A Murder Mystery Luncheon

By Natasha D. Benway and Stephanie Murphy

See also Teen Mystery Parties and Adult Mystery Programs

Murder, mystery and food!  What an awesome way to draw teens into your library!  This program will describe how to set up your own Murder Mystery Luncheon.  There are no sets to build and no lines to remember because this murder mystery is done with improv actors.  Participating teens get right in on the action because they are there as the murder unfolds.  Teens will work together to solve the mystery and name the killer and the motive.

Books to Share

The Dark Divine by Bree Despain
Dead on Target by Franklin W. Dixon
The Falconer’s Knot by Mary Hoffman
Nightmare by Joan Lowery Nixon
Secrets Can Kill by Carolyn Keene
A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Books to Show or Booktalk

The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee
Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer
Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison
Last Shot by John Feinstein
The Season by Sarah MacLean
Secret Histories by F. Paul Wilson

Refreshments

During this luncheon, teens could be served a three course meal of your choice.  Some examples of food choices could be salad, pizza, and dessert.  However, food is not a requirement for this program.  This program could also easily been done in the evening by making it a Murder Mystery Dinner.

Incentives

A good place to look for incentives for this program, and especially the necessary fake vampire teeth, is the Oriental Trading Company, www.orientaltrading.com They have an assortment of basic fake vampire teeth and more elaborate teeth which could be used as prizes for teens who win the murder mystery luncheon.

Crafts

Character Collage

Actors need to visualize the character they will be playing.  A character collage is a good tool for working on visualization.

Have your actors create a collage to represent their character.  The collage works best if done after the character analysis so they have a better overall understanding of their character.  The collage may include: words, drawings, pictures, colors, or any other materials the actor feels represents their character.  This is a visual representation of the character analysis and therefore should include as much of the information from the analysis as possible. 

Give your actors time to develop their character using the character analysis and character collage.  When these activities have been completed, get all of your actors together to share the information they have learned about their character.  Have each actor introduce their character to the group so that all members of the ensemble know what to expect from each character. 

Games and Activities

Murder Mystery Luncheon

Premise

Your library is hosting a luncheon with famous teen author Sonia Murdock.  Ms. Murdock has authored the wildly popular teen vampire fiction series Three Hearts Collide.  Teens have come from miles around and waited in line for hours to be one of the lucky thirty teens to attend this luncheon with Ms. Murdock.  At this luncheon, teens will be able to talk face to face with Ms. Murdock about the highly anticipated upcoming final book in her Three Hearts Collide series.  Unfortunately, Ms. Murdock’s days are numbered as she will be the murder victim.

The teens attending your program will be seated in small groups.  During this luncheon, your volunteer improv actors will interact with the teens attending the program and act out a murder sequence in front of them.  Then it will be up to each group of teens to use the clues, bribe money, and the information they can glean from the volunteer actors to try to determine who killed Ms. Murdock.

Getting Volunteers

The volunteers you choose to help with the Murder Mystery Luncheon are very important.  The more relaxed and outgoing they are, the easier time they will have in getting into their character.  Some places you can look for volunteer improv actors are teen advisory boards, local theater groups, local college theater departments, friends of the library groups, and the National Charity League organization.

Setting of Murder Mystery Luncheon

The setting for your murder mystery luncheon could be very simple.  A room or space within the library with room for a number of tables and chairs would be best.  Some seclusion from the general public might also be good because the volunteer improv actors and participating teens may get noisy.  In your space, you want several tables where participating teens could sit together and form competing groups.  A head table where the author would be seated separately would be best.  It would also be nice to have some table cloths, small plants, fake candles, or anything to set the atmosphere of eating at a high class restaurant or conference hotel.

Description of Characters

Author-Ms. Sonia Murdock-

Ms. Murdock is a small, petite woman who can at best be described as extremely picky and completely full of herself.  It seems that her goal in life is to tease hordes of fans with tidbits about her upcoming books without really giving anything away about their plots.  Her answers to fans’ questions about her upcoming books often contain such cryptic answers as “That sounds very possible,” or “Perhaps that could happen.”  She is known for answering a fan’s question with another question.  She is not the world’s best dresser, as she is often dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt or old sweater.  She is a bit of snob and does not appreciate or treat her publicist and agent, Kim McPhee, very well.

Goth Boy and Werewolf Fan-Jim Haddin

Jim Haddin is a goth boy to the max.  Dark baggy clothes, black nail polish, skulls and cross bones are a main part of his signature clothing style.  Haddin is aloof and hard to engage in conversation.  For most of the play, he will be brooding and stare intensely at other characters, especially those who profess a love of vampires.  The few times he does speak will be to proclaim the superiority of werewolves.  Jim Haddin is obviously lusting after Melissa LeBlanc.

