Our first criminal act

Back in 1997, the am dram group that I was part of faced a dilemma that most amateur theatre groups come up against on a regular basis. How do we raise extra money to keep our group going? Although our shows were usually profitable, we wanted to try some newer playwrights who didn’t attract our usual audience but that would obviously have a knock on effect on future productions.

The profusion of table top sales, tombolas and quiz nights rarely brought in much money over the cost of venue hire. Even a dinner dance with three course menu had attracted only a limited audience. So what else was there?

Knowing I was a writer, another member of the group approached me with an idea. We could write a murder mystery play of our own that would incur limited costs to perform and which would provide a chance for audience participation. We approached other members to find out their reaction to this idea. We got a mixed response but were given the go ahead to test the waters.

Our first production was a play called ‘The Tangled Web’, set in the 1950s in a hotel in a village called Dedleigh (pronounced ‘deadly’). We decided to seat the audience around tables so they could form teams to question our actors once the play was over before deducing the identity of the murderer. We used black curtains as a backdrop (saving on the time and expense of creating scenery) and the barest of furniture and props. Music of the era was used to add atmosphere.

Unsure how a bar would go down with our audience, we included two glasses of wine in the cost of the ticket, and free non alcoholic drinks. We bought token prizes of chocolates for the team who correctly deduced.

The evening was a resounding success. Our audience loved it. Our cast had fun. Best of all, we made a very healthy profit. We had proved our idea to our group too and this was to be the first of many.

News of our success soon spread to neighbouring am dram groups. We began to receive requests to purchase our scripts. Since then, we have increased our catalogue of plays immensely and sold them to groups and general fundraisers across the UK, in the United States and Australia.