I had a mostly new crop of actors this time around. Only two of twelve had worked with me before. After so many years with experienced young collaborators, I had to relearn how to teach my devising process.
I came in open to writing whatever play the process came up with. The kids advocated for a murder mystery. I hesitated. Every high school seems to do these. While fun puzzles, these tend to be stage candy, and I didn’t want to make another version of something that already exists.
Then I thought, well, what happens if the mystery I make is THE MOST MURDER MYSTERY MURDER MYSTERY? The, well, Titanic of murder mysteries. And thus we started to build SINK! A Titanic Murder Mystery.
Set aboard the Titanic and at times seeming to be a parody of the James Cameron film, someone takes advantage of the iceberg distraction. When the ship starts to sink, the stakes are raised – no murderers allowed on the lifeboats, they gotta solve it.
While on the surface, it’s a traditional locked-room mystery, entirely predictable, the project of this play is examine the construction of murder mysteries themselves. We intentionally evoke, reference, call into question, and/or subvert Sherlock Holmes, film noir / The Maltese Falcon, Columbo and Murder She Wrote, Clue, even the true crime media like the Serial Podcast. CSI was also part of the intermission, but we had to scrap that. Literary references are tossed about. Hell, this play even teaches stage etiquette.
And if an audience learns that every actor is either a detective, a murderer, or a murder victim, they may be able to solve the puzzle at intermission.
This is a play that requires designers to do gobs of research, so I was lucky to have a crew of techs who were eager for such things.
Once I do a post-show draft, I’ll create a page for it and post it to the New Play Exchange.
Pictures by me, Ariel, and a student.