Mystery theater group brings acting to the dining room
Hickory Dickory Dark Productions creates business model to pay actors, writers
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.”
Writer/actor Andrea Woodbridge, left, of Mechanicsville and Hickory Dickory Dark Productions owner and founder Kristin Kaufmann of Great Mills pose for a picture.