When the Curtain Rises by Nina Mansfield

The theater is my happy place. There is almost no place I’d rather be. My favorite moment in life is that instance when the curtain, literally or figuratively, rises. It’s like being transported into a different universe—one where people might speak in iambic pentameter or break into song. I can be a fly on the wall watching a family unravel, or an onlooker as a flawed king falls from his pedestal. Sometimes I leave the theater filled with joy for the human condition. Other times I break out in uncontrollable, ugly sobs wondering how anyone can live in such an unforgiving world. The best theater has made me feel both things simultaneously.

At various stages of my life, I have been an actor, a playwright and a director. I’ve hung lights and torn down sets. I have my share of paint splattered clothing, and a library of dog-eared and highlighted scripts. I am a theater person, so it is no wonder that I have chosen to set more than one of my short murder mystery stories in a theatrical setting.

There are so many ways to kill and be killed in the theater. There are, first and foremost, the many physical obstacles. Open trapdoors, dangling sandbags, and hastily constructed set pieces could all become deadly, especially when navigating a backstage space in the dark.

There are also the emotional perils associated with the theater. Backstage romances, bad reviews . . . I’m not saying that I’ve ever wanted to commit murder when I checked my name on a cast list, but I can certainly image that motive.

And let’s not forget the unsavory characters that the theater seems to attract. Emotional actors, egotistical directors and overly ambitious understudies are just a few that come to mind. After all, what kind of people want to spend their time pretending to be other people, except perhaps those who have something to hide?

Theater and murder have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship that can be traced back to Ancient Greece. From Medea to Macbeth to Mousetrap, audiences have flocked to see murder on stage for thousands of years. Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose, which served as the inspiration for “Twelve Angry Actors” is just one of many great plays that revolves around a murder. I imagine that I will continue to write murder mysteries inspired by the theater. After all, the theater might be my happy place, but when the lights go out, anything can happen.

Nina Mansfield is a Cos Cob, CT based author, playwright, screenwriter and educator. Nina’s short fiction has appeared in a variety of publications and anthologies including Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Mysterical-E, Crime Syndicate Magazine and most recently Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Her YA mystery novel Swimming Alone is published by Fire & Ice YA. Nina’s ten-minute and one-act plays have received over 100 productions in the United States and around the world, and are published by Smith & Kraus, Stage Partners, YouthPLAYS, Original Works Publishing, and One Act Play Depot. Nina is a member of MWA, SCBWI, ITW, The Dramatists Guild, and she is a Co-Vice-President of the NY/Tri-State Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Connect with Nina on her website www.ninamansfield.com or on  Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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