Mys­tery the­ater group brings act­ing to the din­ing room

Hick­ory Dick­ory Dark Pro­duc­tions cre­ates busi­ness model to pay ac­tors, writ­ers

Maryland Independent - - Business - By DAR­WIN WEIGEL dweigel@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @somd_bized­i­tor

In the game of “Clue” it’s of­ten thought Colonel Mus­tard did the deed with a can­dle­stick in the li­brary but Hick­ory Dick­ory Dark’s mys­te­ri­ous mur­ders take place in the din­ing room — which­ever one the the­ater troupe is in at the time.

The mur­der mys­tery the­ater com­pany brings its “mur­der, mys­tery and may­hem” to restau­rants and pubs all over South­ern Mary­land and is cur­rently book­ing events for its sum­mer show, “Mur­der at Low Tide.”

“We ex­pect to have 10 to 15 per­for­mances of ‘Mur­der at Low Tide’ this sum­mer,” Hick­ory Dick­ory Dark Pro­duc­tions founder Kristin Kauf­mann said. “We al­ready have four or five booked so far. They usu­ally sell out pretty quickly.”

The Great Mills th­es­pian said the show, writ­ten by lo­cal writer Paul Rose, “is go­ing to be hi­lar­i­ous.” The first show­ing, May 14, is at Amer­i­can Le­gion Aux­il­iary Unit 293 in Wal­dorf and is a fundraiser to­ward a new le­gion hall. Two of the other book­ings have be­come reg­u­lars for the troupe: Charles Street Brasserie in Solomons and Tall Tim­bers Ma­rina.

“The Charles Street Brasserie (Solomons) was the first restau­rant to take a chance on us,” Kauf­mann said. “The lo­cals in Solomons loved it so much that we did another one al­most right away.”

That first show was in De­cem­ber 2014, a year af­ter Kauf­mann moved from the Philadel­phia area to be with her boyfriend who works on Patux­ent River Naval Air Sta­tion. She has de­grees in the­ater and music from Muh­len­berg Col­lege in Al­len­town, Pa., so start­ing a the­ater com­pany was right up her al­ley.

“The­ater is what I’ve al­ways wanted to do. I wanted to be on Broad­way but I re­al­ized that wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen for me,” Kauf­mann said. “I started out with a mur­der mys­tery com­pany in Philadel­phia. It was good money and it was fun. It was a lot of fun.

“When I moved down here — be­cause Mr. Boyfriend works on base — and there was noth­ing like that down here, I thought it would be fun to start it up.”

The num­ber of shows booked since that start in Solomons has in­creased steadily — a whirl­wind string of eight per­for­mances dur­ing the first two weeks of De­cem­ber last year — has at­tracted a group of up to 30 lo­cal ac­tors pitch­ing in to write and per­form.

“When we first started out we bought it from a com­pany, the scripts,” writer/ac­tor An­drea Wood­bridge said. “You have to pay roy­al­ties ev­ery sin­gle time. Now we’ve been writ­ing al­most all of our own stuff.” Wood­bridge, who has been in­volved since the sec­ond show in Fe­bru­ary 2015, wrote “Once Upon a Crime,” which has been the group’s spring show.

“We all sort of work to­gether and write the scripts and Hick­ory Dick­ory Dark pays us a small roy­alty ev­ery time its per­formed,” she said.“It’s re­ward­ing and we get to keep the money here in South­ern Mary­land in­stead of send­ing it out to a com­pany in Cal­i­for­nia.”

While many of the ac­tors, all of whom are from the tri-county area, have ex­pe­ri­ence in com­mu­nity the­ater, some work pro­fes­sion­ally as well. And every­one gets paid — at least a small amount.

“That’s some­thing that’s re­ally im­por­tant to me be­cause there was noth­ing like that down here,” Kauf­mann said. “Bring­ing arts to the tri-county area while still mak­ing it worth­while to the per­form­ers is re­ally im­por­tant.”

Solomons Is­land was also the lo­ca­tion for the group’s first pub crawl where the ac­tors per­formed each act in a dif­fer­ent restau­rant or bar. “By the time we got to the fourth restau­rant, peo­ple have had four drinks, a lit­tle bit of food and a re­ally good time,” Wood­bridge, who wrote the script for the pub crawl, said. “It was fun. It was fun for the ac­tors, too.”

The mur­der mysteries end as who­dunits with some­one win­ning a prize for guess­ing the par­tic­u­lars cor­rectly. “At the end of the show, they get to fill out a bal­lot form to de­cide what the method was, what the mo­tive was, and who the mur­derer was. Some­one wins a prize at the end based on that,” Kauf­mann said.

“That’s part of the show. The third act is the re­veal,” Wood­bridge added.

Book­ings in Charles County have in­creased re­cently, es­pe­cially af­ter a per­for­mance of “Al­most, Maine” — which Kauf­mann char­ac­ter­ized as “the most per­formed play in the coun­try right now” — at the Black Box Theatre at In­dian Head Cen­ter for the Arts. They had to pay roy­al­ties for that one and it is not a mur­der mys­tery but it was a suc­cess nonethe­less.

“Now, I would say we do more shows in Charles County than any­where else,” Kauf­mann said. The per­for­mance for the Amer­i­can Le­gion will be the first in Wal­dorf.

The group also does a mini-se­ries for small groups and chil­dren and has been build­ing a list of busi­ness and cor­po­rate clients. “We’ve done a lot of cor­po­rate par­ties, hol­i­day par­ties. A lot of con­trac­tors in the area are very in­ter­ested in mur­der,” Kauf­mann said with a laugh. “Just fun groups of peo­ple.”

Aside from the le­gion fundraiser, the group also used a per­for­mance to raise $1,300 for the House of Ruth, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that helps women and chil­dren who are home­less or have suf­fered do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

She and Wood­bridge, who has be­come Kauf­mann’s “right hand woman,” are also work­ing on de­vel­op­ing scripts for of­fice team-build­ing work­shops, though Kauf­mann is just start­ing a new job with a bank which might slow devel­op­ment on new projects.

“I don’t know that it will ever be my full-time job,” Kauf­mann said. “We don’t have an ac­tual home. We’re just a tri-county vagabond group.”

STAFF PHOTO BY DAR­WIN WEIGEL

Writer/ac­tor An­drea Wood­bridge, left, of Me­chan­icsville and Hick­ory Dick­ory Dark Pro­duc­tions owner and founder Kristin Kauf­mann of Great Mills pose for a pic­ture.

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