MY MURDER MYSTERY CAREER
I am a gentle, soft-spoken, non threatening person except …..I have this career revolving around murdering people, It’s all legal, I do the murdering through Mystery On The Menu, an interactive theater company I founded in Washington DC back in 1986. I was an actress., well, trying to be an actress while juggling raising four children, taking and teaching dance classes, writing newspaper articles and doing a hundred other things. when, one day, I read about a new form of theater, participatory murder mysteries where the play happened in the middle of the audience.
“That sounds like so much fun”, I thought , “that’s the kind of acting I’d like to do, I want to be in a participatory murder mystery play”. I called several local theaters,; none of them was doing such a thing (or was interested in doing it) .but finally, I got a positive answer. The owner of Coolfont resort in West Virginia thought it would be a good way to attract new business and customers.
We decided to “go for it”. She would advertise and promote the event and I would produce the play.
It sounded simple enough. I would find a script and hire a director and actors., no problem! Except, back in 1986 there weren’t any scripts for interactive mysteries and no internet for searching for advice and the director I hired got another job one week after rehearsals started. Guess who ended up writing the play and directing the show? Talk about “earn while you learn”, I had never even written a short story, much less a play and I had certainly never directed a show. The only good thing about the situation was that the actorsI cast had never seen or played a part in an interactive show so they didn’t know that I didn’t know what I was doing!
The show opened (one performance only) on Friday the thirteenth of June, 1986. One hundred and fifty people were in the audience at the resort and, they loved it! They gave the cast (I was, of course in the show) a standing ovation! We stood in the lobby signing autographs and accepting compliments. We were totally amazed,
“They liked it”, we kept saying to each other, “they really, really liked it”
A few newspaper reporters were in the audience and they wrote really good reviews about the show. They used adjectives like “fun” and “different’ and “like a live game of Clue”. I began getting phone calls from businesses.
“Can you do a mystery show for a corporate retreat” and from event planners, “can you do a show for a fund raiser?” and from private individuals, “can you do a birthday party,” “an anniversary”, “a New Years Eve party” and (the most exciting and challenging call), from the owner of a private, art deco train, ‘can you do a show on a train to and from New York”?
Well, everyone knows that an actor never says no. I said yes to everything and suddenly, I was the producer/director of a theater company. I had business cards and a logo; I called the company Mystery On The Menu.
I wrote dozens of scripts with different themes ,“Reunions Are Murder”, “Who Murdered the CEO”?; “Murder They Vote”, “Lights, Camera, Murder”, “A Deadly Marriage” and even costume shows, “The Twenties Were Murder’ “Have A Nice Murder” ( the seventies) and “High School Was Murder” ( the fifties) I constantly revise the plays and/or tailor them to a particular event or business.
The train shows were amazing fun. We went from Washington DC to New York or Atlantic City and back with a six hour break to sight-see, go to the theater, shop, eat, gamble. We lived a lifetime in six hours. The mystery began on the trip up and concluded on the return trip. In other words, we killed them on the way up and solved it on the way back”.
I used a lot of the same characters in the different shows, Countess Maria, (a fortune teller) Danny the Duke (a gambler), Elizabeth Crandall, (a society hostess), Georgia Mason, (a movie star) Senator Drewnell ( United States Senator) Robby Ray (a rock star) Janie Jason (a detective who just graduated from detective school) and many others; I become very attached to the different characters; Some of them seemed and still seem more real to me than actual, live people, I eventually put several of the characters into mystery novels, “Murder In the Inn” and the sequel “Another Murder In the Inn” and a book of short interactive stories, “Murder is Served’ But I’m getting ahead of myself. The books came later.
I created a whole world of places .and businesses for the shows. Examples, Latvaria (a small country near France), Topaz (an island in the Caribbean), the Greenway country club, Questions newspaper, The Crumpert Cookie Company, The New Wave Art Gallery, The LMM (Lets Make movies) Movie Studio, The Royal Hotel/Casino and dozens more. I felt and still feel like I am living in my own little mystery world in my head.
Eight years ago my late husband and I moved to Florida and I created Murder Is Served, One Woman Murder Mystery plays which I do for parties, businesses and on cruise ships. It’s a one person show featuring me and several members of the audience who volunteer (sometimes with a little or a lot of coaxing) to read the part of one of the characters. Each of the “volunteers get a few pages of the script. Their part is highlighted and is in bold print and when it’s their turn, they stand up and read the lines. Half way through we stop and the audience has a chance to examine clues, share information, discuss the crime and write a solution. The play continues and the murder is solved. Someone in the audience is guilty but no one, not the victim or the detectives or even the murderer knows the answer until the very last minute. Recently I began leasing my scripts to groups and theater companies in different locations.
