Murder in Retrospect: HELLO OUT THERE

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Official Poster

Welcome to Murder in Retrospect!  Here we celebrate the anniversaries of some of our past shows with memories, pictures, and some behind-the-scenes fun you didn’t see.

Happy birthday, Hello Out There!  Today is September 12th, and, exactly one year ago today, Hello Out There, an interactive mystery dinner written by Daniel Stallings and C. R. Rowenson set in the Mojave Desert, opened at the Historic USO Building in Ridgecrest, CA as the closing event of Ridge Writers’ third annual Weird Weekend.

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Sold Out show

Hello Out There was the fourth Master Mystery Production.  To put that in context for today, MMP is currently gearing up for our ninth production, Pauper’s Grave, which will take place during the fourth annual Weird Weekend presented by Ridge Writers.  We’ve certainly kept busy.  Hello Out There also marked the first time writers Daniel Stallings and C. R. Rowenson collaborated on an interactive mystery.

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Fierce winds and the attentions of scavengers have unearthed a deadly secret in the Mojave Desert.  Human bones, lost for years, and the tattered remains of a backpack tell a story as mysterious and dark as the legends swarming this secluded slice of the world.  Teams of sleuths have assembled to finish the story.  Because the bones bear the marks of murder and the scant belongings tie the skeleton to a vanishing camp several decades before.  What secrets bind the two together?  What do the legends of yesteryear have to do with the bodies of today?  What of the missing campers and the references to lights in the sky?  This will be a unique murder mystery to suit this weird and wonderful locale.  Will the sleuths be able to navigate the twists and turns of this bizarre case?  Or will the searing sands of time bury the truth of this cold case forever?

After a delicious dinner, tables formed teams of sleuths, each named after famous mystery authors and fictional detectives, to solve the crime. They got to investigate crime scenes, petition the court for evidence, study documents for secrets, and put together the story of murder, mining, and malice from nothing more than a scant few bones.  It was an amazing experience, a puzzle on a grand scale.

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Packed house.

C. R. Rowenson now talks to us about his memories about designing this show, his first ever mystery, interactive or otherwise.

This is C. R. Rowenson yet again invading the cyberspace of Master Mystery Productions for a chance to connect with you. With Weird Weekend 2016 sneaking up around the corner with fangs bared, now seems like a good time to reflect on past events.

More specifically, let’s take a look at Hello Out There, the masterpiece from last 2015’s Weird Weekend celebration.

An Opportunity Arises

At the time I was serving as the board treasurer for Ridge Writers. It was during one of our board meetings that someone presented the idea of incorporating a murder mystery into that year’s Weird Weekend events.

At the time, I had only been a member of Ridge Writers for less than two years, certainly not long compared with many of our members. Therefore, when Daniel asked if I would like to write it with him, I was understandably surprised and flattered.

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Agatha Christie table

At the time I was dealing with some serious self-worth issues, helping some friends through a rough time, and planning for my wedding that would be taking place over 1,300 miles away. Needless to say, I was feeling a little stressed.

If that wasn’t enough, there were whole host of fears and excuses why I should get involved.

To start with, I had never written a mystery of any kind, not even in my short fiction. All of my experience was limited to the more traditional style of story. I knew nothing about crafting this weird amalgam of play-writing and interactive theater.

My final choice in the matter is obvious otherwise I wouldn’t be talking about it now, but that’s not the point. What matters is that I stepped forward and embraced this new opportunity as best I could. It was scary and panic-inducing, but I did it all the same.

So why am I telling you this?

Stones and Bones

Well, this is supposed to be a reflection post. When I thought about it, the single thing I am proudest of in this whole experience is the fact that I put aside my worries and did my best to meet the challenge head on.

While that may be the part I am proudest of, it certainly wasn’t the most pleasant. So how about we just push ahead to the fun parts?

The “Lightbulb Moments”

Honestly, this is my favorite part of planning and building any story. At the beginning you usually have nothing but a vague concept and a direction you want to go.

