Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion Terri Zopf-Shoessler, in the role of playwright Olivia Davis-Bascombe, expounds her idea for a murder mystery to skeptical cast members (left to right) Daniel Rozak, Terri Burdick, Ian McEwen, and Jamie Nelson during a dress rehearsal of Mike Druce's dinner theater production "The Show Can't Go On (But it must)" on Wednesday, Oct. 12 at the Kenai Senior Center.

Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion Terri Zopf-Shoessler, in the role of playwright Olivia Davis-Bascombe, expounds her idea for a murder mystery to skeptical cast members (left to right) Daniel Rozak, Terri Burdick, Ian McEwen, and Jamie Nelson during a dress rehearsal of Mike Druce's dinner theater production "The Show Can't Go On (But it must)" on Wednesday, Oct. 12 at the Kenai Senior Center.

Kenai Performers’ murder mystery takes a new twist

Hilarity, murder and gentle mocking of the dinner theater genre itself will ensue in the Kenai Performers’ next murder mystery production this weekend.

For $40, theater lovers can enjoy a dinner theater production written and directed by Mike Druce as a joint fundraiser with Kenai Senior Connection, with doors opening at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Kenai Senior Center. Dinner will be served at 7 p.m. and the show will start at 8 p.m.

In Druce’s latest piece written for the Kenai Performers, “The Show Can’t Go On! … BUT IT MUST!” a group of actors prepare for a murder mystery they were hired to perform until their director is thrown in jail for plagiarizing the script. The actors have limited time to come up with a new production, Druce said, so mishaps and mystery will ensue from there in the two-act production.

This is a slightly different angle than Druce said he has taken with the seven or so other productions he has written for the group. While he normally sticks to a rough formula of an hour-long show with about 10 actors, there is plenty of room for tweaks and changes once a production goes live in a dinner theater setting, he said.

“There’s a lot of adaptation,” Druce said. “I try to come up with different stories every year and go in a different direction.”

This time around, Druce said he tried to be a bit self-deprecating in poking fun at dinner theater and the fact that, generally, what can go wrong will. He said it’s been fun watching the 11 actors breathe life into his words in their own way and bring suggestions and interpretations to the table he hadn’t had in mind while writing.

Throughout the rehearsals leading up to a performance, actors will add certain lines or extra bits that end up making the production better and get included in the final draft sent off to be published, Druce said.

“For me this really is a collaborative effort,” Druce said. “When you kind of allow for that to happen, people just really make this come alive.”

Several of the actors, and even Druce, wear multiple hats in the weeks and months leading up to the performance, said Donna Shirnberg, a cast member and the show’s producer. She will both act in the play and produce it, working behind the scenes to print tickets, secure volunteers and generally make sure the production goes off without a hitch.

Some of the actors, including Druce, helped with set design for this weekend’s show, she said.

“Even the director sometimes has to throw down,” she quipped.

It all comes back to a saying that actors will do anything to be on stage, she said. Shirnberg originally stepped into the role of producer last year when she saw the need.

“No one can be on stage if you don’t have the people in the background to put on the production,” Shirnberg said.

Shirnberg said she was motivated to get more involved by the fact that half the funds raised by the dinner theater go to Kenai Senior Connection to help out with needs like transportation.

Over the years, the dinner theater shows put on by the Kenai Performers have cultivated a loyal following and most people know what to expect by now, Druce said. This year, people were asking about how to buy tickets before Shirnberg had even printed them, she said.

“I hope what they expect is to come and be entertained, and that’s really our goal,” Druce said.

Tickets for the murder mystery are available at River City Books in Soldotna, the Kenai Senior Center and Curtain Call Consignment Boutique in Kenai. For more information, visit the Kenai Performers’ Facebook page.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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