During my college days in the early 90’s and for a few years after, I worked as an actor in order to pay for art school. Mostly musicals, as I could sing well, but my acting skills weren’t phenomenal enough to get me cast in serious plays. Instead, my plays were a little more comedic in nature and I soon found myself working for a production company that produces mystery dinner theatre. For those unfamiliar with this concept, it’s a show where the audience sits at tables while the actors perform and serve them food, all while revealing some sort of murder that must be solved before the evening ends. This is the only time I’ve waited tables and I’m rubbish at it, but thankfully it’s done “in character” and so I always sought to get the rather dumb character. This way, nobody was disappointed when their coffee came out looking like a diet Coke. Once, when the playwright had a conflict, I was asked if I could write and direct the next show and said, of course, before remembering that I’d never written a play before or actually directed anything at all yet.

I’ve done things like this my whole life. If something sounds like something I would do then I automatically assume it’s something I could do. So I was determined to be a playwright and I only had a week to both create a script and figure out how to hell to write one. More than that, the title of the show had already been advertised so I had to write something that would fit it. The title was “Coffee, Tea, Or Murder!” and the original premise was that it was to be set on an airplane. I had no clue how to make people sitting at large round tables eating chicken spiedini feel like they were in a cramped airplane cabin. It just didn’t work. So, I changed the setting to a coffee shop instead, which solved the first problem. Next, I needed characters and so I created an odd menagerie of personality certain to argue at some point in the evening. Lastly, I needed a murder and someone to do it. This seemed easy at first as I could just choose a character, slap them with a motive and call it done. But in these shows, the audience is meant to vote on who they think the killer is, and the audience is always right.

This meant that the show needed to have eight different conclusions that all made sense in a surprising yet inevitable way. I realized I was probably in over my head, but then thought about everything I learned from playing Clue and watching Murder, She Wrote (ironically, over a decade later, one of Jessica Fletcher books based on the series got the same title as my play! That author, however, does take the airplane approach). Suddenly, my hands were flying across the keyboard and my play was soon brimming with murder weapons, motive, opportunity, and a bit of misdirection. It was no literary masterpiece as none of my writing ever is, but it was fun and the audience seemed to really enjoy it! The show was performed by other groups in Raleigh, Chicago and Omaha. I was invited by the director to see the show in Omaha and found it rather enjoyable, albeit wondering if it’s weird to laugh at your own jokes, even in that context. Not all of these impulsive decisions I make turn out that well, but I think jumping in and going for it is always a rewarding experience in some way. We all know more than we give ourselves credit for, and simply doing is always the first step. Whether it’s quickly painting some coffee and tea or convincing yourself that you’d be great at writing a mystery.

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About the Doodlewash

Sennelier L’Aquarelle: Quinacridone Gold, Perylene Maroon, and Ultramarine Deep. Lamy Safari Al Star pen with Platinum Carbon with black ink in a little red cloth hardbound l’aquarelle journal I found in a Paris shop.
 Day 2 - #WorldWatercolorGroup Writing A Mystery - Coffee Tea or Murder - #doodlewash

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38 thoughts on “Writing A Mystery

  1. Love it! What a fun story. I so wish I could see your show! I’ve never been to a dinner theater but have heard friends say how much fun they are. You, sir, have many talents; singing, painting, writing, waiter-ing….😊 Quite impressive and you are also right about trying new things. You just never know what you can do if you don’t make the effort.

    1. Thanks, Jill! 😃💕 Hehe… actually they never let me sing at those shows, which would have been better than having me attempt to carry around food. I was soooo bad at it! These days, I’m a heavy tipper as I’m super appreciative of folks who can wait tables well! 😊hehe

  2. I went to dinner theatre once years ago with a group of girls. They made me join in by reading a script and wearing a hat right at my table. I had a great time but I didn’t want to be a part of it. 🙂 I would imagine that painting gives you that creative outlet you need, I just hope you are completely fulfilled and happy because it’s different than singing. I know a little about that too.

    1. Thanks so much, Carol! 😃💕 That’s awesome you enjoyed the show, even if unwittingly part of it! hehe Yeah, I think I’ve spent the last several years since then on a search for a creative outlet that compares. Thankfully, I’ve really found that in watercolor sketching and writing. Very happy indeed!! 😃

  3. You are so multitalented and multi-skilled. I’m impressed. The same “can do” attitude you have towards your art is evident in your story about taking on the writing and directing task.

    I have never been to one of those shows so had no idea that there were multiple endings and the audience were always right. You’ve taught me something.

  4. very cool that this worked out so well for you – and the dinner theatre sounds fun. I must admit that i am a little tired of trying things or winging it into positions I half know – maybe I did it a little too much early on in life – but as you noted here – we do rise to the occasion and many times pull out talent and hone skills that would maybe otherwise never be tapped. But it takes energy to risk and dive in – and I enjoy being a bit more conserved now.
    and getting back to your piece here… I would love to have been in the dinner theatre with this story – sounds fun

  5. I was all ready to applaud your beautiful painting with all the nuanced color finding its casual way across the paper’s surface, and then you wow me with the most amazing story about a play so well written that it was produced multiple times by other theater groups. And you always insist you are such an amateur at these new adventures when I am convinced they are gifts spiraling in your DNA and simply waiting for their own moment in the footlights.

    1. You’re too sweet! Thanks, Sharon! 😃💕 I think we all have those gifts spiraling in our DNA! That’s why I always tell people to just go for it and see what happens. We truly never know what we’re capable of until we try. I wasn’t a success at everything, but more often than not I was able to surprise myself, which is the most fun of all!

      1. That’s the fun of it, I am a new blogger check out my site and tell me what you think. I just went for it, and enjoying the reads learning a lot. Need more followers, but my site young

  6. This is amazing and supremely impressive, but hardly a surprise! If you weren’t so cool, I’d be dead jealous. 😉 I’ve never heard of such a performance, but it certainly sounds like a lot of fun. I have heard of a similar thing, wherein dancers charge out and pluck you from your table to actually join in with the jolly – a friend of mine was a victim once, and had to amble through some wild Austrian folk dance. As one who *always* seems to gets picked, I think I’d be keeping a pretty low profile at one of those! … Oh, and a wonderful doodlewash, too!

    1. hehe… thanks, Jacob! 😃💕 I was still bad at reading serving food though… we all do have our limits in the end! Lol But yeah… it’s very participatory, and if I was feeling naughty I would always go for the guy keeping a low profile! You would have hated me!! 😊haha

  7. I wonder if your mystery theatre is still being performed. It would be awesome to go to one. I just know it would be the best I’ve ever attended! Love your coffee, tea and wonderful splashes of color!

    1. Thanks so much, Sandra! 😃💕 It was fun to attend the performance of it I saw in Omaha… I was in the first version so didn’t really see the whole show. I don’t know if it’s still being performed anywhere. These were the days before online royalties and such so I sort of signed off the rights to it.

  8. Oh, my gosh you HAVE to write a book of illustrated memoirs! You already have most of it written! Wish I were a literary agent, I’d snap your book up and get it published asap! What a tale it would be! ❣️ Phillipe would be so proud, and Phineas has to have a starring rôle, of course! 😀

    1. Yeah, I’m pretty sure that Phineas would decide he was the editor and writer! LOL Thanks so much, Miste! 😃💕 I truly appreciate the positive comments. I DO hope to right such a memoir one day. One of my plans to do this year actually.

      1. You’re welcome, it’s true. I think you will not have a problem getting published, since you’ve already gotten so much done! Please let us know when it’s published so we can get it 😀👍

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