Mystery Dinner Theatre Players
You’ve heard of a murder-mystery dinner theatre; chances are you’ve even been to one. But have you been to an interactive one, where you get in on the action, maybe even becoming one of the cast members? If not, then you should head to the next Mystery Dinner Theatre Players show for a great night of fun and intrigue.
For over a decade, Mystery Dinner Theatre Players has traveled all over the area, performing at parties, weddings, corporate events and more. Kathy O’Neill is the director and mastermind behind these “who-dunnit” tales. She writes, organizes, casts and directs the shows.
Originally from Massachusetts, O’Neill, 66, has lived in the Capital Region for almost 40 year. She is a retired secondary English and theater arts teacher from St. Pius X in Loudonville, and has been involved with theater since her own high school days. Since the 1970s, she has been heavily involved with community theater, mainly working with the Clifton Park Players (a local theater group known now as The Players) and theater groups in Cohoes and at Hudson Valley Community College. Acting occasionally, her real passion has always been directing.
“I love the challenge of bringing written words to life,” said O’Neill, who enjoys giving her audiences the opportunity to look into another world. “In theater, there is no pretend, just the reality of the moment.”
She got involved with these shows 15 years ago, when a friend asked her advice on what Good Times Restaurant in Ballston Spa should do to drum up business. Her idea was some form of interactive entertainment; the owners loved it and she’s been doing them ever since.
At first, O’Neill used pre-written scripts for the shows, but found that they just weren’t working the way she wanted them to, and decided to experiment with writing them herself.
“I think after about 12 years I finally found the right formula for the scripts,” she joked. Mixing a blend of suspense and humor, she starts out with a list of characters and ideas of what she wants them to do, and it kind of morphs from there.
“I don’t write with an outline and I don’t do a rough draft,” she said. “It’s not at all like how I used to teach my students to write.”
When she took on the task of writing the scripts, she attended a few other dinner theatres to see how they handled audience participation. Turns out they really didn’t, so she decided to make that a focus in her group.
“I think we are really unique in the extent and the way in which we get our audience members involved,” she said.
O’Neill usually picks between eight to 12 people from the guest list and gives them a script and a new identity. She does her casting while mingling with the guests before dinner, seeking out “open faces” and “people who tend to dominate the crowd.”
“There is always that one person who is at the center of a conversation and is very animated,” she said. “Cocktail hour is a great time to find people.”
Sometimes, she’ll see a type of person that fits one of the characters perfectly and ask them to be involved. Then there are always those people that get thrown in by their friends. They are almost always they are willing to give it a try, but there are some who are hesitant.
“You hope they’ll read it right and won’t miss their cues, but the actors and I are there to keep it all going,” she said.
After dinner, they get the theater portion started either during or after dessert.
There is a core group of six actors whom act out the murderous scenarios and another group of six that act as back-ups. O’Neill runs each script by the group before finishing touches are made, conducting a read-through and listening to their opinions and ideas.
“Sometimes as they read through it, a facet of the character will jump out at me,” she said. In one instance she even changed who the murderer was going to be because of the way the actor portrayed the character. “The way he read the character was brilliant and was something I never would have thought to do with it.”
She feels lucky to have found such a great group of actors, most of them she knew from the Players and the various community groups she was involved with. “It’s not as easy as it looks to do this type of theater,” she said, noting that many actors who are great on stage in traditional plays have a hard time with interactive dinner theater.
“It takes a certain breed and you definitely have to be fast on your feet.”
The whole dinner theatre experience runs about three hours, with the actual show lasting approximately an hour-and-a-half. Following the performance, the audience is given a card to fill out and asked to solve the murder.
“Out of 70 people, we might have 10 get it right,” she said, “other times no one gets it.”
O’Neill gives out prizes that coordinate with the theme of the show to the mystery-solvers. For example, for the show titled “Murder on the Links” she gives out pillows with golf sayings stitched in. Accordingly, there are bath and body products for the winners of the spa-themed show.
Performing for groups from anywhere from 50 to 600 people, they are often asked back by companies to do the same theme show again.
Their most popular show is “Cruise to Die For”, which involves a talent show of sorts. Audience members get to sing classic songs from The Supremes, Beach Boys, Elvis, the Village People and more.
“At the end of the night, the guests always come up to me and tell me how much fun they had. Everyone really has a blast.”
And while the scripts may remain the same, each show O’Neill and the Mystery Dinner Theatre Players perform is unique, mainly due to the audience. “It’s so unpredictable and you never know what crazy thing will happen.”
In fact, last month the theater group even got the chance to marry a couple during one of their shows.
