Wednesday, July 25, 2018

A Mystery Game versus a Mystery Play

Every now and then I get an inquiry that asks something similar to this;

 " Hello, my uncle Morty is retiring this Friday and we're having some family over and some pot roast and we saw your mystery deal on the interwebs and thought it might be fun for Uncle Morty,  how do we get these Mystery things for Friday?" 
I have to respond something similar to: "Congrats to Uncle Morty but my 'Mystery Deals' are actually theatrical plays, you know like, Death Of A Salesman, Our Town or The Odd Couple, you know something you would go see performed by actors. I think what you may be looking for is a Murder Mystery Game, a LARP, you know, Live Action Role Play."

As clear as I try to be over at Play-Dead.com  - sometimes  I need to re-explain and draw a line between the two and while I'm at it offer some general help / tips etc...  Here it goes:

What are the differences between a Play and a game?

A Play is a theatrical performance with actors, a director, a crew, a set, props and a script.

A Game is generally an outline or scenario with participants. (whoever wants to play)

Hosting a Murder Mystery Play

You can find many resources for Murder Mystery play scripts online. This site, Play-dead is one of those resources. It is very easy to purchase performing rights for a play. A play, of course, will require a group of people such as actors, a director, costumes etc... If you do not have a theatrical group, here are some ideas:

Local Community Theater group- Check in your area or search online. Most communities have amateur theatrical groups. The benefit of a community theater groups is that it's a volunteer-based organization.

Local Colleges and High schools- Most schools have theater departments or personnel that may be willing to stage a play for you.

Create your own Group- You may have a theatrical background or know someone who does.
If you don't wish to stage a play yourself, you can also find groups online that supply their own acting troupe and Murder Mystery Plays.

Hosting A Murder Mystery Game

You can find Mystery Games online that come in all shapes and sizes. Some are set for dinner parties with elaborate plots which include kits with all the material you need. Others are very simple with a set of rules and basic plot. Most Murder Mystery games involve everyone, much like role-playing games. (called a LARP- Live Action Role Play)  You will not need any theatrical performers, just yourself and your guests.  You assume a "character" and essentially play out a story.

Resources for Murder Mystery Games:

Murder Mystery Games

Mysteries On The Net

Free Form Murder Mystery Games

Finding a Place

If you prefer a more theatrical Murder Mystery or don't wish to host a game at your home, you will need to find a venue. Finding a place is really not difficult. My home group started out performing Mysteries at a local Historic Mansion, moved to a Community Center and finally found a home at Banquet Facility.
Many popular Murder Mysteries are based in a Dinner Theater setting. The idea of a dinner and show is very appealing to audiences.

Venue Ideas:

Local Community Center / Theater - check your local area most Centers have a theater or large room for rent.

High School - many will rent theater space to you.

Local Historic Homes - many Historic Homes in large cities host murder mystery plays.

Banquet Halls - sure, their main businesses are weddings and reunions but they offer ample space plus most have their own kitchens or catering services so Hosting a "Dinner Theater" would be perfect.

Hotel Conference room - many large hotels have conference rooms perfect for hosting a play.

Restaurants - some restaurants have "party" rooms that supply enough space to host a dinner theater. If you choose to create your own theatrical troupe you will, of course, need a place to rehearse the play. If you have secured a location that will let you perform the show, they may also let you rehearse there. If not, there is nothing wrong with a good old basement or garage. My local group spent years rehearsing in basements.

Promote Yourself

Local newspapers have calender sections strictly for Theater auditions and performances. Smaller local papers and publications are always looking for interesting stories, so call the paper and see if they would like to do a story. If you have a website, Blog,  Facebook, or twitter, by all means, promote your performance. Best yet make a short video and post it on youtube to attract attention - (here is an example )

Extra Bonus idea Contact local businesses in your area to see if they would like to purchase an ad in your program. Leave a few pages free in your program for his purpose. Selling advertisements will generate added revenue. Another idea is to see if the businesses would like to donate any items, gifts, coupons etc.. as prizes for your play. At the end of the evening whoever guesses the "murderer" will receive a prize from a local business plus this business gets a free promotional plug. Hopefully, these tips will get you started in the wonderful world of Murder Mystery Hosting!

