Acting in Murder Mysteries

An actor in a murder mystery talking to a guest.

Acting in murder mystery dinners is very different to other forms of acting. The typical format has a scripted start and a scripted end and it may contain some scripted interaction in the middle, but the main element is role play and improvisation – interacting with the audience. So the start may be five to ten minutes long and then end may be of a similar length and then there can be a couple of hours of improvised work between them. So, having rules is important.

The characters can go on as many red herring stories as they like in creating their character. The one rule is that you must never involve another character in a story that they don’t know about because they will be questioned about it and won’t know. This is critical.

Actors should avoid talking over each other. This is particularly important during the opening scene where the audience is new to the experience and they can be overwhelmed. There is a lot of information that needs to be passed over, including the murder itself, and the atmosphere should not be more confusing than the script itself.

Only the murderer can ‘lie’, which they do to protect themselves from suspicion. Everyone else must stick to the key facts around the known story, which is documented in the script and the clues that the audience see. These include love notes, bank statements and newspaper clippings. Any actor connected to a specific clue must know about it, including any key times, dates or interactions with other suspects.

If you tell one team something then you need to make sure that you tell all groups the same thing if they prompt for it. If they don’t ask a specific question then it’s perfectly okay not to tell them that detail. After all, the objective is to actually solve the mystery.

When it comes to the script don’t worry about delivering the lines verbatim. This is not Shakespeare and none of the audience know what to expect. So focus on getting the meaning across. With more experienced crews the actors will often help another actor out by covering any key points that they miss. In our murder mysteries we have a specific character in each of our plots which is suitable for a new team member. This character is a suspect but is not the murderer and he or she has limited past history with the other characters. This makes them a viable suspect, an outsider is always suspicious, but there are fewer traps. This means that we can bring new actors into our troupe and give them experience without too much risk.

The main advice is to have fun, to relax and enjoy the experience. The atmosphere at a murder mystery is always fun and people just want to enjoy themselves. If you slip up, keep going and between you and your team of fellow actors you can build in any missed clues fairly quickly. Improvisation is a specific and very demanding form of acting. The two hours that the event takes fly past and during that time you will have been a completely different person. It can be almost as though you suddenly step back into your own life after a short break and the last thing that you can remember is standing outside the room waiting to go in.

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