GREENVILLE — Darke County Civic Theater will present a Murder Mystery Dinner at Montage Cafe in downtown Greenville Friday and Saturday night.
Dane Leeper, former president of the theater and current director of its three yearly productions, first had the idea for the Murder Mystery Dinners in 2005. He approached Michele and Aaron Cox, owners of Montage Cafe, shortly thereafter.
“Michele and Aaron have been very accommodating to us over the years,” Leeper said. “It started out small at first, but over the years it grew.”
The company now does two Murder Mystery productions each year, one in the spring and one in the fall. Their other two performances include a children’s production involving child actors and a melodrama performed each year at the Annie Oakley Festival. Each season’s Murder Mystery cycle is composed of five performances. This fall’s production, “Dead Man’s Chest,” concerns a Mardi Gras ball that is taken over by pirates.
Leeper joined the Civic Theater in 2000.
“Years ago the theater did a lot of big productions at Memorial Hall,” Leeper said. “I wanted to do something to keep it alive, and get us back to doing bigger productions.”
The Murder Mystery dinners, Leeper said, have been a big success in that regard.
“Tickets are gone in a matter of days,” Leeper said. “It’s been so successful.” Proceeds from all ticket sales go toward future productions.
Chris Chapa, current president of the Civic Theater, and Vice President Laura Francis are the group’s two writers. Together they create the premise and outline for each murder mystery, sketching out the basic plot and allowing the performers to engage in a large degree of improv, filling in dialogue and details as they go.
“We give the actors little notes saying, ‘Character A and Character B get into a fight over X,’” Chapa said. “Then they do the rest. That way no show is ever the same.”
During the first half-hour of each show, actors walk from table to table, remaining in character as they introduce themselves to members of the audience. Then they act out a series of scenes onstage, inspired by prompts from Francis and Chapa.
Dinner is served following this portion of the show, followed by the reveal of the murder. Audience members are then allowed to ask the characters questions, in an effort to determine who might have had a motive to commit the murder.
Dessert is then served as the audience fills out “Whodunnit” sheets, stating who they think committed the murder and why.
“It’s hilarious to see what they come up with,” Chapa said. “We always enjoy reading the whodunnits.”
Finally, the actors do one final scene to reveal the identity of the killer. Afterwards, some of the funnier and more interesting audience theories are read out loud.
The final performances of this year’s fall cycle will begin Friday, November 10 and Saturday, November 11 at 6:30 p.m. Those wishing to learn more about the Darke County Civic Theater and future productions can visit www.darkecountycivictheater.org.
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