The Strand Theatre on the Marietta Square is playing host to a game, or a play, or both.
“Murder! At the Strand” is an immersive theatrical experience.
If you’ve seen the movie “Clue” or if you’re an Atlanta theatre-goer who has had dinner at Agatha’s Comedy Murder Mystery Dinner Theater, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what a murder mystery looks like. A body, some out-sized characters, and some madcap plot twists. The folks behind “Murder!” are putting the audience inside of that world by making them characters in the story.
Audience members take on the role of potential investors of an avant garde theatre company’s upcoming production. They sit down in the Strand’s art deco theatre to find a really troubled production. Neither the script nor the set is finished, the lead actor is a no show, and the director and the playwright are quarreling.
This might all sound familiar to theatre artists until, as the title suggests, there is a murder.
And this is where Jeremy Ledbetter comes in. He’s the show’s production and game designer.
“As soon as somebody dies, we’re like ‘no no, get up,'” he says. “Now the whole space is yours and you’ve got a certain amount of time to own this and discover exactly what’s going on.”
And that’s when the audience is set loose on the entire four floors of the Strand Theatre to search for clues, eavesdrop on conversations, even interact with the characters to grill them with questions. This is where the show becomes as much a role-playing game as it is a play.
“It is the ultimate (role-playing game),” Ledbetter said, “because you get to come in here and ask all these questions and pick all these brains … and we’ve got pages of background for all of our lead characters so if you want to run off the trail a little bit and ask these people about who they are, where they’re from, why they do what they do, that’s there for you too.”
And even though the audience isn’t confined to their seats and the actors are spread out all over the building, director and playwright Corey Bradberry said he still considers this a work of theatre.
“It is a play, you come to play,” he said. “And it’s the type of play where, if you don’t ask questions for certain characters … ”
“You don’t get the whole story,” Ledbetter chimes in.
“If you don’t move forward and try to solve the puzzles, then you don’t get the whole plot” Bradberry said.
Bradberry and Ledbetter say that this experiment in creating a hybrid theatre game is still very much concerned with being entertaining and telling a story.
“I mean some of the best storytelling is happening in video games,” Bradberry said. “And especially the uptick in the fad of escape rooms … there’s a reason for that. People want to go and have an experience. But that’s because, I think, in a digital world we’re looking for authentic, person-to-person interactions.”
And what could be furthest from the digital world than getting to play a little bit of Sherlock Holmes in an art deco theatre?
“Murder! At the Strand” runs through April 15 at the Strand Theatre.