Security Guard-Bill Jones

Mr. Jones is a portly gentleman who has no true understanding about the series Three Hearts Collide.  In general, Mr. Jones finds teens to be disrespectful and a rowdy lot.  This new fascination with the supernatural, particularly with vampires and werewolves, baffles him.  He is often heard saying things like, “In my day vampires and werewolves were the bad guys not the heroes.” He will be emphasizing the need to protect citizens from the dangers and menaces of society.  He will not like Ms. Murdock and state freely that she is not a real or good author.  The security guard will be the killer in this Murder Mystery Luncheon.  Finding some type of outfit that looks like something a security guard would wear would be a nice touch. 

Ultimate Vampire Fan-Melissa LeBlanc

Melissa LeBlanc is a die-hard fan of the Three Hearts Collide series.  She is dressed in the very latest fashion, and she absolutely loves the lead vampire character in the Three Hearts Collide series. She talks loudly to anyone even if they don’t care about her love for all things vampire.  She will do anything to find out if the vampire wins both the fight and the girl in Murdock’s final book.  She is often heard saying, “I will kill anyone who gets in my vampire’s way.”

Publicist/Agent-Kim McPhee

Mrs. McPhee is the overlooked and overworked publicist/agent of Murdock.  She is not treated well by Ms. Murdock; however, Mrs. McPhee is very protective and almost worships Ms. Murdock.  She will dress very professionally with her hair pulled back and in a business suit of some kind.

Extra Boy

The main purpose of the extra boy is to be an added character of distraction for the participating teens who are trying to figure out who killed the author.  The extra boy can chose to be either pro vampire or pro werewolf, but his acting must be over the top, whichever one he chooses.  The extra boy will want to dress in a fashion popular with today’s teens.

Zombie Girl-Jennifer Ulrich

Jennifer Ulrich is a shy, quiet girl.  Her love is for zombies and the classics.  Unlike Melissa LeBlanc, she is not outspoken in her love for zombies, but it is a passionate love just the same.  In fact, Melissa LeBlanc can be a bit of a snot to Jennifer and cannot seem to understand Jennifer’s love for zombies.  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is Jennifer’s all-time favorite book.

Outline of Events

Part 1: Setting the Stage

Have teens gather and wait for the program to begin outside the room or area chosen for the Mystery Luncheon.  Below is a listing of characters and what actions they should be improv acting.

Author-Ms. Sonia Murdock-

The author will not appear just yet.

Goth Boy and Werewolf Fan-Jim Haddin

Haddin is to remain aloof and moody and alternate between glaring at Melissa LeBlanc and gazing after her with longing.  Haddin can speak with Melissa LeBlanc, but he should make sure to snort and roll his eyes at her obvious love of vampires.

Security Guard-Bill Jones

Jones is to ridicule the teens for their adoration of the author’s work Three Hearts Collide.  Jones should keep a close eye on Jim Haddin and generally harass him because Jones doesn’t like “the look of that Haddin punk.”  Act like a security guard and tell the teens to quiet down and get into line.  When the teens go into the room or area designated for the Mystery Luncheon, the security guard needs to make a big deal about going into the room first and sweeping it for security measures.  Jones then has to leave the room or area and allow the teens to enter.  Jones then has to quietly slip into the room last.  It is very important that he is the last character to enter the room.

Ultimate Vampire Fan-Melissa LeBlanc

Ms. Le Blance is to be ecstatic.  After all, she is about to meet her favorite author of all time.  She should talk to anyone who will listen and those who won’t.  In addition, she should often repeat annoying facts or quotes from the books.  She should be bubbly and generally a little ridiculous.  When Le Blanc is approached by Jenifer Ulrich about what she thinks of zombies, Ms. Le Blanc should be scornful and snotty to Jennifer Ulrich, since obviously vampires are far superior to zombies!   She should not be aware that Haddin has a crush on her.

Publicist/Agent-Kim McPhee

McPhee will remain off scene until the teens are allowed in the room or designated area for the Mystery Luncheon.  McPhee will assign and escort the teens to their tables.  McPhee will also hand out the fake vampire teeth to teens as they sit at their assigned tables.  Overall McPhee needs to appear exhausted and overworked.  McPhee should emphasize things like not asking the author personal questions, or anything else that would make her character seem protective of the author.