Monday, July 16, 2018

What Do I think About What You Think About Me. A fine line between Criticism And Opinion

I recently read a review of one of my plays - Murder Me Always and it reminded me of an annoying habit that some reviewers or critics have - and I know, I used to be one.

Many years ago, I wrote "music" reviews for a local St. Louis entertainment paper. Each week, we would receive a plethora of cassettes, CD's and albums from local and regional bands and I among a few others would take them home, listen to them and write a music review. Not a criticism.

There is a difference between a "reviewer" and a "critic". A reviewer simply does what the name implies, reviews the product. Tells you what you can expect, whether it be music, literature, a movie or play. For example, my job was to tell the reader about the band's release, what style of music it was, how many songs were on the recording and just basically summarize it without interjecting my opinion.

A "critic" on the other hand, fuses his or her opinion all over the place: e.g. "The third song is horrible. It sounds like hippos mating in a shower. It sounds like the melody was lifted straight out of Led Zepplin Two." A good critic will also attempt to back up any opinion expressed with evidence. (sometimes)

So basically a "reviewer" tells you what to expect. A "critic" gives you a personal opinion.

Now, there were times I was guilty of stepping over into the opinion realm as a reviewer and became a critic. But one thing I would never do is to coat a review with my own personal preferences or beliefs. This is the "annoying habit" I first spoke about above. I would never write a review of say -a country and western band and start it off by saying, "I hate country and western music." Or criticize a guitar solo by saying "A nice solo played on a Fender Stratocaster but I wish he would have used a Gibson Les Paul, it has better tone." This crosses the line of criticism and becomes a self-serving essay on personal tastes. A individual preference is not a universal fact.

Your own personal tastes have no place when reviewing a work that you did not create. All art is essentially the reflection of its creator. It's the artist's preferences, opinions, and values. A critic has no place holding up their own subjectivity as a basis for judgment.   It would be like me sitting across the dinner table from you and exclaiming, "Why are you eating turnips? I hate turnips! They taste like old socks washed in dirt!" - Seriously.  Who really cares that they taste like dirt to me and that I don't like them. If you like turnips, eat all you want. Please tell me to shut up.

From time to time I will read "reviews" of my plays and for the most part - they are reviews: The name of the play was this. It had these actors. This happened and that happened. etc..

As I was saying, this recent review I read could qualify as a criticism, (I have no problem with criticism) but it contained a few remarks that blurred into the world of the writers own personal preferences.
First let me clarify -the reviewer, in this case, was a college student - so it may be excusable for now.

The review stated that other dinner theatres she had attended, the actors actually served the food and "Murder Me Always" was lacking in this. Really? That was a lack you sorely missed? 

OK. Fine. Personally, I have never ever been to a dinner theatre where the actors were also the waiters. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, it's not something I write into my scripts -  that the actors should serve food. Actors in plays have other things to do than to bring out your meals. (I know there is a joke here about actors being waiters in real life but I'm trying to ignore it.)

She also stated that the "dinner" was actually "a self-serve buffet" (which may explain why the actors didn't bring the plates to the table -maybe? going out on a limb ) and this fact "took away a little bit from the dinner theatre experience."  Really? That took away a bit? You had to fetch your own food? Gee!

OK. Should the group have advertised the event as a "Self Serve Buffet Theatre?". Interesting note here is that the first 3 "dinner theatre" plays I was involved in as an actor were in fact, self-serve buffets. So to me, in my personal world, this was normal. (See how that works?)  No one ever complained that this "took away" from the experience.

