No, the lady with the lace parasol, she did it!
Shes not even one of the actors!
Questions abound as the cast of Jack Norths Murder Afloat sail off on the mystery theatres fifteenth season. The play is set -- literally set -- on a boat cruising the Savannah River, with the actors portaying anything from therapy groups to members of a family reunion, anything that pushes the bounds of ordinary without completely breaking them.
Ive seen mystery theatre done, and theyve got the corny old, rich widow with a fur stole and a cigarette holder, says North. It wasnt realistic though, it was so over the top. My goal was to create normal characters, the everyday believable Joes.
Take last years scenario, for instance. The actors played tourists who thought they had gotten onto a casino boat.
An argument will start between two actors, and other people will think its just two guests, explains North,and theyll try to back away, but we wont let them, we keep them involved.
The hour and a half long cruise boards at the Hyatt on River Street and sets off with the murder having not been committed yet. Typically the ice is broken within fifteen minutes, with the actors revealed, and the mystery takes hold.
The audience has paper and pencils to take notes as scenes are played out. An announcement is made by the captain, saying that the boat is heading back so that the police can investigate the murder. The audience is urged to solve the case by the time they dock.
One of the funnest parts is at the beginning when the guests dont know who the actors are, says North. Once my daughter was playing a French girl who had come to find her father. A man came up to her at the bar and started talking to her and was concerned with her situation and was being very sympathetic. She came up to me later and was feeling kind of bad because the guy thought she was really upset.
Then there are times when guests think that other audience members are actors, like when an overly affectionate couple was mistaken for part of the show. North relates one such case of mistaken identity.
I wasnt always one of the actors. In the beginning I was the coordinator. Every night someone would joke that one of my actors fell overboard, and I would laugh and think nothing of it, North says.
Well, one night an actor came up and told me that someone really had fallen overboard, not from the boat, but from River Street. So, we turned the boat around, put on the search light, made an announcement that the show was stopping for the moment, and picked the guy up, he says. Guests thought the show was still on and that he was part of it! They kept coming up and asking questions the whole night. People even wrote down that he was the killer.
Unlike traditional theatre with a stage and wings where one can retire, these actors are always acting, even in the bathroom where guests sometimes follow them to make sure a scene wont unfold. Also, the audience is allowed to ask questions during the play, and proper preparation is needed for that.
We try to cover each characters background, especially a couples, says North. But no matter how much we ask ourselves, theres always a question we dont cover, so theres a lot of improvisation required.
Another tricky thing is that the whole cast occasionally must all be in the same scene. Communication really plays in at this point, making sure that all of the actors are together, says North.
After numerous fights and mysterious meetings, the murder finally occurs -- right in front of everyone. We manage to keep it discrete, we have to really, says North. It is supposed to be a mystery after all.
Murder Afloat takes place every Thursday night, April through August, from 9:30-11 p.m. Ticket prices are $24.95 for adults and $17.50 for children under 12. Call 800-786-6404 for reservations, or visit www.murderafloat.com /.