There was a murder mystery dinner theater “one night only” performance at the Adena Mansion & Gardens in Chillicothe, Ohio last evening. [30 June 2007] The all volunteer cast put on a fantastic performance, or so we were told by the audience as they were leaving.
I have acted in four plays, one spoken history recitation, and now an audience interaction whodunit; all since the fall of 2002. It seems I have a talent for acting. I must, because I’ve received fan mail. Well, one piece of fan mail. All the performances have been for charity. The four plays had a large enough draw that they saved the Pike Heritage Foundation and Museum from bankruptcy. The spoken history benefited the Ohio Wallpaper Project, and last night earned money for the Ohio Historical Society and is for the Adena Mansion & Gardens historic site. Supporting these efforts is noble, but the benefit to me is that I really have fun acting.
Back in high school I was too busy with track and cross-country to seriously consider being in the drama club. I did do a minor part in the senior class play. Or was it the drama club play my senior year? Either way, it was fun, but I was only on stage for a few minutes, and the acting bug didn’t bite me. I know my friends had fun. My classmate, Steve, directed the play I was in and it’s likely that he talked me into the bit part. I really don’t remember.
I guess I have always been a bit of a ham, goof off, whatever. My sister and I use to do silly improve stuff when we were kids. She has been acting at Renaissance Festivals for many years now. I’d love to be in a play with her sometime. It would be great to bind our childhood memories to our adult lives.
The interactive dinner theater last night was titled “The Murder of Lindsey Woolsey” and is very loosely based on a real murder that occurred at the Adena Mansion in the early 1880′s. That murderer was caught red handed, as he did the deed in front of multiple witnesses. That would have made for boring theater; therefore, the writers took liberties, and names were changed to protect History. Four writers contributed to the script, character biographies and supporting background material. It was very cleverly written, and the actors were not told who was the guilty party was. I think I am a clever fellow, and I didn’t correctly figure out which character was guilty. Maybe I was blinded to the fact that my character ended up being the guilty one. Only 18 of 142 audience members deduced correctly, so I guess I don’t feel bad about not getting it myself.
But you may be asking, how can an actor give the correct clues or give a convincing performance if they do not know the outcome? Doesn’t the low percentage of correct solutions mean that it was all a cheat? Not at all. Back to those clever writers. You see, they needed the guilty actor to act very worried. This fit with the performances of the other actors and made it obvious (in hindsight) that the worried character was the guilty one. Well, the only thing in my character’s monologue and background write up that I could use to sustain a performance was dialog that made the actor, me, assume that the character was being framed, and that people would likely believe it. I accordingly played the character as worried to death that he wasn’t going to be believed, which ended up being the performance of a character worried to death that he was going to be correctly uncovered as the murderer. Very clever those writers.
So, why only 18 correct solutions? A lot of the people fell into the same mindset I had. My character was framed! Most of the others that saw through the misdirection just assumed that anyone so obviously guilty must be a red herring of some sort, and picked someone they thought was the next likely suspect. The butler…er, valet, got the most incorrect guesses.
After the performance the actors lined up at the exit, and at least a hundred people told me that they should have gone with their first instinct and picked my character. A few ladies were still insisting that my character was framed.
I had a blast, and so did the rest of the cast and the audience. I am told the catered dinner was exquisite. I was too nervous to eat before the performance (I always am) and I only had pasta salad and fruit afterwards. Adena sold more tickets to this dinner theater performance than they have ever sold for the “champaign social” they normally have at this time of the year. My bet is that I will be asked to participate in another play next summer. With budget cuts due to decreases in state funding, most places like Adena need all the extra monitary help they can get. I’ll gladly volunteer again.