Tag Archives: Murder

The Process

The set
The set

For some reason I like to creatively torment myself, or more accurately torment myself with creativity – you know, honor the masochist within. Such is the case with the story behind Bullets, Bounties, and Broken Hearts: a murder-mystery concocted for a dinner-theater/fundraiser done for the Peak Foundation. Warning: this non-profit peddles the crack-cocaine of theater to neophytes, and they do it well. The idea for BB & B arose after my first visit to the corner of Stage and Script. I was told it was a dangerous neighborhood; I didn’t heed the warning.

That first visit occurred last summer during Briar Rose. I must have hit my head on a rock after

In the Green Room
In the Green Room

diving head first into that project, because I got the idea to write and direct a creation of my own. After consulting with Laura, the head-mistress at Peak, the green light was given. A date and venue was set.

And then I waited. The clock ticked, the calendar turned. The general idea slipped through my brain folds, but the details eluded me. I didn’t panic, I procrastinated. I told myself I could start the script around Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving came, the ideas didn’t. It’s part of the process. The subconscious needs to percolate, I reminded myself. I’ve been there before, but experience does not alleviate the terror of trying to think and nothing happening.

One of the surprises, Kristi Thissle as Silent Sam.
One of the surprises, Kristi Thissle as Silent Sam.

In early December the water’s muddied when Tammy and I brainstormed and idea for a completely random

Tristan and Jayman, our techies.
Tristan and Jayman, our techies.

ending where even the actors wouldn’t know who was the perpetrator. Great idea, if cast members were masters of improv. Considering there wasn’t a cast, the idea was shelved. Or was it? It led to an important plot device.  I glowed in the false confidence of direction, but I still couldn’t put pen to paper.

Days turned to weeks. When questioned about the progress of the script, I lied. I didn’t want anyone else sharing the angst. In my darkest moments, I almost called Laura to beg for cancellation. As far as I knew, only her, my wife, and a handful of potential cast members knew of the planned show and audition dates. It wasn’t too late to wiggle out of the obligation without much humiliation.

As Christmas approached my to resistance to writing the script continued, until Monday December 22nd at 10:16 PM when I created a word document. A minute later magic happened. I would be remiss not admitting I had characters in mind. Madam Marcy, Lottie the Librarian (Who’s original name was Linda), Dudley Do-nothing, Winston Haigstrom (Haigstrom’s original first name was Walter – it may have been changed to obscure the character’s inspiration), and Reverend Righteous were written with local talent in mind. Silent Sam was a gift from the muse, in the original matrix of characters, he didn’t exist. Silent Sam snuck into the script much as he did onto the stage – his laugh announcing his presence. After two weeks of burning midnight oil a workable script was in hand.

The Station Agent... aka The Narrator
The Station Agent… aka The Narrator

You can read the first act here. Please heed the Script Nazi’s admonition: “No second act for you!” You wouldn’t want to know

Final Preparations on Opening Day.
Final Preparations on Opening Day.

who the murderer was anyway.

With a deep breath, I hid my insecurities and stepped into a role in which I had zero experience – directing. Yes, I’ve done the gunfights, but that’s street theater – street theater doesn’t count. Years of hockey and firefighting coaching gave me the confidence, while osmosis and pilfering the toolboxes of Briar Rose’s brain-trust provided the distinctions.

safe_imageAs audition night approached I was plagued with new worries. What if no one showed up? What if too many people tried out? It turned out that an expected body took a powder and two unexpected souls materialized. The arrival of the expected was accompanied with relief, in the absentees’ place stomach knots arose, and the unforeseen brought possibility. After auditions there was one role to fill, and though I didn’t want to act, I was prepared to step into the narrator role. After a barrage of emails and phone calls, Dudley Do-nothing’s real life wife stepped up. The cast was complete. I could concentrate on directing… and concocting a title. Notice the audition poster? No title. When I was grilled, Bullets, Bounties, and Broken Hearts flew out of my mouth, 10937465_833140336742148_1251811676_nbut I digress.

Dudley and Reverend Righteous
Dudley and Reverend Righteous

With the arrival of the first rehearsal came the first surprise. No Reverend Righteous. Facebook messages flew trying to track down the slippery seminarian. Where could he be? His alter-ego Matt Sibert is a dependable fellow. A picture of a nearly severed thumb arrived in my inbox. It appeared the reverend suffered an industrial accident. Not one to be sidelined by a ‘flesh wound’, Matt served double duty as the show’s special effects wizard. That he made an old railroad depot shake with the rumble of an approaching train and lit up a dark room with the lights of locomotives past was testament of his ability to bring words to life.

From the second rehearsal forward the production enjoyed cast integrity. With each passing rehearsal the bond between cast members deepened as they worked through blocking and script tweaks. Soon they were no longer seven people learning places and lines, but channels for characters struggling to emerge. Practice after practice character traits emerged. Though it was happening, their transformation was a work-in-progress.

Kris Gregory transforming into Madam Marcy.
Kris Gregory transforming into Madam Marcy.

Then a week before opening night, on a Thursday night, we hit our biggest bump. A

The next viral T-shirt?
The next viral T-shirt? Insult your friends with Lottie’s scandalous line; “Shut your cock holster!”

scheduling conflict with the venue left us high and dry mid-rehearsal. We were getting there, put I wasn’t comfortable where we were stood, especially loosing a run-through and an after-action review. After coarse venting on my part towards the powers-that-be, the cast agreed to an additional sacrifice – an extra night of rehearsals. We piggy-backed a Sunday night rehearsal onto the scheduled Monday night rehearsal to make up for lost time, and that’s when the real magic happened. Four run-throughs in a twenty-four hour period transformed their performance from gritty to artistry.

