Updated: Nov 10, 2019
Art is at its very heart, subjective. For those of us who dedicate our lives to producing entertainment it can be difficult to understand why some shows are well received while others are not. Murder mystery, Dinner theater and frankly theater of any type can be so non-quantifiable that it defies measurement in the traditional sense. Smart business owners understandably seek explanations, yet sitting down making lists of “contributing factors” is often fruitless. Was it the actors? The lighting? The room? That joke? Maybe our costumes? Producers and artists can debate it for hours and come no closer to really identifying what makes a phenomenal show.
However, something happened to us a few years ago that really solidified (in my mind) the right approach to take when evaluating what elements of a show equal ‘success’. It was Fall 2013 and we performed a murder mystery that has gone down in the Riddlesbrood record books as one of the most interesting.
The event started out like any other, another gig—nothing out of the ordinary. The venue was not a great distance; it was not a new show but one we all knew well. It was not booked at the last minute but months in advance. It seemed like it would be a normal night.
We pulled up in front of the restaurant about 2 hours early, and when we did so, noticed that the tables were not set up quite right for the show. We worked with the manager to reset the tables in the best way possible for viewing, and although the waiters would have rather we let it be, the manager of the establishment was happy for our trouble.
All of us, dressed in our tidy purple shirts, set about bringing our equipment into the dining room. It was technically a “budget” show but we brought our normal gear to make a great impression as it was our first event there.
Once all of the equipment was loaded in, we assembled it—which was no small task—yet we got to it with a professional efficiency that the client noticed. Eventually we were completely set up, the curtain and projection system ready, our sound system was pumping out themed music, and our lights were shining colors down onto the tables. All that was left to do was wait for the guests to arrive—and eventually they did around 6pm. Again, all of this was nothing really out of the ordinary and rather routine. But when the clock struck 6:30 things became more curious.
A woman came in asking if this was where the murder mystery was. At first, assuming she was a customer, we told her ‘yes!’. However after watching her wander around the room in confusion for several minutes, we became more perplexed. She came back over and in an awestruck tone inquired
“Is this your curtain? Your equipment?”
We answered in the affirmative to which she informed us that she was an actress, and that she was hired to do a murder mystery there that night. All of us cast a shocked look at each other and assumed that there must have been some mistake. There was a mistake, a big one. She was with a different company, a competitor, and they were on their way to perform tonight at the same restaurant.
Clearly, this was a surprise to all of us, and forced me to look at my paperwork again to see if we were to blame. It was also growing worse, as the audience was arriving in well-dressed droves. A few minutes later the remainder of their actors began to trickle in with hats and other props in their hands. This time there was a leader among them, demanding to know what was going on. It was then that I got involved, and after talking to the person in charge realized that we did indeed have a problem. The client had double booked the show somehow, and we were in a real pickle.
Both the manager from the other murder mystery company (I will not mention any names here) and I gathered into a meeting with the client. She was clearly rattled and very concerned since her boss and his family was in the audience that night; A full house of one hundred and fifty people were expecting to see a great show. She stood to look like a real fool if things did not work out.
As we spoke several things became quite obvious and frightening rather quickly. She had technically not double booked the event, instead she had booked with them and not us! The other person whipped out a contract and waived it at me. How did this happen!?
This impossible situation occurred because of a series of comedic errors that occurred all around. She had initially agreed to book with us, we had negotiated a price and contracts were sent out. However the client never returned the contract and, for some reason, decided to go with a different company—never informing me. This might have been detected if it were not for the fact that I continued to call her and she and I repeatedly went over the event. More than six calls over two months and even one the day before show, and neither of us realized the error.
Finally as we argued in the office she stood up and said “Where is Clyde! He was the one I was talking to. I want to talk to him about all this.” To which I raised my hand dutifully. It was me. She had written my name and number on their contract—the source of all the confusion.
Whatever the reasons and whatever the circumstances, there we were: Two theater companies, one client, and a hundred and fifty customers. Something had to be decided, and fast. Cooler heads seemed to prevail as we could all see the silly mistake that was made. Since they had a deposit, and we were already set up (In truth they had no set up) we would split the take and do the show while they relaxed and ate on the house. With this deal in place, we moved forward as if we were doing the performance and when the buffet opened, all of the customers started coming up for their meals.
Then; more bad news! The owner of the other company called their manager on site and said the deal was off. They maintained that they had the contract and that they would do the show and get the full amount. He came back and informed all of us that we would have to leave. Alarmed at this change of events, I went over to talk to the client.
Once again, the three of us were in her office, with him waving his contract and I wondering what the customers were thinking. Finally the client stood up and did something quite unexpected. To my surprise she announced that our company would stay and they would leave. The other manager, angered and horrified by this, threatened to sue. He threatened to do this and do that and held his contract in the air. She told him that he could do what he liked, but that we would do the show.
As it happened the curtain rose, we went on and the show went great. The crowd was happy, we were happy, the owners were happy. Only our competitor was unhappy—leaving without a word. When the applause died down, the hand shaking finished and the picture taking finally over, the customers left the room and made their way to the parking lot. We began packing up our equipment when the client walked up to me and said
“Show was great! I want to book you guys again in the Spring.” Somewhat surprised, I bluntly asked her.
“Why? Why did you stick with us when they had the deposit and the contract to boot?” After all, she had no way of knowing that the show would go as well as it did.
“Really?” She said.
“You stayed in touch with me for weeks prior to the show; they never did—which partly led to the confusion.”
“You were here two hours early, noticed the tables were wrong and took the time to fix it. They were an hour late.”
“You came in looking professional and prepared. You had nice equipment, costumes, lighting and sound. You set up a whole stage area, while they brought nothing at all.”
“In short, they mislead me—I can’t have a 150 people to walk out of here spreading bad word of mouth. You guys came here to do your job, they came here to get a check.”
The truth was so simple. That crazy wild show taught me the greatest tangible lesson I could have learned—there is no one thing to do right, but thousands of little unseen actions that all added up to success. It was all the details, all the moments that occurred even before the show itself that proved to that client that we would be the best one for her event—and she was right. Please Contact us today!
PS- We also do Custom Comedy Shows!