The pandemic isn’t preventing a local theater troupe from getting away with murder.
The Butler Did It Players, formed in the spring of 2017, produces interactive, murder mystery dinner theaters. The professional theater troupe usually hosts its shows, which benefit nonprofits, in restaurants. It has found success with its mix of interaction, mystery, drama and comedy, often selling out its shows.
Troupe co-founder Tanya M. Roy said the troupe’s success has proven there was a local need for such an interactive troupe with a genre that’s popular in other parts of the country.
“People have come to our shows from the Midwest states, Texas and the eastern seaboard,” Ms. Roy said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would reach people who live outside of New York City — and especially outside of upstate New York.”
So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit with its related stay-at-home orders, The Butler Did It Players adjusted by producing and presenting its shows remotely, presenting “Mafia Murders” in May “Operation Murder “ on June 13. Because of their success, the shows will be repeated on Sunday and on July 12.
“The first show we had to cancel was in March, two weeks after schools and things started shutting down,” Ms. Roy said. “We book six months to a year in advance and we held out hope that we could do April, and then May. At that point, we realized we weren’t going to be able to do our June show.”
The troupe went online instead, using the Zoom platform as its actors performed the shows’ story line from their homes. “Operation ... Murder” was written specifically for the Zoom platform. “Mafia Murders” has been done live by the troupe.
“The response has been good enough from people interested in attending these online shows that we’ve decided to put out more through the end of August,” Ms. Roy said.
The next two shows are scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday for “Mafia Murders” to benefit Watertown Lyric Theater and at 8 p.m. Sunday, July 12 for “Operation ... Murder” to benefit Little Theatre of Watertown.
“They work very much like our in-person shows,” Ms. Roy said. “The story line is a little bit different every time, the killer will be different and sometimes the person who dies is different.”
Earlier this year, “Mafia Murders” was the first virtual murder mystery the troupe performed.
“People who have attended one previously could attend one of these, and the experience will be a little bit different,” Ms. Roy said.
The format is a different way to tell stories, but Ms. Roy said the players have adjusted well. Two technology persons work behind the scenes for each online show.
“They definitely have aspects to it that we enjoy, and then there are the technical parts that we didn’t anticipate,” Ms. Roy said.
Like live shows, each virtual show requires rehearsals.
“We have to run several rehearsals, not only for the theatrical aspect, but to make sure we all have the same backgrounds and our computers will display those backgrounds,” Ms. Roy said. “Everyone uses a green screen and a background that’s very similar so it looks like we’re all in the same room.”
But Ms. Roy has found tech issues cropping up they didn’t anticipate.
“For example, someone’s fan kicks in on their computer and we can hear that. And we found that we need people to use ear buds because there’s feedback. Now that we have a good idea of how it all works and we know what everybody’s tech capabilities are, it’s a little bit easier.”
“Mafia Murders,” first performed as dinner-theater in 2017, was re-written for the Zoom platform.
“As we were rehearsing it, we realized there are things we have to incorporate that you don’t have to include when you’re live,” Ms. Roy said. “For example, if you’re having a conversation with someone and if they would normally huff and stomp away, they’d have to have an auditory reaction to you.”
Finding solutions for such kinks, Ms. Roy said, are all part of the creative process.
“It’s been fun to work out these kinks in creative ways, which is one of the reasons why we decided to do this,” she said.
“We’re all creative and artistic people and we didn’t have an outlet. We didn’t have a way to work with other artists and creators. This is as much for us as it is for our audiences.”