A sign outside the door boasted a not-so-reassuring message: “A little party never killed nobody.”
But stepping through the front door, guests were greeted by a man dressed like a vampire — and it quickly became clear that might not be the case.
This was no typical dinner party. Hays Community Theatre is hosting its annual murder mystery dinner events on four evenings this month and next.
Guests were assigned a character for Friday night’s event, and many of them dressed the part. They were greeted with the red carpet treatment, complete with flashing cameras and “paparazzi,” played by Hays High School drama students.
The setting was a prestigious awards banquet for the characters, who all were involved with make-believe charity organizations. The characters quickly became suspects, though, when the lights flickered off and on — only to reveal a dead body.
Nobody knew who the murderer was — not even the Hays Community Theatre actors, because the answer changes with every production. Teams quickly set to work solving riddles and following clues in hopes of catching the killer.
The script, “Clue to a Kill,” was created by a local writing group and provided a fun twist on the classic board game Clue. Characters, who doubled as team leaders, included the infamous Miss Scarlet, Colonel Mustard, Mrs. Peacock, Mr. Green, Mrs. White and Professor Plum.
The teams were color-coded based on their team leaders, and the bar even served up colorful, hand-crafted cocktails named in honor of the main suspects. Each team was given a few playing cards to begin narrowing down the list of suspects and murder weapons.
April Briney, of Hays, attended the event with her mother and her son. All three were part of Professor Plum’s team, which was in the lead mid-way through the event. Briney hurried from table to table, trading cards with the other teams in efforts to solve the crime -- in keeping with the board game theme.
“I’ve never been to anything like this,” Briney said.
Briney’s mother, Anita Soukup of Dorrance, said the event was a bit out of her comfort zone, but she was enjoying it.
“We have a good group,” she said of her sleuthing partners, noting the actors had kept them laughing. “I might even look forward to it next year.”
Just when it seemed the Plum team was on the cusp of cracking the case, ominous music sounded loudly in the banquet room, followed by smoke -- and another dead body.
In addition to detective skill practice, guests enjoyed a homemade dinner, cocktails and dessert: Cupcakes topped with small knives and red food coloring.
This weekend’s events were sold out, but another round of murder mystery dinners will be hosted the weekend of Nov. 17 and 18. The cost is $20 per ticket, and tickets will be available online at hctks.com.
All proceeds will benefit the nonprofit group’s efforts to improve its future downtown location on East Eighth Street. Hays Community Theatre recently acquired the former Eagle’s Lodge building, and renovations are ongoing. It’s hoped the new space will be finished in time for the November mystery dinners, said Pamela Grizzell, who helped organize the event and played Miss Scarlett.
The new location is larger than their current home on East 11th, and will provide opportunities for more in-house events.
“We’re really excited about it,” Grizzell said. “It has a metal roof we’re opening up, and we’ve already got hundreds of man hours in it. It’s going to be really cool.”