The Roaring Twenties mystery fundraiser was a success. It had the biggest turnout to a local event that I’d seen, it made money, and people had fun. At least, they had fun to the extent that the evening met their expectations. The people with no expectations and those who were willing to get into the spirit of the game had the most fun. Those who expected to sit and watch a play were not quite as satisfied.
People’s comments to me revealed their expectations, and said more about them than it did about my writing. Some people said I did great, and I could see they meant it. Some people avoided me. Others damned me with faint praise: “It was good for a first attempt.” Or “You’ll do better next year.” Others said it was fun, but that they couldn’t hear most of the play.
A friend warned me about this — how nerve wracking it was for scriptwriters who had to sit back and see their dialogue not working the way it was supposed to. I’d glibly responded to him, “If it doesn’t work, I’ll get to blame the role-players for not doing their job of engaging the audience.”
And so it was.
Few people, even those to whom I had explained the concept, got the point — that it was a game, a role-playing game, with some scripted parts to keep things going. Everyone who came was supposed to play a role, and to that end, each had been given a cheat sheet with a bit about their character. For example: You bet on Sugar Beet since it was supposed to be a sure thing, and now you think Mr. Big sold you out. Or You strongly approve of the suffragette movement, and you think flirts like Poppy give women a bad name.
The people who played the various scripted characters were supposed to sit among those without lines and get them involved. Only a couple of women did this, and did it admirably, but I could see the strain it was for them since so few responded to their attempts. Some of the younger people who volunteered to play a part were great, but others huddled in a corner with their friends instead of getting the non-scripted folks to participate, and they kept sitting when they too-quietly spoke their lines rather than standing up when they were supposed to speak.
After the murder, non-scripted people were supposed to have been interrogated, but that part was dropped, maybe because of the problem with getting attendees into the spirit of the game.
I’d thought that during the event the characters would become less my creation and more theirs as they adlibbed, took things further than what I had suggested, and got other non-scripted guests to participate. None of that happened. And since I wasn’t one of those who were supposed to be chivvying others into participating, there was nothing I could do about it. Nor was there anything I could do about lost lines, swallowed punchlines, clues that no one could hear, participants with jitters and nerves, and people who wanted to do things their own way.
That the evening was a success was due to the efforts of those who did get into the spirit of the thing and who so wonderfully (and in the case of the bartender, so chillingly, and in the case of the jockey, so charmingly) delivered their lines.
From a personal standpoint, I enjoyed the evening. It was interesting to see how far I had come in the eleven months since I’d moved here — how many people I knew or recognized, how many people knew or recognized me.
From an author standpoint, it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable, mostly because of my own expectations. The game never took on a life of its own, as I had hoped. I’d seen it as sort of a flash mob thing, where scripted characters, seemingly from the audience, would jump in with their lines as if on the spur of the moment, which never happened because of the aforesaid huddling. And I woefully overestimated how many attendees would get into the speakeasy attitude and play along. (I should have known what would happen when only a smattering of people with non-scripted lines made any effort to dress the part.)
So what’s the solution? Insist on having greater control of the process? But then, this wasn’t really about me as an author, but about the community. Give explicit instructions to the scripted players, making sure they sit among the “audience,” and write additional lines so they aren’t expected to adlib? When people make a reservation, ask if they are willing to say a few lines, and then give them specific things to say? Wait to see who shows up in costume, and give those people lines? The characters who were the most enthusiastic and who really carried the evening were those who had been coopted almost at the last minute, so is the solution to coopt more people like these, people with big voices and bigger personalities? Or is the answer to give up on the idea of an interactive experience and give people the play they expected?
But then, that raises the question: Is this who we have become? A people who would rather simply sit and watch rather than get involved?
I don’t know the answer, and I don’t need to since my scriptwriting days are done.
Besides, the evening really was a success, and in the end, that’s all that counts.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.