Today we have Nancy McKay from Byron Public Library (IL) talking about her murder mystery event.
Are you looking for a killer event for teens at your library? Then perhaps a murder mystery event would be right for you!
Before you begin, preparation is critical. Picking an appropriate theme is your first step, and when I first began planning my first mystery event, I discovered the company Playing with Murder (https://www.playingwithmurder.com/) that had been recommended to me.
Playing with Murder offers comprehensive kits that are reasonably priced and include instructions and character sheets for your attendees. The themes have age categories, so depending on your age range, take the suggestions to heart so you don’t end up with some racy and inappropriate characters for a teen audience. But that being said, the owner was very accommodating and was able to modify the kit Set Sail for Disaster to make it teen appropriate, and for the kit The Terrible Castle of Baron Castaign he developed a new character bundle for us so everyone could have a role when I had more teens ask me if they could attend once the original roles were all taken. Another kit, Zombie Cannibal Asylum, can easily have more zombie roles added with no extra effort.
The way I organized my roles, was to cast the pivotal roles with responsible teens you know will definitely attend. The remaining roles are handed out to the teens who register, and if they are any no-shows their roles aren’t integral to the plot. Depending on the kit you purchase, you can run this program for 10-30+ youth. At my library, I announced when the roles were available, and the teens had to show up in person to pick up their character sheet. This helped at several levels- I was able to influence who a few roles went to, the teens became invested in the program since they had to make an effort to come in and get their role, and it gave them time to study their role plus design their costume.
Decorations can be as big or little as works for your time, space and budget. You will need at least two distinct areas, one to begin with where the teens will mingle and establish their characters, and a second area once the murder has occurred. The kit will give you decoration ideas for the two areas based on the theme you picked. I served a pizza dinner with additional themed snacks during the first half of the party, but what you serve is completely up to you. As the program needs moving around the room, I scheduled the event on a Friday night after the library closed, so we would have free rein of the library facilities. Depending on your building, certain areas can and should be closed off, and I told them about these rules during my introductory talk once they all arrived.
I tied in my mystery theme to my Teen Advisory Board meetings, with teens helping me create set pieces for the event. I picked my theme by late August, so I could use my September and October meetings to work on decorations with the teens. They had a blast painting and making props that also earned them volunteer hours as part of the TAB meetings. While I have always planned this annual event in late October close to Halloween, this event could be done year-round. While my murder mystery event spanned a few months of preparation, for I tied in TAB into it, your prep does not need to be as complicated as mine. So long as you have two weeks to prep and order decorations online you can pull off a successful event.
At the very least you will need an additional adult to help with the event. While your co-worker can take a role, you should not, instead, you are serving as a narrator and trouble-shooter. In later years, I gave the narrator role to a trusted college student, giving me more freedom to handle other aspects of the event and to take pictures. You will be following a script, so make sure you have all the paperwork necessary for you to guide the teens through the mystery. When the teens picked up the character sheets they were given limited information, and they will be given an additional clue sheet at the event, so have those sheets prepared for them. I would also recommend you keep a master copy of the original packet at the ready in case you forgot something or need to make a last-minute copy of an instruction sheet.
My murder mystery event ended up being one of my biggest events each year. As soon as one was over, the teens were asking me what next year’s theme would be, as they loved solving the central mystery. They had fun mingling with one another in character, and I saw kids laughing and talking to one another who normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to talk to one another. They took ownership of the event, as many of them created some of the props and many of them went all out on their costumes. Parents also became fans, for they were thrilled that the library offered a fun and safe event for their teens on a weekend.
As I recently moved to another library for a new job opportunity, I look forward to getting to know the teens in this community and beginning a new spooktacular tradition with them here!