What does this mean? Simply, as I may have pointed out,  that everyone's experience and/or preferences are not the same. Therefore, it can get a bit sketchy when I  attempt to state that what I am accustomed to - is the way of all things and how all this should be.  And if it's not something that lies in my personal preference or is in my wheelhouse, then it must be a flaw. It must be wrong therefore unacceptable.

No. I think many critics are doing it wrong by dipping into subjectivity.  It should have no bearing on the experience or really any place in a review of a play.

Yes, I know. That's just my opinion, not yours.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Creed Community Players "Talk About A Murder!"

Creede CO - Creede Community Players asks: What do a psychic, a domestic diva, a gossip columnist and two Las Vegas performers have in common besides their own talk shows?
MURDER! Come to the Ruth Humphreys Brown Theater in Creede for performances of Talk About a Murder by Lee Mueller, and laugh into figuring out who committed murder and why. See some favorite local actors such as Joann Ricci-Schlough and Scott Lamb.
Performances will be Fridays, April 20 and 27 at 7 p.m.; Saturdays, April 21 and 28 at 7 p.m. and Sundays, April 22 and 29 at 1 p.m.
Tickets will be available at the door: $10 adults, $8 students, cash or check only. For reservations, please call and leave a message with name, phone number and reservation date at 203-417-1126. General admission only.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

"A Murder Has Been Renounced" by LaMoille Drama Club

(LaMoille IL)  LaMoille High School  Drama Club’s presentation of “A Murder has been Renounced,”  by Lee Mueller is a spoof on the traditional Agatha Christie mysteries.
Tickets for the show, 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, are $7 and available at the door.
“Join us for this hilarious evening. Come for the laughs, stay for the pun,” says director Linda Whitmore.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

"To Wake The Dead" for One show in Ashland PA

A one-show presentation of “To Wake the Dead” by Lee Mueller, a murder, mystery comedy dinner theater, will be held at 5 p.m. Feb. 24 at Fountain Springs Country Inn  52 Country Club Rd Ashland PA  17921

Plot:   Renown Mystery writer Fred Finnegan has died under unusual circumstances and all his friends have gathered at his wake. Was Fred murdered by someone at the wake? Because he is also there and he's dying to find out. 

The performance will be a fundraiser to benefit Mark Bennyhoff, Ashland, who has been diagnosed with ALS. 

The presentation is being hosted by his family, friends, and supporters, according to a release. Tickets, at $25 each, will include dinner and the show. There will be a cash bar and live Irish music by The Troubles before the show. Doors will open at 4 p.m. followed by dinner at 5 p.m. and the show at 6:30 p.m. For tickets or more information, call Angela or Beverly Kane at 570-875-4908.

Friday, January 05, 2018

"Death Of A Doornail" by Meniffe Community Theatre Feb 2- Feb 10

Menifee Community Theatre Group in Frenchburg Kentucky announces their production of  Death of a Doornail by Lee Mueller. -  a Murder Mystery Dinner! Coming to you February 2nd, 3rd, 9th, & 10th at the Frenchburg Clark Energy Building - 8 Bible Camp Ln, Frenchburg, KY 40322
Death Of A Doornail by Lee Mueller
An eccentric millionaire, Albert Doornale, has invited all of his close friends AND YOU to his estate; including his ex-wife Abigail Doornale, his current love interest Candace Bambay, and his childhood friend from the lower east side Salvatore Carbone. Everyone arrives and is greeted at the estate by the grumpy butler, Mortimer, and the cutlery carrying cook, Miss. Morganford. The only problem is, Albert is not there, no one has seen him. Not his nerdy nephew, Edward, or his socially spoiled daughter, Pricilla. None of the guests know why they are there or what happened to their host. That is until blood is found in the upstairs bathroom. Was Albert killed and carried away? Inspector Bukowski arrives on the scene. A murder investigation will begin as soon as a body is found. It may be a long wait...
The characters will be portrayed by:
Jaiden McKenzie - Inspector Bukowski
Colbie Baldwin - Pricilla Doornale
Caleb Dearmon - Edward Doornale
Chyenne Baker - Abigail Doornale
Montana Stump - Candace Bambay
Tyler Wells - Salvatore Carbone
Will Clemons - Mortimer
Camille Kash - Miss. Morganford
Seth Baldwin - Narrator
John Sain - Stanley
Callie Jackson - Bernice
Cant Attend the Show?  Read the Play!
Available at Amazon in Paperback or Kindle

