Charleston seems to be developing its own little theater district. Mere footsteps from the Footlight Players Theatre and the Dock Street Theatre, there's a new kid in town — Black Fedora Comedy Mystery Theatre and Shoppe, now comfortably settled in a cozy space on Church Street.
Sherry and Darryl Wade aren't new to the business, but this is the first time they've had their own place to hang their hats — fedoras, if we're being specific. The move to Charleston came after they spent many years taking their mobile theater troupes to perform at colleges and corporations throughout Atlanta.
"Darryl would write scripts to personalize the company, and we would take a group of actors to a meeting, event, or dinner and typically kill off the boss and let the company work together to solve the mystery. It was a fun, team-building entertainment option for businesses in Atlanta," Sherry says.
Their shows have always been 75 percent comedy and 25 percent mystery, and they're sticking with that format in this new venture — only this time they're applying it to tourists and the local public. On entrance, audience members are given a game piece and are quizzed on the dozens of fictional detective photographs that decorate the walls. During the course of a two-hour show, snacks (from the likes of Pit Stop Deli and King of Pops) and drinks can be ordered, whether you're seated at one of the walled booths or intimate round tables that fill the space. And at the close of each show, it's up to the audience to solve the big puzzle before the answer is revealed in a humorous little ending.
But that's not all: there's a lot of audience interaction. "They're the stars of the show," Darryl says. "The first half of the show, there's some silliness and we show a comic video that's filmed with our actors. Then the audience knows the second half is their thing. Audience members have roles that they play. They stand up and say their lines and they interact with the actors as if they were an actor in the play."
The theater contains no stage as such, so the actors are right there with the audience. Don't worry though; the actors are sensitive to those who don't want to be part of a punchline. They make sure the audience always gets the last laugh.
Black Fedora actress Sarah Bishop, also known as French maid Yvette Fufu, says it's all about reading the audience. "You have to be able to connect with your audience individually. When you're doing a show at a traditional theater, they say to make sure you connect with your audience — but your audience is a dark oblivion. Here, it's more personal, and we can't be afraid to improvise when audience members chime in at parts that aren't written for them. You can either let it throw you off or you can respond in character, and that just makes it more fun."
Darryl and Sherry stress that the name of the game is silliness, but in the name of kindness. They sought out actors with not only presence but also big smiles. "No matter what part you're playing — a French maid or a redneck janitor — your personality comes out to the audience, and we ultimately want everyone to feel part of it," Darryl says.
Showing until the end of August is Inspector NoClue's Murdery Mystery, where attendees can guess whodunit, with what weapon, and what motive. They'll run this show while adding A Charleston History Mystery in October, and a kid-friendly Pirate Mystery Treasure Show in the spring. In the spirit of holiday silliness, A Sweet T. Christmas will launch at the end of the year.
Tickets for Inspector NoClue's Murder Mystery, and all future shows, can be booked at charlestonmysteries.com.