Murder by Midnight Interactive Dinner Theatre. Interview with creator Vanessa Baylen.

Murder by Midnight Interactive Dinner Theatre. Interview with creator Vanessa Baylen.

There’s a new dinner theatre in town–one that promises to be quite different from previous incarnations in the genre.

I first learned of Chris Rudram of Enigmatic Events from his food blog, Victoria, In Person.  Chris, a recent transplant from England, had the most engaging way of chronicling his experiences, and he is prolific.  It so happens he also has a love of the Victoria Fringe Festival, and games of all kinds.  In 2015 he launched Enigmatic Events as the natural extension of his wildly successful murder mystery parties and boardgamer days.  I happened to see an audition notice for his latest venture–live interactive dinner theatre in partnership with Vanessa B Baylen (Death by Chocolate) and Guy Lemonnier of Ambrosia Event Centre.  Murder by Midnight débuts January 30, 2016 and will run on select Fridays and Saturdays in February.  Further details are listed below.  I reached out to Vanessa who was kind enough to answer questions about the event.

Murder by Midnight logo

Vanessa, your reputation has preceded you. How did you become interested in inter-active events? Was there a particular “aha” moment that led to the creation of Death by Chocolate?

Interactive events have interested me because of how they engage the audience. There is a lot of great art and entertainment out there where the audience is passive, but I’ve always been interested in getting them up and involved. I like choose-your-own-adventure stories, I like engaging and/or challenging people’s minds – encouraging them to be active, to play, to explore, to puzzle. When I was doing my degree (a Bachelor of Creative Art at the University of Melbourne) this is just what I evolved into doing: creating immersive worlds that I could welcome others into.

Yes, Death By Chocolate does have a particular origin story, but I might perhaps save that answer for a future interview where we talk about that show. After all, there is nothing stopping me from putting it on again.

You have been producing inter-active events for over 10 years now but only recently in Canada (Barrie in 2013 was the beginning—right?). Are audiences different?

I’m a Canadian-born dual citizen; I moved over to Australia when I was 14. In 2012 I returned to Canada, initially back to Ontario, and was fortunate enough to receive one of the last City of Barrie Arts Grants for individual artists, which led to “Spies of Barrie” in 2013. My earlier work (starting in 2003) has been presented in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. “Murder By Midnight” will mark my North American murder mystery debut.

I’ve found Kiwi and Aussie audiences to be, predictably, quite similar. They are outgoing, unabashed, but challenged by certain narrative details. The audiences I had during Edinburgh Festival Fringe were a bit more reserved than those down under, but (due to the magnitude of the festival) they hailed from all over the world. I don’t feel I know Canadian audiences well, yet, and certainly not Victoria’s audiences. But I am keen to find out.

Who gets the most out of an event like this? What happens for the audience member who is actually not that good at puzzles?

I’ve found all sorts of people (ages, backgrounds, skills) enjoy my interactive events. Bold people enjoy the chance to dive in and ask questions of the suspects. Those more introverted are at an advantage because they can eavesdrop on all that is going on and piece together a lot of details. Those willing to collaborate tend to get farther than those who want to solve it all on their own. Kids are particularly successful interrogators, having no fear to ask the tough questions. Audience members don’t need to excel at sudoku or crosswords to get something out of my events; they are specifically designed to be inclusive and accessible. English language fluency is probably my only recommendation, as the suspects can be quite slippery. The challenge of cracking a suspect is just as real a challenge as decoding a riddle, and means those gifted in communication are on equal footing with puzzle geeks.

Why the decision not to continue with Death by Chocolate? Has it become “old” for you?

My last season of Death By Chocolate (to date) was the 2010 Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. It was my fifth season (in a row) of the event, and both myself and the world had had enough of murder. I choose to explore treasure hunts and spy games for a while, branching into different premises than the WhoDunnit, and exploring the fun of interaction over the heaviness of murder mysteries. Death By Chocolate is a great event, and I have every intention of putting it on again one day… perhaps all I need is an exceptional chocolatier, venue, and cast.

