This post was originally published in February 2013.

Murder in the library – a popular program for libraries around the world, one that is personally near and dear to my heart (having played parts in two in-house “productions” in the last two years!). The format for this classic game is familiar to many: actors (library staff or other local talent) mingle with guests until a body is found somewhere in the library. Clues are provided, and guests are dispatched to question the cast members until a guilty party is found.

These events are opportunities for meaningful engagement with one’s audience, and are infinitely customizable to one’s community and library. One lovely example of this can be found in After Dark Entertainments’ work with several UK libraries. Adrian, one of the members of this theatre troupe, answered our questions about working with and for libraries to create engaging participatory theatre productions. ~ Laura

What have you found to be the benefits of working in non-traditional theatre spaces (like a library)?

The great thing about performing in a non traditional theatre space is that it provides you with a wonderful environment in which to frame your performance. Some of the libraries we have performed in have been spectacular venues, which have provided our shows with an added atmosphere which would have been absent in a theatre. Because we hide our suspects around the library, the audience discover the library whilst they solve the murder, so if they are not regular patrons our hope is that by experiencing the library they will return again in the future.

This has been the primary aim of the libraries we have performed in, to bring in an audience that might not otherwise have visited the library, and in the process of their visit they can become aware of the services their local library can provide.

The Manchester City Library contacted us to ask if we could perform one of our cabaret murder mysteries in their library, normally our cabaret shows are performed in restaurants and hotels during a three course dinner. So working with the staff there we decided instead to custom build a murder mystery from the ground up to best suit their requirements and needs. This resulted in the ‘Interactive Investigation’. Scripted and designed to make the most of a library and incorporate the space into the performance. The performance takes place all over the building, allowing us to incorporate the unique properties of any library building into the show. We’ve even used study rooms as makeshift holding cells for our audience to question a dangerous suspect!

Below: the After Dark Entertainment troupe set up for a “secret agent” themed Interactive Investigation.

Do you write your own scripts, and if so, what sort of process do you go through in order to produce an Interactive Investigation?

We have scripted a number of Interactive Investigation themes (covering a variety of literary themes and characters) each with a unique murder plot. The Investigations are designed to be flexible and enable us to perform them in a variety of spaces, regardless of size or layout. By liaising with the library staff we can ensure that the Investigation is ideally suited for the building. In addition if the library has certain features we can incorporate these into the performance.

Below: After Dark Entertainment during a Sherlock Holmes themed Interactive Investigation.

For more information about After Dark Entertainment, visit their website.

Bring it home: Murder mystery nights are fun after-hours activities for teens; enjoyable entertainment for a library fundraising event; and often end up attracting an audience that might not visit the library on a regular basis. Gould Library at Carleton College performed a murder mystery event in 2002. This site walks you through the event. Ask other libraries in your system if they have a murder mystery game or kit that you could borrow to use in your own library, or work with a local or regional theatre group to develop a custom script.

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