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Stealing the Scene

Mystery party creator says top-notch actors and customized whodunits are key to success.


The mystery about the ever-popular mystery parties is, who started them? That would be Santa Clarita resident Sean Wright--creator, writer, director and often performer in the Plot Thickens mystery train rides and parties.

According to Wright, who has been a researcher and writer for "Jeopardy," "Quiz Kids Challenge" and other game shows, he produced the first mystery train trip--from Los Angeles to San Francisco--in 1983. This garnered worldwide press coverage, and suddenly business was booming. He began working by appointment, creating mysteries to fit each client.

"My idea prompted many little theater groups around the country to get into the act," Wright said. "But they usually prepared one specific mystery at a given location." The same, he said, is true of of most of his competitors.

"My parties are different. I write the story for the people who hire me and I use good, professional actors. There is always a detective involved and it isn't always Sherlock Holmes," he said. "It can be Sam Spade, Lord Peter Wimsey, Hercule Poirot and Nick and Nora Charles. There are no TV detectives, no Columbo. We employ literary detectives, exclusively so."

Wright comes by this dramatic specialty naturally. He was founder, in 1970, of the local Sherlock Holmes Society, the Non-Canonical Calabashes. The group was a scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars, the national association that has about 300 groups throughout the country.

According to Wright, Dr. Watson insists that Holmes is now 144 and lives in Sussex, where he keeps bees. (No one has seen an obituary notice.)

Although Wright has been away from the Holmes group for six years, it was the events they held that led to his creation of the mystery parties.

In 1976, he decided to have members solve a murder mystery at a dinner in a Los Feliz restaurant. One of the members killed Wright's character when the lights were out.

The next year the society was kidnapped from the downtown bar where its members were meeting and taken by bus to the Big Yellow House restaurant in Summerland.

At another meeting, the guest speaker was kidnapped (he was in on the plot, fortunately). The people attending had to find the clues to solve the crime. The experience was so enjoyable that Wright continued these events. Word spread and soon he was creating murder mysteries for people not in the club.

That led to his 1983 mystery train trip, which proved so successful that it was followed by a four-day trip to the Grand Canyon.

Wright has done mystery parties for a single couple and for as many as 1,000 people. Clients have been IBM Real Estate, TRW Space and Defense Systems, Pacific Bell, Century Plaza Hotel, Embassy Suites, George Barris Ferrari Car Club and many more.

The mystery for the couple began at their home. Then they took a limousine to the Queen Mary and surrounding sites where they met the suspects, ending with a dinner at the Magic Castle.

At another private party, a man wanted to give his wife a $3,000 pearl necklace, so the clues were hidden around the house. A waiter revealed he was Sherlock Holmes and searched the home. It took an hour to find the necklace based upon the story Wright created.

In Valencia, an unusual mystery wedding involved 30 guests on horseback, because the couple had met at a riding stable. Just before the "I do's," someone grabbed the bride and rode off with her. The guests had to find her.

At Wright's mystery party for a brokerage firm, 1,000 employees had to solve a crime that took place at the dome of the Spruce Goose in Long Beach, done in conjunction with the promotion of the attraction.

While some of Wright's clients have been demanding, he has always been able to fill the bill.

"We've had lawyers call and want a Perry Mason story. One started at law offices downtown and then went to a mansion in Pasadena and had a dinner party. One of the actors was the murdered person at the office and then was seen again at the mansion as the twin brother." Wright played the judge and at first ruled for Perry Mason. "It was funny and the lawyers loved it," he says.

"I'm always writing a new mystery that reflects an aspect of your life or business and friends and employees. If someone has a hobby, I write it into the mystery. There are always funny things that occur. It moves action along, but we don't treat the production as a comedy. It's not a performance, it's environmental theater. We also do it to educate. There are usually 10 actors. A few die leaving many suspects."

The whole event, he added, is make-believe for adults, who are given various means of preparing themselves. "It's like you've read the first half of a mystery novel and you get to leap into the pages and become a character yourself."

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