A group of Minnesota State University students took a field trip to a rural farm to make sure that their production of “Assassins” would go off with bang.

The show, which features music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and adapted from a book by John Weidman, takes a look at a select group of people who have made attempts, successful or not, on the lives of U.S. presidents. Because of this, a large part of the roles for many cast members involves handling guns.

“It was really informative," said Leigh Jacobson said, who plays would-be assassin Lenette “Squeeky” Fromme. “I had shot a gun before, so for me it was really just knowing how to physically react to shooting a gun; what your body does when you pull the trigger.”

Jacobson along with her fellow cast members got the chance to shoot the guns that their characters used — or at least a close match to them. Jacobson shot a semi-automatic handgun, a rifle and a Colt 1911 model .45-caliber pistol, which is similar to what Fromme used. The experience was designed to give the cast a respect for the weapons.

“The play is meant to be disturbing. They are not using the guns for hunting, but for death. I wanted to understand the lethality of the weapons,” said director Paul Hustoles.

It was a lesson that Jacobson took to heart. “You have something in your hand that could kill someone. It’s just a gun. But then you think about the power it has and what it can do,” Jacobson said of the experience.

The shooting range is just one aspect of preparation that went into this production. Because the cast is portraying real life people, they have gone out of their way to know the person behind the assassin.

“It's been really interesting playing a character that is a real person. You can't just make up a character. I wanted to be as accurate to her as I could be,” Jacobson said about her character. “I read a 400-page book just about Lenette and trying to understand where she is coming from. You can't just play it off like 'Oh they're crazy.' They had to get to that point from somewhere."

That work is paying off. The cast recently attended the Region V Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. During the festival they performed "The Gun Song," a musical number from the show. The crowd enjoyed the performance so much that they were asked to perform it at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. during the national festival in April. 

The show opens tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Andreas Theatre of the Earley Center for Performing Arts.


If you go

What: "Assassins," a play by Minnesota State University's Theatre Department

When: Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, and Feb. 4-7, and 2 p.m. Sunday and Feb. 7 and 8. 

Where: Andreas Theatre in the Earley Center for Performing Arts at Minnesota State University

Tickets: $22 for regular, $19 for seniors over 65, youth under 16 or groups of 15 or more, and $15 for current MSU Students. Tickets are available online at MSUTheatre.com or from 4-6 p.m. Monday-Friday at the Theatre and Dance Box Office in the lobby of the Earley Center.

The show is for mature audiences and there will be gun shots used during the performance.