Jason Steele

A passion for murder

For a woman who was once “strangled” with a string of Christmas lights, Erna Soderberg has an endless appetite for murder mysteries.

For a woman who was once “strangled” with a string of Christmas lights, Erna Soderberg has an endless appetite for murder mysteries.

As a Red Deer cast member with the Terry Shane Murder Mysteries company, Soderberg has played various made-up characters that mingle with guests at corporate functions, private parties and receptions.

Sometimes she’s the murder “victim” who stages over-the-top death scenes for laughs.

“I stagger around and eventually fall down dead. Absolutely, I (milk it) as much as possible,” said Soderberg, with a chuckle.

Other times she mills around a crowd in the guise of a colourful suspect, such as fortune teller Karma Mystikka or travel agency owner Mary Holiday.

Throughout the evening, she drops hints or red herrings so real party guests can try to solve the “murder.”

“You say things like, ‘I hate my husband or daughter,” or “I’m having an affair with the chef,’” said Soderberg, a retired government worker and Central Alberta Theatre member. “It’s a blast …

“At the beginning, some people will be backing away from you because they think it’s stupid, or they’d rather visit with a friend,” she added, “but they all warm up pretty soon.”

Red Deer has certainly warmed up to the concept of murder mysteries as an entertaining ice-breaker at parties.

The 24-year-old Calgary-based Terry Shane company, which also runs murder mystery nights in Edmonton and Vancouver, recently opened a Red Deer division because there was so much business in Central Alberta.

“Red Deer beats all of our cities,” said company owner Janet St. Germain of Calgary, who noted in the peak October to December period, there were eight murder mystery bookings for Red Deer, and more in communities such as Innisfail, Olds and Lacombe.

She can’t explain the local popularity, except to surmise there might be less competition for party novelties here.

Opening a Red Deer division made sense because it reduces travel costs, said St. Germain.

And, since Calgary and Edmonton actors won’t have to be brought in, it’s freed up the larger city divisions to focus on their own audiences.

“The talent pool in Red Deer has been wonderful and the feedback has been very favourable,” she added.

Shortly after being hired last fall as Red Deer’s murder mystery producer, Jason Steele assembled a list of about 20 local actors he knows through Central Alberta Theatre and the former Ignition Theatre.

He draws from this talent pool to line up the five to eight actors each murder mystery requires.

Customers can pick from about 20 story lines, including crimes of the heart, mafia murders, a high school reunion and hillbilly wedding.

“There’s even one script where … everybody is dead by the end of it,” said Steele, with a chuckle. Improvising actors have to stay on their toes.

For instance, when stage guns don’t fire, Steele recalled once having to pretend “I was clubbed to death with a gun.”

There’s always a detective called Terry Shane, who’s usually undercover.

But when a supposed murder happens, he reveals himself and starts investigating, added Steele, who started acting with the company a couple years ago to inject fun into his life, and relieve stress from his job as a police dispatcher.

While most party business crops up around Christmas, Steele said there are some jobs at wedding receptions, workshops and corporate team-building functions.

The local Terry Shane Murder Mystery players have also been asked to entertain on the Alberta Prairie Railway steam train tours in Stettler on Sept. 7, 19 and Oct. 12.

More information is available from www.terryshanemurdermysteries.ca.


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