By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer– May 13 through 15, Moe’s Music Store will be the setting for Closer to Heaven, an interactive murder mystery and an 80’s party. In partnership with Master Mystery Productions, a fun-filled unique evening is planned. The doors open at 7pm and the action starts at 7:30pm. Your $25 ticket gets you a seat for the show, food, live music, dancing, a photo booth, prizes, entry in a costume contest if you wish and a chance to guess “Who Done It.” For $35 you get VIP seating behind a velvet rope, all of the above plus show merchandise.
“I just love performing arts,” says Burroughs graduate Daniel Stallings, founder of Master Mystery Productions. “I love that it’s so deep and rich in this town. It is not something that we have to necessarily fight to have. It’s always here and that’s what makes it so special.”
Since its opening, Moe’s Music has been an avenue for local creatives. Stallings says, “I wanted to do something that’s a little bit more pop culture, a little bit more recent, a little bit less buttoned up, and Moe’s gives us the chance to do that freely.” He adds, “Moe’s gives a lot of locals not only access to wonderful music, but also for locals who perform, who are musicians, a space to play. It’s lovely to see acts that aren’t usual or traditional or what we always expect. What I love about most about working with them is that we could do something different than the norm. We could do something that was much louder, brighter, trashier … all that kind of stuff that we don’t usually get as our commissions at Master Mystery Productions. We usually get formal, traditional murder mystery setups.”
Stallings elaborates, “How I define interactive is obviously some form of audience participation, but we don’t do it necessarily where the audience is always the suspect. It depends on the client, the venue and what we’re planning on doing. In some cases, it’s playing a game, sometimes it’s just watching the show and filling out a ballot, sometimes it’s being the actual suspect. For Closer to Heaven, it’s going to be a more traditional ballot form. So everybody gets a ballot, fills it out at the end of the show and and then we announce a winner. It’s all fun stuff.”
As a Ridgecrest native, Burroughs High School Drama Department made a profound impact on Stallings, “Parker Performing Arts Center has a special place in my heart because it is where I found my tribe; that is where I found my people, my world, and I never left it.” He learned all aspects about theater production and specialized in publicity. He still enjoys designing show posters today.
His journey into mystery writing began as a teenager when he would write mysteries for his parties. He went on to become a published author with two books published by Pace Press a division of Lindin Publications. Taking inspiration from one of his favorite authors, Agatha Christie, Stallings set his Lee Johnson Murder Mysteries in an unconventional place, a grocery store in Southern California. His books are Sunny Side Up and Clean Up On Aisle Six.
His first interactive mystery was a 1920’s themed party for his aunt’s Red Hat Society party. She wanted to host a mystery party and was planning to buy one. Stalling’s dad told her “You know, your nephew professionally writes murder mysteries and he’s published.” And Stallings had his first commission. Now he gets commissions from all over the West Coast. Folks find him on his webpage: mastermysteryproductions.com. For seven years thus far, he has been kept pretty busy in locations including Sacramento, Garden Grove, Las Vegas, Lone Pine, and Death Valley.
Closer to Heaven is set in a 1980’s nightclub where nightclub owner, Dawn Schuyler, played by Leslie Blake, is one person who escaped from a notorious serial killer. “She was left with a halfmoon scar on her cheek from the encounter. She decides in order to stop him once and for all she will throw a Moonlight Madness Party at her club (which we’re all attending) in order to lure him out of hiding and trap him,” says Stallings. “It’s not very formal, like sitting watching The Sound of Music on stage, you’re part of the action without actually having to know lines or being in character and stuff like that. We act throughout the audience. We act around the room; we’ll have all sorts of little secret moments hidden throughout the party.” Ridgecrest 80’s cover band, Hot Tub Metal Machine, plays the role of house band and during intermission they will continue to play to keep the party going.
Come as you are or wear your favorite 80’s costume. There are wide choices for those who don’t remember, “A giant side ponytail and leg warmers, you can be more like Michael Jackson in Thriller, Don Johnson in Miami Vice or Madonna.”
Tickets are available at Red Rock Books for Closer to Heaven, the 29th production of Master Mystery Productions.