The murder might take place in the wild wild West of the 1890s. Maybe it’s in the Land of Oz, or maybe it’s a speakeasy. Wherever you experience it, a whodunit play written by DeEtta Charpie will leave you in stitches.
Mrs. Charpie has written murder mysteries that are presented as fundraisers in Indianapolis and throughout the country. The audience guesses who committed the murder, the motive, when and where it was committed and what weapon was used. The first to get the correct answers wins a cash prize.
Instead of whodunit, Mrs. Charpie calls her spoofs “udunits” because “when we put the plays on, the people play the parts,” she said. She has written 15 different plays that are presented by her company, U Dun It.
How she came to be a playwright is a spoof itself. As a member of the service organization Epsilon Sigma Alpha, she was tossed the responsibility of writing a murder mystery for the organization’s annual national convention fundraiser in 2002. The organization usually held a raffle to raise funds, but Indiana gaming laws prohibited fundraising in this manner, so the play became the fundraiser.
That fundraiser and those today include dinner and the play. The cast must have well-known local people for it to draw the largest crowds. Between acts, other fundraising events, such as silent auctions, are held to raise additional funds for the organization. Clues are also sold. Mrs. Charpie said people buy lots of clues.
What makes the plays funny besides the storyline is the fact that the locals who participate in the play don’t practice. They read from the script and of course that means there will be bloopers.
“It’s much like an old radio show. People not having read it before make mistakes and the audience really gets a kick out of seeing that. The first person to solve the mystery wins a prize.”
Other ways the event raises funds is through jingles she writes about corporate sponsors. The jingles are sung by members of the cast during intervals in the play. There are also sound effects and audience participation encouraged by signs that are held up telling the audience to clap or laugh or exhibit some other reaction.
Mrs. Charpie said the play was so successful it became a mainstay each year at Epsilon Sigma Alpha’s convention. “Then people in the organization started wanting it in their states, and that’s pretty much how I got started,” she said.
One of her upcoming plays will be for Countryside Meadows, a senior health and rehabilitation facility operated by American Senior Communities where Mrs. Charpie, who is 72, received rehabilitation after a fall. She returned to work after rehabilitation, able to work on another play.
She said the cost to present the play varies, but is very affordable to philanthropic groups and organizations raising funds. Mrs. Charpie also licenses organizations, allowing them to use her script for presenting the plays themselves.
She has presented for a wide range of organizations, including Greenwood Public Library, Camp Riley for Disabled Children and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Mrs. Charpie was born in San Francisco and grew up in Omaha before moving to Indianapolis with her parents and siblings. She and her husband, David, have a son and daughter. Her daughter, Karen, and son-in-law, Jeff Casazza, are instrumental in her plays. She also confers with friends who are in the forensic investigation field.
“I always try to make sure the audience doesn’t see something and say ‘that’s not possible.’ I try to research everything.”
Reading murder mysteries helps keep her full of ideas for plays. “I’m in that mindset all the time. I’m always thinking that would be a great setting or that would be a great plot.”
Her joy comes in seeing the audience happy. “It still is amazing to me that I do this. I had never thought of myself as an author. I guess the word that fits what I feel is astonishment. I’m astonished.”
For more stories about seniors who have benefitted from services provided by American Senior Communities, please visit www.ASCSeniorCare.com.
By EUNICE TROTTER
Communications Specialist for American Senior Communities