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.
With only a few days before the world premiere of our twelfth Master Mystery Production, Bury Me in Paris, let’s look back at our second ever show which was held in the same venue two years ago. Happy birthday, Goodbye Hollywood, the one that started it all! Today is March 21st, and, in 2015, this landmark show shattered all expectations and left a powerful legacy.
Although 2013’s Murder at the Red Fez has been retroactively awarded the title of first Master Mystery Production, it wasn’t until two years later, with this show, that the dream of Master Mystery Productions was born.
In the 1940’s, the tinsel of Tinseltown shines brightly as an era in American cinema settles into a glittering Golden Age. At an intimate Hollywood tea shop frequented by the filmmaking crowd, the biggest buzz surrounds the table of the great, glamorous Lila Schroeder, queen of the silver screen. With a domineering manager (and mother), a scheming leading man, and a moody screenwriter as her guests, Lila’s diva behavior quickly sets teeth on edge and blood to boil. When the tea runs hot and the tension hotter, it isn’t long before everything explodes in a single gunshot and a Hollywood star slumps dead to the floor. At once a glamorous Hollywood tragedy, an explosive family drama, and an interactive game, guests are invited to dress up as their favorite movie stars of that Golden Age and solve a murder mystery as shimmering as the lights of a marquee.
Guests got to enjoy custom tea and star-shaped scones in an intimate tea shop setting while trying to unravel the mystery of Lila Schroeder’s murder. The stage was a glitzy and glamorous backdrop for the most intense family drama performed by Master Mystery Productions. Every bit of the production was carefully designed to support the story. The decor was in black and white like the movies of the time. We designed a “scentscape” of perfumes and colognes for our actors to wear to add to their characters like fresh citrus for our starlet and musk for our Lothario of a leading man. Big band music floated through the air. Guests remarked it was like “stepping into another time period.” It wasn’t a recreation. You were really there.
Our sold-out audiences had to join together the puzzle pieces from a series of strange clues and flashback scenes that built this story of a harsh studio system that often destroyed those who got caught in it. The reception was out-of-this-world, the reviews were rave, and the story still resonates.
Goodbye Hollywood had the longest run from production to final closing night of any Master Mystery Production to date. It began as a fundraiser for the Eastern Sierra Branch of the California Writers Club, a frequent client of MMP. A nebulous idea for the show–little more than a notion of a “tea shop mystery, maybe about Old Hollywood”–began in early November 2014. The script of Goodbye Hollywood, inspired by the image of a starlet’s head shot with her eyes scratched out, was workshopped to four actors in mid-November. Three of those actors–Lena Pokol, Brianne Hardwick, and Calvin Johnson–remained with the show until its final closing in July 2015.
The show’s initial run–The Tea Shop Run–opened March 21, 2015 at My Enchanted Cottage and Tea Room in Ridgecrest to a packed house. The response was electric and expansive. Everyone wanted a seat at Goodbye Hollywood. The demand was so large that an extra date was added to the show’s initial run, which also quickly sold out. Newspaper interviews, a press conference, and a radio spot soon followed, turning the show into a real life Hollywood publicity wonderland. Spring 2015 was all about Tinseltown.
We felt so blessed to be embraced by the city. The reviews couldn’t be better. Our immersive setting, attention to detail, stellar performances, and sharply written story catapulted our show to heights we could scarcely dream of. Fan art was created, full page color photo spreads revealed, acres and acres of support and affection. We are so indebted to the dozens of people responsible for making Goodbye Hollywood an experience we’ll never forget. We couldn’t have done without you.
But once the doors closed on the Tea Shop run on April 25, the glamour wasn’t done. A deal with the Community Light Opera and Theater Association–CLOTA–emerged that allowed Goodbye Hollywood to be turned into a stage show. All the vintage glamour–hair, makeup, costumes, and set–were recreated at CLOTA Center Stage, and the Hollywoodland Tea Shop of the play was host to an expanded storyline with new scenes, new actors, new drama, and new murders. This new production, now called Goodbye Hollywood: At the Rainbow’s End, opened on July 9, 2015.
