From 2007 to 2011, I co-authored a summer series of interactive murder mystery dinner theaters at Chesapeake College, Wye, Maryland.
After food and other expenses, all proceeds benefited the college’s theater studies scholarship fund. I’m proud and grateful that our shows really helped that worthy cause.
The plays were staged in the college theater’s spacious lobby — decorated to represent a show-specific locale (banquet hall of a spooky castle/mansion, meeting room of a crooked investment firm, dining room of a cheesy vacation cruise ship, etc.)
The productions were interactive; upon arrival, all audience members received an envelope containing a humorous name (e.g., “Nurse Ivy Needle,” “Studley Poolboy,” etc.) and a little backstory about who they are supposed to know among the cast. Guests were urged to stay in character all evening — and each actor, as part of their role, had to memorize who they “knew” in the audience so they could appropriately greet them, flirt with them, argue with them, whatever.
My collaborator was Anita Tecce, then professor of theater, speech and English and artistic director of the Peake Players.
The “Peakes” included not only undergrads but adults from the Maryland Eastern Shore community: Thus, we had a happily eclectic talent pool. Here are the actors — some victims, some suspects, and one a detective — from Murder Most Shakespeare, in which we not only sent up the Bard, but also Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and even “American Idol.” (Really!)
The premise of Murder Most Shakespeare was that the cast and the audience members were attending the finals of a competition to determine the world’s greatest living Shakespearean actor. The event — financed by an eccentric billionaire — was being held in his remote castle in England.
But of course, a immense storm suddenly rages. Roads and bridges are washed out. Phone service goes down. And the castle becomes cut off from the outside world.
Then the murders start ( sometimes right in the middle of a contestant’s performance!), and …
The posed picture above actually captures the wacky plot twists of Murder on Wall Street.
The premise was that cast and audience members were attending the annual shareholders meeting of the notorious investment firm of Leverage, Default & Bonus.
Not surprisingly, the company is soon discovered to be wildly insolvent, and it’s raided by Treasury Department agents (who impound its books and cut it off from the outside world).
Then mysterious murders of multiple motives commence, and …
In Murder at Mama Morelli’s (below), cast and audiences were attending the celebration of a popular Italian restaurant winning a major dining award. But there are suspicions that the beloved bistro is a front for organized crime.
When a waiter suddenly flashes a badge and identifies himself as an undercover police detective, Mama Morelli and her staff just laugh at him — until he produces big-time evidence of a major health code violation:
This colossal cockroach gives the detective the legal excuse he needs to close down Mama Morelli’s (thus shutting it off from the outside world).
But then the murders begin, and …
An Eco-Friendly Melodrama
Anita Tecce and I were also commissioned to write a one-act play for a major ecology and conservation sciences fair. This day-long event attracted grade school classes from all over the Eastern Shore, and our little show had four performances in packed auditoriums.
If the title Waterman Saves the Bay sounds like a spoof on “Saves the Day,” that’s right: It was a takeoff on the old melodramas.
But as you see from the photo below, the villain wasn’t threatening to foreclose on the impoverished widow; he was plotting to take over her lake (a wash basin) and pollute it with fertilizer runoff, pesticides, and plastic bottle junk — while also paving over wetlands to construct a big shopping center that no one else really needed or wanted.
The feisty widow and her virtuous boyfriend take a stand, while explaining the earth science behind watershed conservation (and why recycling bins are so important).
In the proper spirit of an old-time melodrama, Anita stirred up audience heat against the villain (below) But she didn’t need to: As the bad guy’s nefarious intentions became clear, the youngsters were already heartily hissing him.
Every melodrama must have a happy ending — it’s part of the art form!
And in Waterman Saves the Bay, the bad guy sees the error of his ways and joins the others in a rap poem celebrating sensible development and stewardship of the environment.
Please come back for future news about an Off-Off Broadway musical I’m co-creating with an old friend who’s an ace professional musician and an elite wit.
We’re aiming for an out-of-town opening in Summer 2019.