Monday, December 18, 2017

DEAD AIR – A Mystery Comedy By Lee Mueller South Padre Island


 Radio station WEZ-Y established a winning format in the 1950's and has stuck with it ever since. Ever since the 60's, the 70's, the 80's etc. Nothing has changed. Not the music nor the annual "Live Broadcast" hosted by Guy Godfry; 'Your voice in the night.'

 However, this particular Anniversary show proves to be a wee bit different. First of all, rumor has it the station is about to be purchased by a large media conglomerate. Secondly, Guy seems to be having a virtual breakdown on the air. To top it off, the Bunny Bagel Boy collapses right after his live commercial spot and appears to be dead.

Will any of this help the ratings? Is anyone listening?
Does anyone care? 
Why am I asking you? 

Tune in January 22 or 23 with our local actors and find out! Doors open at 6:30 for complimentary hors-d'oeuvres, show starts at 7:30.Isla Grand Beach Resort, 500 Padre Blvd, South Padre Island

Not in the area? Read the play!

Click Here for Book

Monday, October 23, 2017

Carousel Theatre of Indianola's production of “To Wake The Dead” by Lee Mueller

Carousel Theatre of Indianola (Iowa)  is proud to announce the cast for this fall’s murder mystery dinner theatre production of “To Wake The Dead” by Lee Mueller.

Renown Supernatural Mystery writer Fred Finnegan has died under unusual circumstances and all his friends have gathered at his wake. His friend and literary agent Lenord Elmore presides over the wake along with Fred's widow Joyce. 

"To Wake The Dead" Carousel Theatre
Also in attendance are all of Fred's old friends: ex-police Chief Wambaugh and officer Francis. Danny Runyon, a reformed "wise guy" and his doll (date) Peaches Marie Crabtree. Agatha Fletcher, a news reporter from the Associated Wire. There is also a faction of the 'Fredrick Finnegan Fan Club' at the wake: president Stephanie King, vice-president Deanna Koonz and secretary, Clyde Barker. 

The wake starts off in a traditional nature with good old Irish toasts and amusing stories about Freddie and his life, but the circumstances of Freddie's death keep coming into question. The one guest who would appreciate answers is Fred Finnegan himself. Problem is, only the nerd-ish Clyde Barker has the gift to "hear" dead people. Can Freddie use Clyde to find the answers he needs? Was Fred murdered by someone at the wake? He's dying to find out.

To Wake the Dead
La Vida Loca Winery
Oct. 26th, 27th, and 28th at 6:00 p.m.
 Dinner served (vegetarian options available)
Tickets- $50 per person
Call (515) 962-2236 for tickets

Book Version Available from Amazon

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

"I'm Getting Murdered In The Morning" 10/6 & 10/7

The Western St. Charles County Chamber of Commerce is hosting their 7th Annual Mystery Dinner Theater on Friday, October 6th and Saturday, October 7th, 2017.
 The cast will be performing a two act show each night “I’m Getting Murdered in the Morning.” by Lee Mueller.
The event will be held at Heritage of Hawk Ridge located at 235 Pigeon Dr., Lake St Louis, MO 63367. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the play starts at 7:00 p.m. Admission is $35 per person. Admission includes dinner, wine, beer, dessert and a memorable performance.
For reservations contact the Western St. Charles County Chamber of Commerce at 636-327-6914 or please visit us online at http://gowscc.com/product/dinner-theater/. Seating is limited, so please make your reservations early because tickets sell out fast.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Context - The Thin Line between Murder And Comedy

Originally published on 05/18/11

An interesting thought occurred to me the other day which was spawned by a "keyword" search phrase that pointed to my website Play-dead.com; the search term was "how do murder mystery and comedy differ?"