What happened to Lila’s will? Did Lila keep a secret diary? What deals were made behind closed studio doors? It’s the next generation of Lila Schroeder’s not-so-fairy-tale ending, giving us deeper insights to the past and problems of this Hollywood icon. What really happened on the other side of the rainbow?
The reviews were wonderful. To this day, we still receive requests of what happened next, a chapter three of this Hollywood saga. The performances are recalled fondly even years later, each cast member eventually winning the Skeleton Key Award for their work on Master Mystery Productions, and the characters of Lila Schroeder, June Schulz, Geoffrey Challenger, and Simon Pritchard have left their indelible impressions on audiences forever.
But now we’ll switch gears and let some original cast members tell you their experiences about the journey through Tinseltown and the impression it left on them. First up, Brianne Hardwick won the coveted Skeleton Key Award for her work on the Tea Shop run of Goodbye Hollwyood for her dedication and outstanding work as both Assistant Director and the most powerful force in our Hollywood–the Dragon Queen herself, June Schulz. Let’s hear her recall her time in Tinseltown.
I remember when Daniel first brought us all together to tell us this grand idea. We got together at Denny’s on Veteran’s Day. After he gave us the character descriptions, the mood in the air was excitement. Lots of excitement. Doing something completely new, originating a character. I think that was a first for all of us really. When he delivered scripts to us, I offered my dining room as rehearsal space, and the work began.
Giving June Schulz the air of superiority was easy. The difficult part was getting into that emotion. I have two children whom I adore, so getting into this character who only had a child to get out of the hell hole she was in was challenging. The Dear Lily scene was the hardest. The first time I did the monologue I pretty much ended up yelling the whole thing, and it didn’t feel very good. So, working with Daniel, we started going over it line by line, how loud should this be? Are we trying to make people sympathize with her? The result was pretty spectacular.
Goodbye Hollywood was my first lead role. June Schultz was a manipulative mastermind, who liked whiskey and vodka, and drank both like they were water. Her daughter was her puppet, and the strings were always tight. Even when Lila would talk back, June would always be on top. I suppose the solution to the story was fitting, Lila having more than one way to murder her mother, and also getting herself in the end. It was her only escape. There was no way June was going to let her go and live with a plain old soldier, when she could have had any man in Hollywood at her feet, keeping her in the spotlight, and keeping June in the money. Money and the lifestyle were June’s motivations, or at least, that’s how I played them. She couldn’t go back to living the life of a nobody. So she did what she felt she needed to do to get out of it, and stay out of it. Even if June hadn’t been poisoned, I don’t think she would have had a very long life after Lila died. Her penchant for alcohol and refusal to be no one would have seen to that. She wouldn’t have lived to see 1950, I don’t think.
We had so much fun with the show, even when we weren’t rehearsing. We were going out of town to find scents for the scentscape. We went thrift shopping for Calvin’s jacket. We sat in my living room and tinkered with my hair for hours until we found June’s signature hairstyle, or the helmet with pins, as I liked to call it. Once the hat came off, it felt like a helmet. So much hairspray, so many bobby pins. We would make bets after every show about how many bobby pins were in my hair.
Opening day found us once again in my dining room in the morning, going over lines one more time, just to make sure. Everyone went home to get ready, and then we converged on the tea shop. I had a playlist of big band music, and the sign I had painted was hanging outside of the tea room. Mingling was hilarious, and at times, it was very hard to stay in character. Especially when an elderly lady started flirting with Calvin. It was fantastic. I still laugh when I think about it. My favorite experience with the mingling was when my husband came to the show. Being the stage mother I was, always trying to get my daughter another role, by any means necessary, I went and introduced myself to this gentleman in a top hat, whom I was told was a producer. I still have a picture that was taken from it. All of our shows were sold out quickly, so we got to add an extra performance, which also sold out. It would have been interesting to see Goodbye Hollywood played outside in the tea shop garden, like they do now. I have no doubts we would have sold the garden out as well.
