By Christina Harper The Herald Business Journal
Scott Cramton grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in a family that loved mystery.
He’s pretty sure he saw every episode of “McMillan &Wife,” “Kojak” and other whodunit hit shows that held audiences of millions in their heyday.
So what was he to do when he grew up but carry on the family interest and take it to a national level with fun, food, a colorful character or two and a good old-fashioned murder.
Cramton, 33, is the founder and owner of The Murder Mystery Co., a theater group that employs 1,000 people and hosts public and private parties in 20 states and 25 public venues.
One of those venues is French Creek Manor in Snohomish.
“When we opened in Snohomish I went down for the opening,” Cramton said. “The community embraced us.”
French Creek Manor is a renovated 1930s historic manor house at 9931 167th Ave. SE that has hosted The Murder Mystery Company actors since 2011.
While actors and audience members at public and private shows are figuring out who killed whom, with what and where, French Creek Manor staff make sure that food and drink are tended to in the form of a three-course meal.
Tickets for the show are $60 and include the meal.
The quiet and lovely location is a popular local spot for weddings, graduation parties, holiday events and other celebrations throughout the year.
Along with French Creek Manor, Cramton has just added Seattle’s Old Spaghetti Factory as a venue that will also host his actors, some from the Snohomish cast, in the near future. The cast put on as many as a dozen shows a month.
Cramton says he feels like one for the luckiest people alive to have his business flourish in the way it has.
He never thought it would be this big considering he grew up poor in Detroit and in 2007 was in a commission job selling furniture.
With 10 hours of down time a day and only 15 murder mystery shows a year Cramton taught the ins and outs of search engine optimization and changed the format of the performances. Patrons were looking the company up on Google.
“I kept getting calls and it was word of mouth,” Cramton said.
Since 2010, the business has exploded with troupes throughout the country performing 5,000 shows in 2013. That year the company grossed $5.5 million.
Even during a recession, the entertainment business does well, Cramton said. Movies tickets sell and concert ticket sales stay firm.
“We’ve been fortunate to play to up to 100,000 people last year,” Cramton said. “Or as I say, two Taylor Swift shows.”
The Murder Mystery Company show is an interactive experience. Audience members at the dinner theater in Snohomish can be part of the murder mystery while enjoying a three-course meal.
“What makes us so special is that this isn’t something you just watch,” Cramton said. “You walk away with a story.”
This is true for all audience members but creates special memories for those who have been part of the show during the event.
Actor Angie Faro joined the cast of the Murder Mystery Company in September.
The Granite Falls resident heard about the business while doing make-up on a local film set. The actress she was working on mentioned the troupe.
“Some nights people get into it and you can’t get them to quiet down,” Faro said.
She enjoys “Best Laid Plans,” one of the shows in Snohomish, set in 1937 Hollywood with hidden identities and unexpected twists. Actors play different characters at different times to keep things fresh.
“My character now is Oola La,” Faro said. “She’s a French maid.”
Cramton and Faro both enjoy the interactive aspect of The Murder Mystery Company. Before they know it, some audience members are pulled into the cast to play parts and help solve the crime.
Actors expertise means making sure diners don’t worry about not having any acting skills.
When casting audience members the actors have to feel the situation out.
“It’s the personality of a person,” Faro said. “You get it in a split second timeframe. You try and get a feel for it.”
If an audience member doesn’t want to participate, Faro will switch quickly to someone else without leaving anyone embarrassed.
Actors with The Murder Mystery Company are participating in storylines where the killer is already established before the show.
“It’s fair-play murder mystery,” said director manager Lisa Glomb. “The ending is fixed. Murder is about motivation and opportunity.”
Glomb oversees the Snohomish troupe and actors at the Old Spaghetti Factory.
Her sole job is to train the actors to get the experience right, something she knows a lot about after producing Seattle’s popular “Late Night Catechism” for 11 years and before that “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding,” also in Seattle.
There are 10 different scripts that The Murder Mystery Company actors perform throughout the United States.
Public and private shows are held at French Creek Manor in Snohomish. Private shows are held also for corporate events, birthday, graduation and bachelorette parties.
“I love it.” Faro said. “The more days I can do it, the merrier.”
For more information on The Murder Mystery Company go to www.grimprov.com
The Murder Mystery Company hosts public and private shows at the French Creek Manor, 9931 167th Ave. SE, Snohomish. Private shows are held also for corporate events, birthday, graduation and bachelorette parties.