“The audience members didn’t know it was going to happen, and we surprised everyone. We made sure the wedding portion was really special and it’ll be a great memory for the couple.
Experiencing a murder mystery dinner theatre show is a different way to experience theater and provides a great escape. And, said O’Neill, it gives the audience the chance to take part in what they see actors do on stage all the time. The audience walks out of the show feeling better, and so does she.
“I loved teaching and think it’s one of the best professions,” she said, “and while this is different than teaching, I still have fun and get the same satisfaction from it.”
For more information on Mystery Dinner Theatre Players call 235.9323 or visit mysterdinnertheatreplayers.com.
10 questions for your wedding caterer
A great caterer will do more than just make good food. He or she will pay great attention to details, making sure the presentation is just right, the food and wine are served at the right temperature, the servers are well-groomed and attentive and that clean-up is efficient and thorough.
So how do you make sure the caterer you hire is a great one? By asking the right questions.
1. May I have references?
Most caterers get their business from word of mouth. Ask for at least 10 former clients and call as many as you can. Ask questions such as:
Was the caterer easy to work with?
Was the service efficient and non-intrusive?
Was the food delicious, and did it arrive hot?
Were there any problems that came up and how did the caterer deal with them?
2. Do you have a business license and liability insurance?
Caterers should be licensed by the state. Usually licenses are displayed in the office, but if you’re not positive, then ask to see it. Make sure you see proof of liability insurance as well.
3. Can we sample from a typical wedding menu?
Catering can be a large part of your wedding budget. Make sure you know what it is you’ll be getting for your money. Take your spouse-to-be and a friend with you to the tasting so you can get varied opinions. Some caterers will charge a tasting fee, but it’s worth it.
4. May I see photographs of your table displays?
Some caterers who provide buffets or food stations include floral arrangements and other decorations. It’s also a good idea to discuss your color theme so that decorations and floral arrangements coordinate.
5. What does the price per person include?
Is the cost strictly for food, or does it cover tables, chairs, linens, tableware, punch service, table displays, etc.?
6. What other fees do you charge?
Are tips and taxes included in the price? Some caterers will charge a cake-cutting fee or corking fee for wines. Make sure you get all fees in writing up front.
7. Do you handle special menu requests?
You may have guests with special menu needs, such as food allergies, vegan or kosher requirements. Make sure your caterer will accommodate these needs. Some couples want to have a special family recipe at the reception – Grandma’s meatballs or foods from the family’s ethnic traditions. Find out if your caterer will personalize your menu with these kinds of items.
8. Do you offer cakes?
Ask if your caterer offers wedding and groom’s cakes, and find out if they are included in the price.
9. Will you pack us a “doggie bag” for after the reception?
Sometimes the wedding couple is so busy at the reception that they have very little time to eat anything. Attentive caterers will prepare small boxes of food for the couple to enjoy when they are finally alone.
10. What are the payment arrangements?
You need to find out how much of a deposit is required, and if it’s refundable or not. Ask when the final payment is due and what the caterer’s preferred form of payment is.
When you finally settle on a caterer, make sure you have a written contract to sign. This guarantees that they will provide the food, timelines and details you discussed.
Asking these 10 questions will help you choose the right caterer to help make your wedding a truly special celebration.
Courtesy of Family Features
Tips for throwing a boomer anniversary party
By Ciara McCann
Let’s face it – we owe a lot to our parents. Over the years they’ve given us life, food, shelter, sage advice and more, and they deserve to know how much we appreciate them. This year on their wedding anniversary, why not throw them a party that reflects this?
Most of our parents are part of the baby boomer generation, with over 75 million boomers in the U.S. today. They’ve worked hard over the years to provide for their families and keep their marriage working, and a party is the perfect way to honor them. Whether it’s a surprise or if they are part of the planning, here are some great ideas to throw both a unique and memorable party that will have your parents thanking you for years to come.
Baby boomers these days are much cooler than we sometimes give them credit for and many of them have time for travel and adventure. Throw them an anniversary party that echoes this by taking photos and souvenirs from their favorite trips together and displaying them for guests (and your parents) to experience again.
Want to get a little nostalgic? Try a throwback to the 50s or 60s party, complete with music from the era and trivia games that test their knowledge of that time. You can even ask guests to dress in their favorite fashions from the era.
Give your parents a look back at their lives together with a “This is Your Life” party, where you give them the chance to relive all the special moments they’ve shared throughout their marriage. Play the songs they danced to at their wedding, ask family members and friends to share favorite stories of the couple, and play clips from old home movies.
