Over the past 14 years, the Dinner Detective has grown to be the country’s largest murder mystery dinner show — a combination of a meal and the quest to find a killer.
The event happens at venues across the country, including Madison’s Double Tree, which has hosted the event for the past year. Guests are instructed to create a fake alias for the night and then proceed to take their seats. Throughout the night, hidden actors among the crowd are wounded or killed, causing detectives to interrogate everyone — even the unsuspecting guests.
“[It’s] a modern dinner-theatre with modern murder mystery elements that’s set in present day,” Meredith Wood, co-executive producer of the show, said. “It’s highly interactive. Being a part of a show, not really knowing what’s going to happen every next little twist and turn, is the biggest draw.”
Scott O’Brien, the executive producer, created the show in Los Angeles after writing scripts for TV shows such as “Boston Legal” and “Ally McBeal.”
The night is comprised of four acts, each separated with a meal. The show and the meals together last around three hours, Wood said. The food is sourced in-house from the Double Tree catering team. The meals consist of the standard appetizers, salad, a choice from three entrees and a dessert at the end of the night.
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The content of the show is based on real-life cold cases that the company’s creative team constructs into an interactive show. The team constructs highly detailed clues, Wood said. Once clues are discovered, copies are made and are distributed to all audience members. Everyone has access to the relevant information needed to solve the crime. Whoever has the most details to solve the crime wins a prize package.
Part of the fun is trying to pick out who’s a performer and who isn’t. The actors do a great job of blending in, Wood said. The actors have performed and taught all over the world, with experience at Second City, iO, Annoyance Theatre and Voodoo Comedy Playhouse. Some actors have even received credit in “Orange Is the New Black” and “Jurassic World,” according to the Detective Dinner website.
Picking out the actors will be even more difficult on the Oct. 28 show — the performance landing on Halloween weekend.
This weekend is the annual Halloween costume show, where guests are encouraged to dress up. This helps to create a new persona at the beginning of the night, Wood said. This is going to make spotting out the actors even more of a challenge. Some actors will dress in costume while others will remain in normal clothes. The illusion of normality will keep the guests on edge the entire night.
It’s with the private events that the actors really have to blend in. The event draws in corporate parties and birthday parties, two occasions where everyone would clearly know each other. This is when those involved with the show have to get creative.
“Let’s say it’s a company party. We would think of ways to get [the actors] incorporated in the group,” Wood said. “They might be an intern or a new hire. We have to think outside of the box, but the actors are trained to take on whatever role we give them.”
The actors are well trained to keep the audience in the dark, but the audience might find themselves in the dark in the literal sense. People don’t always see the actual crime, Wood said. Sometimes, actors will be killed in the hallway or stumble in injured. Better yet, a blackout may occur. In those brief moments, critical events may happen.
To ensure that guests don’t see the same storyline twice, there are a number of scripts in rotation. Interested parties can see the current script on the Dinner Detective’s website. Even if someone sees the same script twice, it will still be different than the first performance, Wood said. With the different audience and level of improvisation, no two nights are the same.
This level of unexpectedness has caused great success for the Dinner Detective’s Madison location, and the company hopes to stay in the area for as long as possible. They prefer college towns and towns that have an established arts scene, so Madison fits the bill pretty well.
“It’s a really fun event that is something different from your average dinner and a show,” Wood said. “You really feel apart of the murder mystery and we look forward to bringing this to more people in Madison.”