On Nov. 2, a heinous crime was committed in Bolding Studio, and it was up to the attendees of “Suspicious Minds: An Interactive Murder Mystery Masquerade” to figure out whodunnit. The masquerade was scripted and directed by freshman acting and directing major Aliyah Snyder. It was adapted into a highly improvisational and interactive performance that invites the audience onto the physical set and allows them to speak directly with cast members.
“Suspicious Minds,” a student-led project independent from the theater department, first began as an idea for a murder-mystery event discussed between actresses Snyder, Hallie Barnwell and Emily Acosta backstage during Samford’s fall production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Acosta, a freshman theater for youth major, explained that they did not originally plan on following through with the show.
“When we were first dreaming this production up, that’s all it was: a dream,” Acosta said. “It wasn’t until one of our professors overheard us talking about it and urged us to move forward with the idea [that] we really started the preparation process.”
Once Snyder decided to move forward with the idea and reserved a space, she wrote the entire script in a week. They had about a month and a half to pull a cast together and only two weeks to rehearse after casting. Snyder decided to turn the performance into a fundraiser, and all proceeds were given to travel scholarships for students interested in traveling to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with the Samford Theater Department.
Snyder’s script came from multiple inspirations, including tropes from classic murder-mystery party activities, character references from “Pride and Prejudice” and plot devices from “Knives Out.”
“It is about this novelist/journalist who [publishes] her fifth book,” Snyder explained. “This is the party that is going to be celebrating the release of that fifth book, but she dies five minutes before the party starts. So, she takes the audience back in time to solve the murder.”
Acosta described “Suspicious Minds” like if the board game “Clue” was combined with an escape room.
“The ‘suspects’ are around you the entire evening as well as all the clues you need to figure out the who, what, when, where, why and how of our murder,” Acosta said.
Throughout the night, audience members explored the set and interrogated the elaborately costumed cast about novelist Jane Abernathy’s death. As they saw fit, the characters of “Suspicious Minds” slowly unraveled their complicated histories, revealing clues that would ultimately result in the first audience member guessing Jane’s murderer correctly. Snyder, who acted as Jane’s daughter, Rose Abernathy, emphasized that it was the constant witty improvisations of the cast that made the play a hit.
“At the end of the show- I didn’t know this was going to happen- one character who was in a secret relationship with this other character literally got up in front of everybody and said, ‘I’m going to propose to my girlfriend!’ and I think I broke character, it was so funny,” Snyder said.
Acosta, who plays Darla in the production, also found the show’s unconventional improvisational style both a learning curve and a joy to participate in.
“I’ve never had a role that’s been complete improv before, so that’s been interesting trying to figure out, but I’m very happy with the character I landed on,” she said. “At the end of the day, I just want to make the audience smile and have fun with the crazy lady I created, and by golly I’m definitely having fun.”
Upcoming showings of “Suspicious Minds: An Interactive Murder Mystery Masquerade” will begin in Boren Courtyard Nov. 7, 8 and 9, and there will be a different murderer every night. Tickets can be found at Samford Theatre’s etix website.