As a broadcaster, Della Freedman – long affiliated with Charlotte's WFAE-FM (90.7) – abhors “dead air.”
“Dead space” however, is essential to the company she owns and operates: About Town Tours is an on-the-road troupe that stages interactive, you-solve-it murder mysteries in the Carolinas and adjacent states.
Country clubs, collegiate activity coordinators, corporate team-building managers and event coordinators hire Freedman's crew to recap the plot-so-far – the dastardly dispatching of so-and-so – then the actors, each in character, circulate among customers' tables to answer any questions that may provide clues. Can they deduce the murderer?
It's kind of like speed dating with a homicidal twist.
Two murder scenarios are offered in November – “Death is a Cabernet, Old Chum” and “Gobble Gobble, Death and Trouble.” There are about 14 story lines in the repertoire.
There's never an actual corpse present, though: “I'm too frugal to pay someone to lie on the ground for 2 1/2 hours,” Freedman says. “I tell my clients that this is a ‘real' murder mystery – that the murder has already happened. And that they have to work at that.”
Here's how she takes death on the road.
Find the (auto)motive: “The group is now about 22 actors, and for any one show, I'll use six to eight of them. I'll get a booking, send out a notice to see who's available. Whoever responds, I'll book for the show and give them the notes for their parts.
“We try to carpool as much as possible. Always have. One actor has a van that can carry up to seven people. If he's available and agreeable, he'll drive and I'll reimburse him. Otherwise, we try to go in no more than two cars. When we played Savannah, Ga., I rented a van.
“If the destination is more than a two-hour drive, we get them to pay overnight expenses and we'll party that night. You learn that in Boone, there's really not any place to party. You also learn what traffic is like on the two-lane highway to Roaring Gap: We were 90 minutes late getting there.”
Unexpected developments: “Last year, we were meeting at University Place to carpool to a show at a college – and one actor didn't show up. I couldn't get ahold of him on his cell phone. Even his girlfriend didn't know where he was. We sent the others ahead because we were already an hour late. I had to go home, get the information for his part, and go to the show. I told the audience his character was detained – still being interrogated by the police – and found a different way to deliver his information.”
The butler did it (maybe): “We did a show at Carolina Lakes at Sun City, S.C., that had to do with a card magician. This lady in the audience kept saying, ‘I want to talk to the bartender!' Thing was, there was no bartender in the story line.
“We've played country clubs where people didn't let us know in advance there was a potential ringer in the audience. Once we had a judge and sheriff sitting at the same table. They asked all these forensic-type questions – and they still couldn't figure it out. The actors did quite well!”
Favorite haunts, guilty pleasures: “When possible, we take the time to enjoy where we play.
“We've been to Brevard College four times – and learned they have really cool-looking white squirrels up there. Also in Brevard, we took side trips to Hendersonville, which has a really neat Main Street with quaint shops, as well as Flatrock Playhouse – a fabulous place with a regular theater and a children's theater. Another time at Brevard we visited Chimney Rock. I love that area. There's so much to see up there.
“Wilmington also has lots to see – the Cape Fear River, the ocean and a charming downtown with many great seafood restaurants. One along the Riverwalk area, Elijah's, was great.
“Childress Vineyards, in Lexington, is gorgeous. The building itself is fantastic – it looks like an old lodge, with beautiful hardwood walls and ceilings. You eat where the steel wine barrels are. The place has an amazing feeling inside. It's tasteful and gorgeous; no money was spared putting this together.
“We'll be at Iron Gate Winery, in Mebane, for Halloween. The winery was once a tobacco farm. In the years since it has been a winery, the owner has built a good business. Our show sells out immediately. This will be our fifth time there.”
“I love Savannah, and a university there paid for our overnight. The squares are fabulous and the downtown is laid out so perfectly. The riverfront has every kind of shop and restaurant you could imagine, including Kevin Barry's Irish Pub. I love the decor – it reminds me of Ireland. The food is delicious and the service is amazing.
“Rome, Ga., is an interesting place. We played Berry College there, and I kind of felt like I was back in time – like in Mayberry with wider streets. A movie theater was showing ‘Gone With the Wind.' Atop a big hill above Main Street was a cemetery. And this being Rome, there was a statue of Romulus and Remus – the twins who, according to myth, founded ancient Rome.”