I’m sure some of that had to do with costuming. That’s where my wife stepped in, created her little shop of horrors, waved her

Tammy the artist.
Tammy the artist.

magic wand, and exercised the remainder of the characters from their hosts. The pictures reveal the mastery of her art. Tammy was also instrumental in transforming the normally sterile confines of the Alberton Community Center into cozy-confines for dinner theater.

Lottie the Librarian
Lottie the Librarian

Brooke Barnett, who played Lottie, doubled as the photographer. As you can see, she is a renascence woman. Actress, photographer, and the writer of our town’s coming summer production.

The PEAK Foundation can’t be thanked enough for their will, talents, and vision to bring the arts to a small mountain town in Montana. Without the organization the memories

Cast and crew
Cast and crew

created for the cast, crew, and most importantly, the supporters and fans who sold-out two shows, wouldn’t be possible. I had the easiest job, all I had to do was spin words and share a vision, the rest was up to the wizards who conjured them into reality. It’s the greatest thrill and honor a writer can have.


What Comes Around Goes Around… The Barroom Chronicles, Episode 6

It was bound to happen, the prankster got pranked.  Yes, I was the biggest fool this April 1st… actually, on the 2nd. Here is my story of  Just Deserts.

(Que Keith Morrison of Dateline) The morning began as so many others, with a trip down the creek and a stop at the local coffee shop.  It was a beautiful spring morning, if not brisk. Birds where busy dining while the dogs patrolled the streets.

(Cut to me, sweating, sitting in the interview chair)  When I first pulled up, I noticed something was wrong.  Sheriff’s department tape was strung across the deck. “Crime Scene – Do Not Cross,” it ordered.   A chalk outline of a body lay strewn across the deck.  Blood dried in the sun.

“What the… ” I mumbled. My mind raced. Ah shit, what happened? Wait, the date. It’s a joke. It’s an April  Fool’s joke. Hell, if something really happened, I would have gotten a call at home, I thought.  Relieved, I got out of my truck, stepped over the tape, and tromped across the deck and opened the door.

Crime Scene

The bar was trashed!  All the lights were left on; The TV’s were on; all the neons were glowing – even in the window; A couple of bar stools were laying on the floor.  Peanut shells littered the floor like dead soldiers.  Behind the bar, the contents of the Shake-a-day boot were scattered across the ground. Water was left in the sink. Dishes were unwashed. The tray to the till was upside down on the bar top. Half drank bottles of beer lingered here and there.

The scene was perfectly staged and I was standing in the middle of it thinking: Aw Shit, there was a fight, an attempted robbery, somebody got killed and I just contaminated the crime scene.  Yes, I know, I watch too much Investigative Discovery. Not thinking that I own the place and my DNA and fingerprints are everywhere, I realized I couldn’t use the phone.  I can’t use a cell phone, hell, I don’t have one.  This is rural Montana folks, and the town’s nickname is the vortex – in part because there’s no cell service.

In a moment of panic, I bolt from the bar and race next door to the Fat Belly Deli.  Doors are locked… It’s closed.  I run down the street to Ghost Rails Inn – the local bed and breakfast.  It’s locked up. No one’s around.  I look across the street at the town hall. I hate to do it, but I have to.

Disregard the Crucifixion in the background.

I compose myself and step inside. The clerk asked. “What happened at the bar?”

“I think someone got killed. But, I don’t know, I think it’s a joke, but it looks like a robbery. Do you have the Sheriff’s Department number?”

She hands me the phone and gives me the number.

I dial, dreading what I would learn.

“Sheriff’s Department,” the cheerful voice answered.

“Aw… ” I begin and tell her who I am. “I think there was a murder at my business last night, but it could be a joke. Did you have any calls?”

“What do you mean you there could have been a murder?”

“Was there any calls last night?” I insist.


“Can you check CAD?” I ask…  my wife used to be a 911 dispatcher, so I know the lingo, it makes me sound smart.

“Nothing happened,” the voice answered.

“I think I’ve been had. Sorry to bother you.”   I hand the phone back to the town clerk and do the walk of shame out of the town hall and across the street.

Inside the bar, away from the gawking eyes – I heard there was a buzz generated amongst the town’s senior citizens over the tape and chalked body – I learned that my detective skills need a little sharpening.   As I popped open the till to replace the tray, there was a big note proclaiming: “April Fools!”  And the chalk next to the till, looked suspiciously like the chalk used  to outline the body.I’m awaiting confirmation from the forensic’s lab if this was indeed the same chalk.

Laughing, I set about to cleaning up the crime scene. Hey, I appreciate the effort that went into the set up.

Did I mention that I have a phobia of rats and mice. They scare the living shit out of me, when I think of them, I get creeped out.  As I write this, I’m picturing a bunch of mice running across a floor and I’m skived out.  Knowing this, imagine my reaction when I bent down and was met with the grin of a big ole plastic rat.  I screamed like a little girl and managed a record for the over 40 high jump.

And you thought you had a tough Monday Morning.

A note to the perps:  Remember boys, what comes around goes around.  You’re fired!