It’s been a completely wonderful twenty-five years; I still can’t believe that I am actually getting paid for doing the two things , writing and acting, that I love best to do.
8/21/12 HOW TO PARTICIPATE IN A MURDER MYSTERY PLAY
You have tickets to an interactive murder mystery play or a friend invites you to a murder mystery party and you really want to attend but you’re not sure about what to expect and you’re a little apprehensive. What will you have to do? How exactly are you supposed to participate? What if you can’t figure out the solution?
Murder mystery plays happen right in the middle of the audience; there is no forth wall separating the audience from the actors. They are fun and sociable, like a live game of Clue but, to make the experience enjoyable for both the actors and the audience there are a few rules to follow.
First and foremost, don’t interrupt or talk back to the actors while they are speaking. Most of the plays have a period where the actors walk through the audience answering questions, spreading gossip and providing information and that’s the time to talk to them. When the actors are speaking specific lines to each other the audience should be quiet and listen carefully just as they would do in a regular play. Everything an actor says is important and could be a clue,
Second, do participate. Volunteer to read a part or to be an informer and after you do volunteer, take it seriously. Read your information carefully; become the character. hare information, examine the clues, ask questions, and if asked to do so, write a solution. The more you do, the better time you will have.
Third, don’t touch the actors or follow them or try to stop them from doing whatever they are doing. Some audience members get so involved that they attempt to tackle the murderer or grab the gun or stop someone from escaping. This is a little too much participation;
Forth, don’t try to get the actors to “break character” by asking them questions like “how long have you been acting in this show”? or the most dreaded question. ”where is the ladies/mens room”?
Fifth, don’t use cameras or any recording devices unless you have prior permission to do so. Flashbulbs going off are distracting and even dangerous for the actors.
Finally and most important, interactive murder mysteries offer audiences the chance to play, to become a character in the scenario, to socialize and do much more than just sit and watch so participate, laugh and applaud, If you do, you’ll have the “crime” of your life
8/22/12 DON’T JUST SIT THERE…WRITE SOMETHING
I decided to become a writer in the first grade when my story about dolls..“I have two dolls, their names are Susan and Caroline. I love them. I play with them everyday” was published in the school newspaper.
Since then I’ve written countless newspaper articles, short stories, interactive mystery plays, ten minute (and longer) plays, and three mystery novels; my day feels incomplete unless I’ve written something . Seeing my by-line on an article in the newspaper or my name on a book cover is such a satisfying, gratifying thing, I love doing book signings and talking about writing and being introduced as a author but there is this one problem and evidently, it’s one many writers have in common. It is very hard to be self disciplined, to make the time and find the motivation to actually sit down at the computer and write
I can find so many excuses not to write. There are so other things to do, really vital things like going to a dance or exercise class, re-arranging my closet, calling a friend, going to the beach, trying this new recipe which involves going shopping, even taking a nap so my mind will be fresh. I can think of a million reasons to avoid sitting down and staring at a blank piece of paper. Once I begin, really begin, I’m okay and I can keep going for hours but it’s getting started that’s so hard. I seem to need pressure, a deadline and right now, I don’t have any of those, No editor is standing over me demanding a story “right now”, no publisher or agent is telling me the book is due “in two weeks”. I don’t even owe a letter to a friend and my journal is hidden in the bottom drawer.
I asked other writers for ideas and suggestions; One of them (who shares my problem) repeated the following quote (he didn’t ell me who said it) .
“Writing is 10% inspiration and 90 % perspiration”; another suggested sitting at the computer and not getting up until I had written a thousand words every single day, another said to set a particular time each day to write and still another said to print out the pages as I write them so I can see the tangible results of my work.
They all sounded good so, I’m going to try all of them. I’ll schedule writing time everyday between 9 and 10 am, ( and I’ll turn off my cell so I can’t get calls or text messages) I’ll write at least five hundred words (and work up to the thousand) I’ll print out the pages (whoops, I don’t have ink for the printer so I’d better go to the store) . No! I don’t need ink. I’m not leaving the computer. I’ll email the finished articles to an on-line site like Triond so they will get published and I’ll see them in print. That way, other people will read them too which is, after all, the whole idea of writing
If I start this routine (and stay with it) maybe I’ll actually write the third book in my Inn series. I already have “Murder In The Inn “and “Another Murder in the Inn” finished and published (they are available from the website booksbybarbara.com) and I’m working on “Murder In Another Inn. “
So, this is the beginning of my new writing life. The page is filling up nicely, only two hundred and ten more words to go!