by Barbara Fox
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 severeal 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 actors I 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” (set in the seventies) and “High School Was Murder” (set in the fifties) I constantly revise them 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
My newest project are Murder Mystery Games that people can buy and play at home. I have two ready to go, “Murder On The Set and Dying For Chocolate ; All I have to do is figure out how to market them.
I started the business when I was fifty years old so…whoops, I guess I’ve finally admitted my age but. at this point…who cares? Murder, or at least the murder mystery business, is ageless.