Webpage Supplement to

Chapter 28: Interactive Mystery Theatre

Anne M. Curtis, Gordon Hensley

Slightly Revised, June 6, 2008

Some Examples:

Murder at Greystone Manor, set in 1927, has a film director/starlet theme, while Murder at Bedside Manor revolves around a mock modern-day medical conference for the wonder drug, “Curinol.” Although these productions, able to host up to 200 guests each in Phoenix, Arizona, are different in many ways, they both offer hilarious interactive evenings of playing super-sleuth.  Both productions can run simultaneously at different locations, each holding up to 200 guests. (See references at end.). Harris Smith, Patricia. Murder At Bedside Manor. Self-published, 1989.

--- Murder at Greystone Manor. Self-published, 2002. http://www.mysterymansion.com/


Ann Curtis plays
Nurse Domea Faber in
a Sleuths Murder
Mystery Play


Another format involves not just a dinner and evening’s entertainment, but a themed experience over a several day period. For example, at the intimate Austin Hill Inn of West Dover, Vermont, guests are invited to become characters for the entire weekend. Upon check-in on Friday, each guest is given a packet providing general clues, secrets and suggestions to their character's identity and purpose. Saturday, when the actual murder mystery begins, game rules are reviewed, additional suggestions and hints are provided and all characters are formally introduced. During the following wine and cheese reception, guests are encouraged to mingle and spread out around the inn in order to bribe, blackmail and, in general, be sneaky in obtaining as many secrets about the other characters as is possible. Play money is used to aid in protecting your secrets or buying secrets from others! Later that evening, over dinner, the guests continue to act out their characters in whatever way they feel is most appropriate. At some point in the evening, someone dies. It might be you, or maybe you are the one who did it. In any case, the evening continues with finger pointing as the secrets are revealed. The evening ends by midnight with a round of secret ballot voting on who did it and why. The ballots are read out loud and finally the murderer is revealed. The two-night stay includes all meals, a reception, and an awards presentation on Sunday as the grand finale. Ref: Austin Hill Inn, in Vermont. http://www.austinhillinn.com/murder_mystery_weekend.html

A different way of interacting happens at the Ridley Park, Pennsylvania, The Prickly Pineapple Company's Annual Luau, which takes place in one evening, doubling as an evening of entertainment and a pool party. This poolside murder mystery game is designed for 12 to 20 adults, where players assume the roles of suspiciously wacky characters. Each character is a victim, suspect, or detective. This script is designed so that the different characters will interact with each other. There are no lines to remember, just a loosely scripted plot line and a simple 'task' or two for each character to perform. Props are provided. Intended for adults, one must have a pool to hire this company so that the swim team can perform. This hilarious performance contains important clues and cues guests when to perform their tasks. If the weather is unpleasant, the swim team will perform in a plastic child’s pool or, in a pinch, will perform a “land version” of their show. Either way, this performance is assuredly over the top and hilarious.

Poolside Murder Mystery in Pennsylvania: http://poolpartymurdermystery.com/

An excursion on a train can also be an occasion for a dramatic event. The Murder Mystery American Orient Express Train of Portland, Oregon, supplements its scenic views with an interactive theatre experience. Sixteen passenger cars travel on eight separate itineraries throughout the year, offering transcontinental murder in several states and seasons. Hermetically sealed in the cars, the cast of the mystery interact with guests, knowing that the killer is on board. A crime is committed, and as the journey continues through the winding scenic wonderland, clues unfold and a murder is found. Portland Rail Mystery Theatre Excursions. http://www.americanorientexpress.com/

Seminole Gulf Railway in Fort Myers, Florida offers a single evening ride on their murder mystery Dinner Train Theatre.  http://www.semgulf.com/dinner_mystery.htm

Mystery Theatre Games:

People can use these activities as family-and-friends “parlor” games. Spilsbury boxed game sets for up to 8 guests (all of whom are suspects) include menus, recipes, shopping lists, invitations, and audio commentary which sets the scene. Titles include "Murder on the Grill," "Pasta, Passion, & Pistols," "Bullets & Barbecue," :Lethal Luau," "Eat, Drink, & Be Married," and "A Taste of Wine & Murders." These give a suggestion of the variety of settings that can be associated with such events.

Murder Mystery Maniacs offers game sets for up to 60 guests that include guest lists, host / facilitators guidelines, rule sheets, individual character roles for each guest sealed in individual envelopes, costume ideas for each character, name tags, solution envelopes, and award certificates for the winners and best actors/actresses. (Sources for such programs are noted in the references at the end of this chapter.)

The advantages of such programs include (1) The audience feels more a part of the action. (2) The events can be reproduced over-and-over with predictable results, so your staff can become proficient at hosting them. The game-style murder format is perhaps your least expensive option. On the other hand, these productions are difficult to orchestrate with larger size audiences. Another slight disadvantage is that you may need to charge more per person and may consequently have fewer participants. Also, because there is a standard solution, the avid mystery buff may prefer something less "pat."

Logistics–Further Details

Regarding mystery dinner theatre: If there is a meal along with the performance, another layer of consideration is added. Dinner theatres either employ wait staff, or utilize the actors to maximize audience/actor interaction, or use both conventions. Either way, time is a factor in the performance. Ideally, guests should have enough time to eat between servings of courses, but not too much time. Some theatres choose to have guests eat between scenes and not during the performance. These are all producer decisions. The meals can range from courses on a served plate, to a buffet-style meal. Food selection is another consideration. One must factor in flexibility for vegetarians, and special diets. Producing organizations must factor in the per-plate costs and food preparation, restaurant agreements, renting of spaces, and/or catering expenses. As you would expect, this element usually boosts the ticket price. Tips, however, often come alongside the meal and are customarily used to subsidize the actors’ pay. Producing organizations and actors might find this profit-boosting aspect attractive and choose to add a meal to their murder mystery evening.

Other Websites:

The National Dinner Theatre Association: www.ndta.com/
The Mousetrap www.coronadoplayhouse.com/mousetrap/mousetrap_history.html
The Barn Theatre www.barntheatre.org
Sleuths Mystery Dinner Show in Orlando Florida www.sleuths.com