Extra Boy

The purpose of the extra boy is to distract attention from the other characters.  Some suggestion for improv acting during this scene would be picking a fight with Haddin, mocking Jennifer Ulrich, flirting with Melissa Le Blanc, or annoying the Security Guard by acting like the class clown.

Zombie Girl-Jennifer Ulrich

Jennifer Ulrich is to be quiet and shy and basically the complete polar opposite of Melissa Le Blanc.  Ulrich can even seem like she is a bit jealous of Melissa since Ulrich is aware of the fact that Haddin has a crush on Melissa.  Ulrich will quietly approach teens in line and get them to talk zombies and how awesome they are in general.  At one point, Ulrich will approach Melissa and begin to talk about how great Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is; however, Melissa will not agree and instead she will mock and scorn Ulrich’s love of zombies.

Teens Enter the Room and Are Seated

Salad is Served

First Clue Card is Handed Out {see Clue Card at the end of chapter}

First Clue-Ms. Murdock’s love for the undead is obviously upsetting for this killer.-

Part 2: Question and Answer Session with the Author

All characters are allowed to goof off with the fake vampire teeth during the question and answer session.  During the question and answer session, each character should ask questions about the author and her book series.  Characters can also go into soliloquy during the question and answer session.  They should use this time to solidify their positions and let the audience get to know them a little better.  All other characters would freeze in place when a soliloquy is being given.  Soliloquies may require some more practice time for the improv actors.

Author-Ms. Sonia Murdock-

During this entire section of the Murder Mystery Luncheon, remember that Ms. Murdock should keep her answers about the upcoming final book vague.  Murdock needs to be scornful and disparaging toward her publicist; some examples would be stating that her glass of water is not cold enough, her pencil is not sharp enough, and making general statements such as, “That stupid girl!” or “That lazy girl!”.  The idea is to make Ms. McPhee’s life seem horrible.  Listed below are the questions Ms. Murdock will have to be asked during the Question and Answer Session and her necessary responses.  Ms. Murdock can get other questions as well, but the ones listed below have to be covered in order for the plot of the Murder Mystery Luncheon to work. 

·         When questioned about werewolves, Ms. Murdock needs to hint that she feels vampires are superior. 

·         When Ms. Murdock is questioned by the security guard Bill Jones about whether or not her books are dangerous and badly written, she is to be outraged.

·         When questioned about zombies, Ms. Murdock is to be scornful of zombies and act like she thinks they are ridiculous.

·         When Ms. Murdock is questioned about how her vampire character’s life will turn out in the final book, she needs to be vague and make sure the audience understands that anything can happen in the last book, even the death of a vampire.

Goth Boy and Werewolf Fan-Jim Haddin

Haddin is to remain aloof.  He questions Ms. Murdock about the werewolf character in her books and makes clear that Haddin feels the werewolf character is superior to the vampire character in her books.  In general, Haddin needs to act disgruntled with Ms. Murdock because it seems like she prefers her vampire character to her werewolf character.

Security Guard-Bill Jones

Bill Jones is to putter about the room and generally seem uninterested during the first half of the question and answer session.  However, about midway through the question and answer session, Jones should become agitated and direct some questions to the author about her series.  Some examples of questions he could ask would be:  “Do you think that having teens idolize books about vampires and werewolves is dangerous?  Isn’t it easier to write books for teens?  After all, teen books aren’t really considered good literature.  Why are the bad guys in your books the heroes?”

Ultimate Vampire Fan-Melissa LeBlanc

Ms. LeBlanc will continue acting as described in Part 1.  She will ask general questions about the books and will appear to be pleased with Ms. Murdock.  However, when LeBlanc asks about her favorite vampire character, and Ms. Murdock hints that even a vampire can die, LeBlanc is to act devastated and upset.

Publicist/Agent-Kim McPhee

McPhee begins the question and answer session by elaborately introducing Ms. Murdock.  Throughout the session, McPhee will act like a humble servant always trying to please Ms. Murdock.  The more over the top and frazzled that Ms. McPhee appears, the more likely it will seem that she has a motive to kill Ms. Murdock.  Ms. McPhee will conclude the question and answer session by announcing that there will be a break for lunch.  This is when pizza will be served.

Extra Boy

During the question and answer session, the extra boy should continue acting as the character that was established in Part 1.

Zombie Girl-Jennifer Ulrich

Jennifer Ulrich is to be quietly attentive during the question and answer session.  She needs to look like she is working up the nerve to ask Ms. Murdock a question.  When Ulrich finally works up the nerve to question Ms. Murdock about her opinion on zombies, Ulrich needs to look crushed when Ms. Murdock publicly scorns and ridicules Ulrich’s love of zombies.

