But previously, Morgan was interested in being an animator for Pixar, the computer animation film studio that produced “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “Up” and other popular movies.

“Technically, the (St. Louis) Shakespeare people, they have their jobs and then they volunteer their time to do the Shakespeare (productions), so I could still be an animator at Pixar,” Morgan said.

Morgan said she was inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s famous painting “The Starry Night” to try her hand at art. She likes to draw and has used a series of drawings she created to make her own short, stop-motion movies.

One of her movies, titled “Fly Away With Me,” recently earned Morgan an award of merit for film production and a place among the top five student productions submitted to the National PTA Reflections Arts Program. She was selected out of the nearly 300,000 students who contributed original works of dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography and visual arts.

Morgan’s movie features a girl who leaves her bedroom with a yellow umbrella to fly across the globe.

“What I did is I painted a picture and it’s a big piece of paper and you have a taped thing here and on the other end, it just rolls, so you have a stick person and we just keep moving her across the roller. And you take pictures every time you move it,” Morgan said.

Another of Morgan’s movies, titled “Imagine,” which she made in second grade, is used by Wells Fargo in its presentations on diversity, mom Laura Murphy said.

“Her aunt works for Wells Fargo and she was showing it around the office and one of the big wigs happened to be in the building that day and saw it and asked if he could give it to their trainers to use for incorporating diversity within their buildings and why diversity is so important in the corporate world,” she said. “So every time they do a class within the Wells Fargo National, they play this for their students, for their participants.”

“Imagine” begins with a blank canvas that Morgan slowly adds color to with a landscape scene and people of different ethnicities.

Q: Is your role in “Macbeth” your first time acting?

A: “Somewhat. I’m in a program called Odyssey of the Mind. ... It’s a team sport where you get a group of kids that are very creative and you get these different problems and you have to work with them and create a skit and you have to involve this problem into your skit. ... It started with my cousins. My aunt and uncle coached them. ... We (Morgan and her brother Alex) have our own team, so we’re very excited this year.”

Q: Is that how you realized that you liked acting and that you wanted to keep doing it?

A: “It was more when I was little. Melissa, for her birthday, my aunt and uncle would take her (to a play), because her birthday’s around Christmas, and one of the plays that were showing was ‘The Nutcracker.’ That was one of the very first plays that I ever saw and from there, that’s kind of what I really wanted to do: be in a play like that.”

Q: How old do you think you were?

A: “3, I think. Maybe 4.”

Q: What about acting do you like so much?

A: “One of the biggest things that I’ve realized from working with some of the other actors is that after a while, it’s kind of cool to see people when they’re acting are like a totally different person. For instance, Shane (Signorino), he’s one of the people I have to work with in my scene. He’s really nice. After the scene, he’s like, ‘I didn’t hurt you? That was OK? Yeah? Yeah?’ And then, whenever he has to say his line, he booms his voice to where it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s not Shane.’ It’s Shane who ‘murders’ me.

”But one of the best things is just working with them. ... I have two pretend brothers ... It’s really fun working with them. Riley (James, who plays Macduff’s youngest son), in the script, is supposed to be this prankster, so he’s always playing pranks on me and it’s really fun even though it’s annoying. But then Wendy (Farmer), who is playing Lady Macduff, our mother, is really fun, too. I’ll come in and even though (real mom Laura is) there, I’ll just say, ‘Hello, mother,’ and then she’ll be like, ‘Hello, daughter.’ It’s really fun working with all of them and seeing what actually goes behind it instead of watching it from the crowd. It’s more fun being in the production because you get to make friends and you get to meet all these cool people who are really nice.”

Q: Do you ever get nervous on stage?

A: “So far, (no). This will be my very first time on stage. (With Odyssey of the Mind), it’s a small audience and then you’re sort of getting judged and all of this and you have a little bit of pressure, but for some reason this one’s a little bit more pressuring because it’s not like Odyssey of the Mind in a way because there’s different things going on. You’ll see more kids there. I think the only thing that might kind of be like, ‘Oh, this kind of reminds me,’ is we’re doing two school matinees, and so there’ll be a crowd of kids. That’s the one thing that might sort of remind me of Odyssey of the Mind because there’s always kids in the crowd watching you because the other people you compete with in Odyssey of the Mind, you watch them, they watch you.

“But for some reason, this one’s a little bit scarier in a way because it’s an actual stage. ... In one of the scenes, you have to back up and if you make one wrong move going backwards — we have to back up from the murderers — you could trip off and land in the audience, so that’s another thing you have to look out for.”

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

Meet Morgan Murphy

  • Age: 13
  • School: Seventh-grader at Central Junior High School
  • Lives in: Belleville
  • Parents: Laura and Brent
  • Siblings: Melissa, 15; Alex, 12; Thomas, 4
  • Pets: Three cats — Frisco, Jewels and Twister; and two hamsters — Digger and Nibbles
  • School activities: Trying out for cheerleading and track this school year
  • Role models: Artist Vincent van Gogh
  • Favorite subjects in school: Art and band
  • Least favorite subjects in school: Science and math
  • Favorite movie: The “Pirates of the Caribbean” series. Morgan likes pirates because she was named after one — Henry Morgan.
  • Favorite music: Pop, jazz and classical
  • Favorite food: Candy and other sweets
  • Favorite restaurant: Shogun Japanese
  • Hobbies: Rock climbing at the YMCA, riding her bike, swimming, drawing and reading
  • Currently reading: “The Children of the King” by Sonya Hartnett

Want to go?

  • What: Production of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” by St. Louis Shakespeare Company, featuring Central Junior High School’s Morgan Murphy as Macduff’s daughter
  • When: Oct. 7-16
  • Times: 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. on Sundays; 7:30 p.m. on Thursday; 10 a.m. student matinees Oct. 13-14
  • Where: The Ivory Theater, 7620 Michigan Ave., St. Louis
  • Prices: $20 for adults; $18 for seniors; $15 for students and teachers with an ID
  • More information: Visit St. Louis Shakespeare Company’s website, email or call 314-361-5664