When Daniel and I started working on Hello Out There, we knew it had to be a mystery, that it had to be fun for the audience, and a few other bits and pieces. Not much to go on, but it was something.

That’s really when we began the mad scramble for ideas. What kinds of characters did we want? How would the audience be involved? Who killed who and why? All of this involved a lot of discussion and a significant number of odd looks from passers-by.

It doesn’t sound very structured, does it?

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Aging the skull used in the show.

That’s how a lot of the process goes. You kind of fumble around, hoping your feet will find solid ground. Then it happens. Something slips into place and a portion of the darkness becomes illuminated.

I’m sure you know the feeling. Well, that is what I live for. Those small moments when the light comes on and the surroundings become visible and the way clear.

There is one moment in particular when working on Hello Out There that sticks out in my memory. Specifically, it was when we came up with the idea of “the court.”

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Preparing our crime scene–a pocket of “desert” our sleuths could dig through for clues.

The setup of the story involved the discovery of old bones in the Mojave Desert. Working in teams as civilian sleuths, the attendees had to gather the evidence to determine the tale of this long-past murder.

With interactive mysteries, one of the biggest struggles is always figuring out how to get the information across to the participants. It can’t just be delivered all at once in text, or you may as well have made a book. It also can’t be too sparse, or the attendees won’t be able to piece it together.

How did we do it? We decided that the teams could send members to approach us directly. We had compiled a number of documents that each team could unlock through the course of the game. But, and here was the fun bit, in order to receive the documents, the attendees had to ask the right questions.

It was amazing. Suddenly I could see how everything was going to play out, and I was not disappointed.

More than anything, I live for those “lightbulb moments.”

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Ellery Queen table

The Experience

The entire process from beginning to end was an amazing learning experience. While I am grateful that I had it, and I firmly believe it has made me a better writer, it isn’t what I remember most.

Lightbulbs aside, the thing that sticks with me from the entire process was the experience. Or rather, the experience that I witnessed in the attendees.

Here we had several tables of people. In some cases, entire parties were comprised of strangers. But, by the end, it didn’t matter.

It was a little awkward at first, but before long everyone was getting involved, leaning forward and whispering back and forth like schoolchildren planning a prank on the substitute.

There were other things too. Overhearing a snippet of conversation as the members worked out an important clue. Seeing their eyes light up as new ideas began spilling forth. The satisfaction on their faces when they unlocked a new clue and the frustration when they were sent back empty-handed. For the first time ever, I got to hear my own fiction from another’s lips.

Basically, I loved the fact that I had entertained others, if only for a couple of hours. It was positively incredible.

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Dashiell Hammett table

Lessons for You

So what does all of this matter? The event is over, the corpse is buried, and we have all moved on. Why bother with this silly reflection?

The answer is simple really: So we can learn.

I can’t begin to estimate just how much I learned from this experience, and I imagine the attendees learned a thing or two as well. But don’t worry, you won’t be left out on the learning just because you couldn’t make it last year.

More than anything, I hope this post helps you understand the importance of embracing opportunities. You never know how they will end or exactly what you might experience on the way.

Also, you should know that Daniel and his company Master Mystery Productions know what they are doing. He has already done over half a dozen unique and interesting productions and is giving no sign of slowing down.

Which brings me to my final point. Just because you missed out on Hello Out There doesn’t mean you are out of options. There will be plenty of events in the future and I hope you take these opportunities and see what you can learn.

Thanks for reading. C. R. Rowenson, out.

The Map

Hello Out There may have come and gone, but evidence still lingers from this diabolical desert detective story.  You can visit the photo albums on the show both here in the portfolio and on Facebook.  And the show is still available for revival!  Check the details on the show in its portfolio and see if it’s right for you.

And don’t forget Pauper’s Grave on September 24th! It’s the second collaboration between Stallings and Rowenson, and you can see for yourself the winning work of these two writers.  Tickets for Pauper’s Grave are on sale at Red Rock Books.

We’ll see you next time!

–Master Mystery Productions

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