Teens are Served Pizza

Second Clue Card is Given Out {see Clue Card at the end of chapter}

Second Clue-The killer is often the last one in a room.-

Part 3: Murder Scene

When teens are almost finished eating their pizza, the lights in the room (or designated area for the Murder Mystery Luncheon) need to flash off for a minute or two.  All characters are to gasp and act surprised that the power went out.  Bill Jones in particular needs to act like he is quieting everyone down and keeping everyone calm.  After a minute or two, the lights can come back on.  At this point the author Ms. Murdock will appear dead at her table.  Her neck will be exposed and have two small red dots on it so that it will look like she has been bitten by a vampire.

At this point, Bill Jones will round up all the characters and begin an investigation.  Bill Jones can also include a few audience members as suspects to make it even more fun.  Characters will accuse each other of trying to kill the author, Ms. Murdock.  Listed below are reasons why each character would want to kill Ms. Murdock.

Goth Boy and Werewolf Fan-Jim Haddin

It was obvious that Ms. Murdock preferred her vampire character, and Haddin was tired of all the girls his age lusting after the vampire character.

Security Guard-Bill Jones

Bill Jones believes that vampires and werewolves are bad guys and therefore should be shunned by society, not idolized.  He has to deal with bad guys every day and feels strongly that young people are easily influenced by popular culture.  Making evil or bad characters act like heroes is dangerous for society.

Ultimate Vampire Fan-Melissa LeBlanc

Ms. LeBlanc is fanatical in her love for Ms. Murdock’s vampire character.  Having Ms. Murdock hint that Ms. LeBlanc’s favorite character could be killed in the final book may have pushed Ms. LeBlanc over the edge.

Publicist/Agent-Kim McPhee

McPhee is completely unappreciated by Ms. Murdock.  Being mocked and overworked may have finally taken its toll on Ms. McPhee

Extra Boy

The reason for the extra boy wanting Ms. Murdock dead will all depend on the character and how it was developed.

Zombie Girl-Jennifer Ulrich

Jennifer Ulrich is obviously very upset that Ms. Murdock would publicly scorn her.  Having Melissa also scorn her love of zombies could prove to be too much for Jennifer Ulrich.

Handout Solution Sheets to the Participating Teens {see Solution Sheet at the end of chapter}

Bribe Money is Handed Out

Part 4: Solving the Murder

Bringing it All Together

Solution sheets and bribe money will be handed out to each table.  Participating teens will be told that they can attempt to use the money to bribe a character for the right answer.  However, teens should be warned that characters can lie.  Teens will have to work together as a group to come up with who they believe killed Ms. Murdock and why.  The improv actors will stay in character and go around to each table “assisting” the participating teens with finding the solution to the murder.

Solution to the Murder Mystery Luncheon

Bill Jones killed author Sonia Murdock for the reasons listed above under Part 3 Murder Scene, Security Guard- Bill Jones.

Training Your Actors

Once you have selected your actors you will need to begin preparing them for their part.  If you do not have a lot of time to get ready for the mystery dinner then you will want to prepare your actors sufficiently.  An intensive week or two where the actors meet for several hours at a time several days a week would work best.  If you have plenty of time to prepare for your dinner, then you may want a more relaxed schedule.  In this case, you probably want to meet approximately several times over the course of about a month. Your actors will need to work on the following areas: character development, improvisation, and rehearsals.

Character Development

The actors need to fully understand the character they are portraying in order to give a believable performance.  The following activities will help the actor develop their character.

Character Analysis

The actor needs to answer the following questions about their character.  You may need to add questions, depending on your storyline.  Any information that is not provided about the character needs to be supplied by the actor within the context of the overall story.

  • What is your character's name?
  • What is your character's age?
  • Where was your character born?
  • Where does your character currently live?
  • Write a physical description of your character.
  • Describe your character's relationship with family and friends.
  • What are some of your character's favorite things? Why?
  • What are your character's dislikes or pet peeves? Why?
  • Describe your character's personality traits.
  • What is your character's purpose in the story?
  • How does your character feel about or relate to each of the other characters in the story?
  • What do people most notice about your character when he or she enters a room?
  • What mannerisms or gestures does your character have?
  • What are your character's goals or desires? Why?
  • What is your character afraid of? Why?

Improvisation

Improvisation is creating scenes on the spot with little or no prep time or information.  Since the mystery dinner is based on an improvisation performance it will be important for your actors to work on their characters and ensemble work through various improvisation exercises.  Below are some improvisation exercises you may find useful.

Concentration

To create a believable character you must stay in character.  Improvisation can make for some unexpected moments.  Actors need to be prepared to stay in character no matter what is going on around them.

