In a recent premiere production of "Another Fistful of Bullets" at The Greenhouse of Teays Valley, a tyrannical director attempts to push the production of a western, despite cast infighting, a mixed bag of actors, a schedule- and budget-obsessed executive producer and an extravagant costume mistress. Everyone has a motive for murdering anyone else who's holding up the film's production.
Snider departed from his more common role of detective to play a cowboy who disrupts production by bumbling into scenes and muffing his lines. Colin Westwood, who teaches elementary school in Kentucky, played Detective Ellery King. Westwood has acted in community theater before and approached Snider six months ago with a request to join the Murder and Merriment crew.
"He asked me a lot of questions -- I think to see how quick I was on my feet," Westwood said.
Megan Mace, who played the lovely but high-maintenance star, is an information management specialist for the 130th Air Lift Wing, West Virginia Air National Guard, in Charleston. This was her first leading role after joining the troupe in April.
"I was in the audience at a performance and thought it looked like fun. After the show, I talked to George about joining," said Mace, who had performed in many productions in high school. "It's so much fun. You get to be someone you're not. You step out of reality."
The actors come from many different professions, usually unrelated to theater. Teachers, business owners, a funeral director and university employees all act with his troupe. The impromptu performances fit well for people who enjoy acting but don't have time for the long hours of rehearsal required for traditional theater productions.
The actors are paid for their performances but say they do it for fun. Hosts pay Murder and Merriment based on the size of the audience. The troupe performs for fundraisers, corporate functions and eclectic groups. Amazon.com recently booked them as a team-building tool. Employees were divided into groups of three and competed to guess the murderer.
Snider encourages hosts to serve dinner or heavy hors d'oeuvres.
"People like to eat and drink. It makes a fun, well-rounded party," he said. Although the food sometimes distracts the guests from the action, "We have actors intermingle and keep them engaged."
Snider formed Murder and Merriment in 2010, but has acted in murder parties for 20 years. He and a group of friends held dinner parties at each others' homes and improvised murder mysteries together. He first acted when he was 6 years old and enjoyed community theater roles for years after.
He's also written five movie scripts. Only one is a murder mystery, but Hitchcock-style mysteries remain his favorite genre, in part because audience participation occurs naturally.
"We consider the evening a success if people are laughing and having a good time. They can forget their problems or the day they had at work," he said. "Murder parties are a great first date and are better than an office party where everyone talks about work. We just want you to sit back, enjoy and have fun."
For more information on Murder and Merriment, call 304-634-8581 or email murderandmerrim...@gmail.com.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.