Clued in for murder mystery theater

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Combine “The Breakfast Club” and “Clue” and you’ve got “The Shape of Murder.”

Written by a 2005 Prairie Ridge High School graduate, the play will be performed Aug. 23 as part of the first murder mystery dinner theater at McHenry High School West Campus. Because dinner is part of the show – to take place at 6:30 p.m. in the West Campus cafeteria – tickets must be pre-ordered by Aug. 12.

The cast of 10 and crew of about 20 students have spent the summer rehearsing, designing and helping to produce the show, utilizing both their creativity and independence.

“There was really very little to do because they were all so willing to take more of an active role in putting the production together,” said Angie Kells, theater director for McHenry’s District 156. “They’ve all really been designing and creating and running with it.”

Kells sought out Chicago actor and playwright Bill Daniel, having known him since his days in Prairie Ridge theater productions. Daniel, 27, had spent the past year writing a 10-minute play every day, and his creations have appeared in Chicago theaters and most recently at the Woodstock Opera House.

Kells had wanted to add a third production to McHenry’s theater schedule, which also includes a fall play and spring musical.

She knew the school had never tried a dinner theater before and thought it would be a fun challenge.

“I asked Bill if he’d be willing to write something,” Kells said. “He came back a month later and [said], ‘Is this OK?’ And it was perfect. It’s G-rated, nothing gory, something for students to do, to sink their teeth into and have some fun with.”

The play focuses on a group of eight students in detention trying to figure out who shredded the costume of the school’s mascot, the Warrior.

“By the end of detention, they have to figure out who killed the high school mascot [costume] or they’re going to be expelled,” said Daniel, whose collection of three one-act plays recently were performed as part of TownSquare Players’ Phoenix Workshop, “Sitting at the Kids’ Table,” at the Woodstock Opera House.

“I tried to write something I thought high school students could manage, but as close to a Chicago show as possible. I guess in a way it’s a training ground for high school students. ... As a high school student, I remember thinking it’d be great to write a show and then do it, so I guess I’m living through these high school students.”

Daniel’s most recent work was a television pilot called “Cowl Girl” that he’s hoping gets picked up by a network. The comedy-inspired sitcom mixes ‘80s pop culture, sci-fi, comic book heroes and references to a Pee-Wee Herman doll.

In Daniel’s “The Shape of Murder,” similar to “The Breakfast Club,” each student takes on a somewhat stereotypical role, such as the “book worm” played by 17-year-old McHenry West senior Emma Linder.

The students were given freedom to shape their characters, picking their own costumes and such. They also did their own theater warm-ups and activities, practicing improv and vocal warm-ups before rehearsals.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever done something like this at West Campus, so it’s kind of like the prototype play,” Linder said.

“All the kids there are really just trying their best to make a good show.”

The goal is to make the show, or some version of it, an annual tradition, perhaps rotating between dinner theater and student-directed one-act plays, Kells said.

Because rehearsals took place throughout the summer, more time was available to flush out the production.

“This one was a nice stepping stone,” she said. “Next year, I could see it expanding.”

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