Concentration Activity

Divide your actors into two groups.  One actor from each group will enter the acting area.  The objective of one group's actor will be to remain focused, not laughing or reacting to the other group.  The objective of the other group's actor will be to distract the other actor.  They may do all sorts of funny things, but they may not touch the other actor or use words or sounds.  Repeat this exercise with each actor having a turn at being the one who is focused and the one who is distracting.  It may be helpful to have a stopwatch and set a time limit.  If your actors are competitive, keep score.  Each actor that does not “break character” will earn a point for their group.

Movement

Actors will need to work on their movement.  They need to make sure they are playing to the audience and that their movements reflect their character.

Emotional Walk Activity

Begin with your actors spread out around the acting area.  This is a completely silent activity; the purpose is to focus on movement.  Have them begin moving around the room with a neutral walk.  Next have them move around the room as their character.

Begin calling out different emotions for them to portray as they move about the space. 

It is important that the actors do not worry about what everyone around them is doing.  They need to come with their own movement interpretation of the emotion.  You may want to start with some silly exercises first if your actors are having trouble loosening up.  The actors could begin moving around the room as various animals or things to get them comfortable with the activity.

Character Situations

Improvisation performances allow for many different types of situations to occur.  Your actors need to practice reacting to and creating situations in order to move the story along.

Situations

You can either tell the actor the situation before they begin the improv, or you can create situation cards and they can draw a card to see the situation they are to act out. You may want to direct the actor's motivation and emotion during the improvisation scene.  The alternative would be to let the situation be played out however the actors interpret it.

A book you may want to try is Improvisation Starters by Philip Bernardi.  This book includes 900 improvisation situations.

Short Scenes

During the mystery dinner, actors will have to interact with one another and with patrons. The actors need to work on short improvisational scenes that will be presented to the audience throughout the event. 

Scenes

Your event will have some type of storyline.  Although the evening will be created using improvisation, it is important that the audience receives the important information so they have clues and context from which to solve the mystery.  These scenes will be slightly more “scripted” than the other improvisation activities.  You need to decide what information the audience needs and what needs to happen each time the actors come out to do an improvisation scene.  Practice the content of the scenes with your actors once they have developed their characters and have a grasp on improvisation.  The scene will change each time they perform, but it should have some continuity so the actors understand the order of events.  

Rehearsals

Most of the time you will spend with your actors will be used for character development and improvisation activities.  However, you will need to have a few rehearsals to work on the storyline and technical elements of the performance.  There are three types of rehearsals you will need to conduct to prepare your actors for the final performance. 

Blocking Basics

Blocking is the movement of the actor in the performance space.  You will want to work with your actors to make sure they understand both basic blocking principles as well as the blocking needed for your performance. Within your storyline you will probably want to place a few cues where certain events occur (entrances, exits, us of props, or other specific actions).  Basic blocking your actors need to know: 

  • Always face the audience.
  • Get into character before you enter the performance space.
  • Stay in character until you are completely out of the performance space.
  • Do not cover your face when doing a gesture or using a prop

Working Improvisation Rehearsals

Once you have established any blocking you need for your performance, you will want to practice.  During these rehearsals you need to look for and practice the following things:

  • Actors are following all basic blocking.
  • Actors are applying all of the ideas you covered during your short scene improvisations.
  • Actors are including any blocking you have directed them to do.
  • Actors are staying in character at all times.
  • Actors are following the storyline during their improvisation.
  • Actors are including all important information and clues during their improvisation.
  • Actors know which props to use and when to use them.

Technical/Dress Rehearsal

These are the final rehearsals before the performance.  Depending on the complexity of your technical elements, you can either combine these rehearsals or conduct them separately.  A technical rehearsal is used to work out any technical elements of your event such as lights and sound.  A dress rehearsal is used to practice as if it were the real performance using all costumes, props, lights, and sounds.  You should not assist the actors during the dress rehearsal.  Since you will not be able to help them during the performance it is important for the actors to practice completely on their own.  It is helpful to give them corrections at the end of the rehearsal. 

Professional Resources

Improvisation Startersby Philip Bernardi

ImprovActing.com - focuses on performing murder mystery dinner shows and how to write your own murder mystery play.

Improv Encyclopedia - very user friendly site with improv games, an improv reference sections that includes Web sites, books and articles, and an improv glossary too.

Learn Improv.com - devoted to educating other about improve acting.  This site includes improv warm-ups, exercises and potential problems.

Oriental Trading Company - great site incentives including vampire teeth!

Page last modified: December 4, 2013