After every show, we would all go home, get out of the stage makeup, dress up again, and go have dinner together. Closing night we all splurged and got steak, and then we returned to my house for the cast party, which mostly consisted of board and card games. Zombie Clue until 2:00 in the morning, people. If that isn’t squad goals I don’t know what is.
My overall experience with Goodbye Hollywood gave me the confidence to know I could handle a lead role, and not just be a supporting character. Daniel’s script was spectacular. As I was still relatively new to the theater scene, I was really glad that Daniel chose me and had the confidence that I could do it. Looking back at it now, it was still a singular experience. It was fresh, new. Something Ridgecrest hadn’t seen before. I remain honored that I was part of it.
Next, it’s Calvin Johnson, who originated the role of Geoffrey Challenger in both versions. Johnson is, to date, one of out most experienced actors with Master Mystery Productions. He has three to his credit–Goodbye Hollywood, Goodbye Hollywood: At the Rainbow’s End, and Ex Luna, which he won the Skeleton Key Award for in 2016. Read his reminiscences about Old Hollywood below.
Goodbye Hollywood was definitely one of the more unique shows that I’ve participated in. From the rehearsals chiefly occurring in my friend’s dining room, to the actual performance space taking place inside a tea shop, there were certainly points of distinction that set this play apart from all the others I’ve been in. It was also one of the most fun experiences I’ve had. The friendships I had with all my fellow actors gave it a much needed boost in helping to cross the boundaries that needed to be crossed due to the strong, dark content presented throughout the play. Above all else, Goodbye Hollywood was without a doubt one of the most unforgettable and enjoyable shows I’ve ever gotten to perform in.
My character, Geoffrey Challenger, was also very different compared to other characters I’ve played before. The idea behind him was that, while he’s not best best actor in Hollywood, his dashing looks and charm are what help him coast through life. That is until he tries to get into stage acting and he realizes that, at least on Broadway, looks don’t add up to much if you haven’t the talent to go with them. Probably my favorite scenes to perform as him were the ones where he has to interact with Lila and/or June. If Broadway is where his looks aren’t enough, it’s in front of them that his charm fails. He tries so hard to keep his composure, but both of them see right through him. When he realizes that he has nothing to hide behind, that’s where the cracks in psyche begin to show. Honestly, it was so fun to view him from the outside as, really, while he tries to come off as charming (and could get away with it due to his movie star status), he really just winds up being sort of slimy, and those sort of characters, when done right are both so great to watch and very fun to play.
The Goodbye Hollywood saga finally ended on July 12, 2015, nine months after its initial workshop. It remains the longest continuously-running mystery story in the history of MMP. Its legacy has made an unforgettable impact on so many lives, and we at Master Mystery Productions are proud to call it the catalyst for our company. We officially had to say goodbye to Hollywood when we had to retire the show in 2016. Although saddened by the act, we shall always remember this miracle of a show allowing superheroes to fly, astronauts to soar to the moon, Victorians to trade slings and arrows, and Parisian artists to express themselves. Goodbye Hollywood started it all, and we will never forget what happened on the other side of the rainbow…
Do you remember seeing Goodbye Hollywood? We have a special request of our audiences. Vote for your favorite performance from the show, and something special will happen. Choices are: Lena Pokol (Lila Schroeder), Brianne Hardwick (June Schulz), or Calvin Johnson (Geoffrey Challenger). You can put either character name or actor name. You can cast your vote in the comment section, message Master Mystery Productions on Facebook, or email your vote to firstname.lastname@example.org. Voting closes on April 5th.
If you want to see another interactive mystery adventure from the creators of Goodbye Hollywood, be sure to see our twelfth Master Mystery Production, Bury Me in Paris, a crime set in the bohemian wonderland of 1920’s Paris, France. The show opens March 25, 2017 at 7 p.m. at My Enchanted Cottage. Additional show dates are March 31st, April 1st, and April 8th. Tickets are available here.
–Master Mystery Productions