The Dinner Detective

Dinner and a DeathEvery Saturday night for the last four years, terrific meals at the Des Moines Embassy Suites have been interrupted with a murder or two. The Dinner Detective performs their mystery-comedy show each week (most for the public, occasionally for private events), serving up a four-course menu to die for… plus another victim or two for the audience to witness and determine the killer!

The Scene of the Crime

Heidi BiblerHeidi Bibler is the current coordinator for the Des Moines version of The Dinner Detective, as well as a performer for the group. “Dinner Detective has been around for about four years in Des Moines, but overall has existed in other cities for over the past fourteen years. I had actually never heard of Dinner Detective prior to getting involved with the company. It was through a mutual theatre friend that I met Rebecca Masucci, the On-Site coordinator for the DM Dinner Detective at the time, who introduced me to the show and then brought me on board as one of the actors. I have now taken over her role, and I love it!”

Held at the Embassy Suites hotel on the east side of Des Moines, each evening’s guests are treated to a delicious meal during which the events of the murder take place. Guests are served h’ors d’eourves as they arrive, and encouraged to mingle and meet their fellow attendees. Typically at some point shortly thereafter, a murder is discovered and clues are doled out by the actor(s) playing the Detective. As patrons take their seats and the salad course is served, diners are then encouraged to talk to their fellow tablemates, as one (or more) of them could very well have a motive for the crime.

Dinner is servedThe main dish arrives (choice of chicken, pork, or a vegetarian pasta dish) as does a potential second murder! More clues are revealed to examine and explore. By the end of the evening, there is both dessert and a revelation, and the murderer is discovered, and a prize awarded to that evening’s top guest sleuth. Throughout the events, there is a cash bar available to order drinks and perhaps loosen the lips of one of the suspects along the way….

Acting for your Supper

Murder-Mystery Dinner Theatres have proven popular for many groups, as the genre is both fun and engaging. While some of these (such as the upcoming Dinner at 8, Dead by 9 from Ankeny Community Theatre) are done as one-off fundraisers for local groups, The Dinner Detective is its own entity, solely concerned with providing the experience of sleuthing and savoring a murder and a meal. With a continuing troupe of local actors who are NOT identified at the beginning of the evening, you never know if the unknown person at your dinner table is just another guest, a potential victim… or the killer!

Dinner actress“We have a little over twenty actors within our Des Moines cast, and we ask that each actor be available for at least half the shows per month,” reports Bibler. “Many times the actors will be assigned a couple roles per month, it simply depends on the scheduling of shows and availability of the actors. We have nine roles cast for each show, plus two on-call’s in case of emergencies, similar to an understudy role for a play. Therefore, for each show we need at least eleven available actors.” (Bibler herself has rotated out of the show briefly, as she is currently part of the ensemble cast in Ordinary Days at Tallgrass Theatre Company, but she will return to perform in The Dinner Detective once that show concludes.)

Whodunnit?Guests typically just watch and investigate, observing and talking with their fellow party members. While there is plenty of mingling and questioning of people along the way for everyone, some in the audience may become more involved. Remember, the “actors” aren’t necessarily identified at the beginning of the evening. In addition to the regular “meal and a show” ticket, there are various specialized “packages” that patrons can purchase that will put them in the spotlight. Bibler explains, “The packages allow them to be an integral part of the show, as they become key suspects in the crime. Usually, however, the suspects do not know that they will even be involved! It is typically a family member or friend who buys the package for his/her loved one, who will then become a suspect for the evening.”

Planned and Plotted

It’s important to note that The Dinner Detective is quite an established operation, presented in over 60 cities across the country, and the mysteries are well-thought out and presented. They have the advantage of having been refined and polished in other cities, in other performances. “The wonderful thing about Dinner Detective is that no matter which city you visit, you can rest assured that you are getting the same authentic experience of a Dinner Detective show no matter where you go,” says Bibler. “Because the scripts and resources are the same in each city, some of our cast in Des Moines have actually performed in other cities as well, such as Cedar Rapids and Omaha. Similarly, we have also had cast members who have previously performed in other cities and states that held Dinner Detective shows, such as Chicago or Denver.”

Detective HolidayTo provide some continuity to the performances, a particular mystery script is usually performed for six months or so. Titles are listed on their website for each performance, so you can see the current show and schedule accordingly to see a new story and murder as they are switched out. Also, The Dinner Detective holds a Halloween show in October where guests are encouraged to come in costume, and there is usually a bit of a holiday theme to their shows in the winter.

A Private Little Murder

Most events are for the public, but occasionally various groups and companies “buy out” a performance for an organization as a private show (these are also marked as such on the Dinner Detective website). Some of these shows have specific themes as well. I asked Bibler if there was any other difference between these two types of shows. 

Detective at Work“A typical public show in Des Moines performs for around 70 guests. We can host between 30 to 400 guests for public shows, and between 15 and 600 guests for private shows. The main difference takes into account the audience for which we are catering that evening’s show. For example, if the actors playing our two Detectives know more about the company or organization, then can then use that information in their comedic bits throughout the night to create a more genuine connection with their audience.”

“Another difference between public and private show is that in private shows, the company/organization can choose to have one of their own participate by playing the first victim of the evening! The first victim gets to die a glorious death, which is the precursor for the official murder investigation of the evening. It’s a pretty fun part to play as an audience member!”

Whether victim or sleuth, a lively time is had by all (excepting maybe the dead body) when you go enjoy The Dinner Detective. Performances are generally scheduled for every Saturday evening throughout the year (either public or private), and information and tickets are available at the Des Moines section of The Dinner Detective website. Enjoy delicious food, determine the clues, and deduce who did the deadly deed… all before dessert. And take your place amongst the greatest detectives of all.

Dinner Detective Heidi Bible Rebecca Masucci