If you are doing a theme party, tie in the decorations to that particular theme. For a 60s-themed party, keep it colorful, and try hanging movie posters of popular flicks from those years. Cover the walls with peace signs, tie-dye and anything retro and you’ll transport your party guests back in time.
For something a little simpler, decorate the space with pictures of the guests of honor. Technology today allows you to take old photos and enhance and enlarge them to show off the happy couple in their glory days. Mix older photos with more recent ones to tell the story of their lives together through pictures.
Including any original wedding souvenirs that your parents have kept through the years is also a great way for them to relive that day. Display your mother’s wedding gown on a mannequin or dress form and display invitations, napkins or their vows if they wrote their own.
Whether it is a formal sit-down dinner or a more casual buffet, food is one of the most important parts of any party. Try to include your parent’s favorite dishes and desserts on the menu while also keeping the guest list in mind. If there will be a lot of kids in attendance, make sure you have some finger-friendly foods for them.
If you decide on a party showcasing past trips your parents have taken, why not serve some of the cuisine they experienced? For example, bring them back to their Hawaiian vacation with a luau, complete with a pork roast, tropical fruit salad, and of course, pina coladas!
Another thoughtful idea is to get a replica cake of their original wedding cake. Bring a picture to your local bakery and ask if they can re-create it. You can also switch up the flavor of the cake or add a new topper to update it a bit.
Remember, when it comes to the details of your parent’s anniversary party, make it personal and keep their likes and dislikes in mind. Also, don’t forget to keep it fun and lively – it is a party after all!
Gift ideas for the boomer in your life (or anyone for that matter!)
1. Something for their hobby addiction: Think about what they like to do and buy a gift around it. For example, if your mother is into quilting, buy a new quilting bag and fill it with related items and stick in a gift card to a craft store. Remember that baby boomers learned how to live simple, so simple gifts never go wrong.
2. Magazine subscription: Who doesn’t love to read? Now that they might be retired or approaching retirement age, a subscription to a travel magazine would be perfect. You could also get them a subscription from Reminisce, a magazine that reminds them of the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s!
3. Something for their travels: It’s the boomers who seem to have a lot of time for traveling. A great gift idea is a new set of luggage. If they already have a good set, fill a basket full of travel-related items, such as a new toiletry kit, with regulation-size plastic bottles, a passport holder or even often overlooked items like a small pill container or electrical outlet for traveling abroad.
4. Family photos: You can’t go wrong here. It’s so easy, not to mention affordable, to upload pictures to www.snapfish.com or www.shutterfly.com and enlarge your favorites – you can even change color ones to black and white or sepia tone for a different effect. Hit your local craft store for a frame that compliments their dcor and you have a great gift! After all, memories are priceless.
5. DVDs: If you know a die-hard “Godfather” fan, and you know for sure they don’t own the DVDs, get the box-set. Same goes for any movie or TV show – “Seinfeld”, “Mash”, “I Love Lucy” – you name it. Or you could purchase a Netflix or Amazon gift certificate, so they can make their own choice.
6. Gadgets: A survey conducted by the baby boomer social networking site, Eons.com, said that more than 2,000 adults 50 years or older wanted a new technology gift. Among those include flat screen TVs, iPhones, digital video recorders, digital cameras or advanced PDA (like Blackberry or Treo).
7. Health and wellness: It’s always important to take care of yourself, no matter what your age. What about a membership to a local gym, sessions with a personal trainer or some yoga/pilates classes? Or, you can always give a gift card to a spa close to their home for a relaxing facial or massage.
8. I-O-U coupons: If you think that your baby boomer doesn’t need another “knick-knack” in the house, then why not be creative and make your own gift? How about an I-O-U for chores to be done around their home that they might not be able to do, like “One FREE Yard Cleaning Day.”
9. Food: Name one person who doesn’t like eating out? Exactly. Why not get six months or a year’s worth of gift cards to various restaurants. Put them in a basket full of various wines for a great presentation.
10. Practical: Gold Violin is a online website business that offers gifts with attitude for seniors including Red Garden Scoot, which allows users to get up and down during gardening without wearing or tearing their knees or back. There’s also the Sonic Boom Alarm Clock with Bed Shaker which helps heavy sleepers who are losing their hearing. It wakes you up with loud, pulsating vibrations from the alarm or bed. And then there’s the Amplified Photo Phone, a highly useful gadget for someone losing both hearing and vision. It allows you to call friends and family by touching their picture on the phone.
Whatever your gift may be, remember that it’s the thought that counts! Happy shopping!
– Sabrina Katrayan