I have actually pondered a similar question myself which is: "How can I (and others) get away with writing Murder Mystery Comedies?" I mean, we are writing about someone being murdered and yet, the whole thing is steeped in the compound of the comedy genre and people actually laugh. Come on, if you think about it, there is no way that should work. Murder is a horrendous thing, right? Especially when not viewed through a comedic filter. How did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Edgar Allen Poe, or Raymond Chandler make a living writing about murder in a serious fashion?

How do you explain it?

O.K. First of all, when it comes to murder mystery comedies, it's not as if I'm writing something like "Abbot and Costello Meet The BTK Killer" or Bob Hope and Bing Crosby "On The Road to Jonestown".
That would be using something very serious and well known and trying to add comedy to it. That wouldn't really work.

Here's the deal:

The "Poetic License", if you will, for Murder Mystery Comedy has to do with "context". That is, in what "context" do you base something that on the surface is normally a "horrendous thing"?

We can watch cartoons, we know the Road Runner is not causing grave injuries to the Coyote in real life. We are quite certain that Moe is not poking out the eyes of Curley on the Three Stooges. We have a mental facility that distinguishes between real and unreal. Serious and not so serious.

Is everything in a play set up very seriously? A murder mystery play. Is the atmosphere and tone of the story very stark, dark and dramatic? Is the victim a very kind and caring person that the audience can identify and sympathize with? Is the crime tremendously brutal and violent? If so, the context of the piece is similar to "The Diary Of Anne Frank" or The Laramie Project. If so, the context is serious.

What would be correct context?

Well, how about moving the context 180 degrees. Set up the play in a "not so serious" mood. Establish a tone and atmosphere that is light and slightly satirical. Create a victim that no one has room to identify with or spend one iota of sympathy upon. A character that is perhaps pompous or shallow, or better yet, not very realistic. And when the "horrendous" act occurs - it has all the impact of Aunt Helen belching at the Dinner table. You are not shocked by it, but instead, want to laugh.

Speaking of food, I heard a quote attributed to Alfred Hitchcock - I don't know the exact quote so I will paraphrase: - A good suspense thriller should be like a Fruitcake, full of nuts - (again, it was something akin to this) The point is, right from the start of the story, you should get a good idea of what's about to be served. If the ingredients - that is the characters are not rich and developed as in a thick layer cake, but no, instead they're a bit nutty and there are bits of fruit thrown in. Once the brain registers this concept, (this is not an Angel food cake) -  the "serious" factor moves out. The context changes to "not" serious and when your context moves away from taking it seriously - this leaves room for humor.

The bottom line is that if the characters and the story are removed from reality - everything you see and hear is written and presented as being over the top, humorous fashion, tongue in cheek -  it is hard to react to the material in a somber manner.

Once the tone is established as superfluous or unreal;  you remove the reality from the audience's perception. You place their expectations in the correct context and give them permission to laugh. Even at the subject of "murder" or "death".

Context and tone are most important when walking the thin line between what appears on the surface to be a serious subject and allowing laughter to prevail. If done correctly, the horrendous can become hilarity. But the danger lies in taking the subject "out" of context. Yes, you may say that "Murder" in and of itself is not something to be made fun of or laughed at.  While this statement is true, the context of the subject is shifted and therefore creates an alternate conclusion.  That thin line can be crossed very quickly depending on how you look at it. The bottom line here is that I do not use my talent to belittle, disparage or ridicule the seriousness of murder or any crime, nor do I believe any famous artist who ever tackled the subject had intended to do. They only intended to put the subject matter into a certain context, using their craft to present it a different way.  If someone remains on the other side of the line and cannot look at it in a different way, while they certainly have that right to do so, the point of many things will be lost, and remain unseen in that narrow field of view.