How did you meet Chris and begin your collaboration? Why Victoria—now?

Chris’ name came up in my facebook feed thanks to Interactivity Board Game Cafe; they were introducing him as Victoria’s go-to person for murder mysteries, so I dropped him a note saying I was new in town, had over a decade of experience, and maybe I could lend him a hand sometime. The conversation just went from there, as we discovered we had a lot of the same creative goals for the audience experience. In the lead up to fully launching his start-up, Enigmatic Events, Chris approached a number of venues all over Victoria, pitching the sort of event we wanted to create. Guy of Ambrosia Event Centre has been the most enthusiastic and supportive venue owner I’ve met in a long time. It all came together so nicely, and then it was time for me to do the hard work of writing a new piece to suit the purpose.
When people think “dinner theatre” they have a pre-conceived notion of what it entails. How are you going to up-end the conventions of dinner theatre?

First of all, all my events are deeply interactive. And I don’t mean the sort of interaction where once or twice the audience gives a show of hands because of a branching path in the narrative; it’s the sort of interactive where you could come along to Murder By Midnight every night and see a different story unfold. You can talk to different suspects, you can tackle different puzzles, you can hear theories from different audience members, and come to different conclusions. At it’s core, the entire event is a puzzle. And while there are light-hearted moments, there is not a sniff of cringe-comedy. The food is excellent, the talent is professional, the puzzles are engaging, and the writing is sophisticated. This is a game you can leap into, walk around, and simply: play.

In addition, the narrative of Murder By Midnight is atypical to the genre… as the murder has not even happened yet. The victim-to-be is the one inviting you into the plot, having gathered their top three suspects and associated evidence, in the hope that you will solve the crime and save their life. At Murder By Midnight, the audience gets to walk around, not just for the buffet dinner, but to speak to a suspect, to swap theories with another table, or perhaps to rearrange the jigsaw puzzles one more time…

Was there a particular reason to move to Victoria?

My move from Australia to Ontario was challenging for me on the climate front. After spending 2014 in an RV travelling coast to coast, in essence hunting for a new city to call my own, I encountered Victoria for the first time and just loved it. Yes, of course it has the best climate in the country (to my taste, at least), but I loved its balance of being a friendly little town with the amenities of big city. I loved that everyone would make the time to meet the newbie, yet it was big enough that I might meet everyone at a different coffee shop. I think Victoria is a glorious balance of big and small, and I really appreciate the relaxed BC culture, exceptional produce, and awe-inspiring vistas that come along with it.

Any idea as to how often you will be producing events in Victoria?

Enigmatic Events is producing Murder By Midnight, and that’s been a welcome change for me — as I usually do every role (creating/directing/producing), and that’s an exhausting schedule. Chris and I have talked a little about perhaps working together once or twice per year; my events are typically larger scale and require a lot to go into them. I may be persuaded to self-produce as well; it all depends how well received my events are, and how hungry Victoria is for interactive events.

I’m familiar with the location and the chef—one question would be—are there vegetarian and/or vegan/gluten-free options?

Every dietary option is absolutely considered. We’ve posted a menu and FAQ on, and ticket holders are welcome to contact Ambrosia Event Centre directly regarding any dietary concerns or preferences.

I can’t wait to experience this addition to Victoria’s cultural scene.


Murder By Midnight – can YOU stop a killer?
Presented By Enigmatic Events, Created/Directed by V.B.Baylen
The Experience: an interactive mystery with three course dinner

Murder By Midnight is a challenge that you get up and solve. We put the detective badge in your hands. By using theatre, puzzles, technology, and food, you are invited to actively investigate the mystery. Participants work with each other to uncover the truth and reveal the lies. And in the end, the audience decides who lives and who dies. This is not traditional dinner theatre: this is Murder By Midnight.

“The whole experience was slickly orchestrated proving Baylen knows exactly what she’s doing” ~ Fringe Review (UK)


Start at the bar, perhaps with a warm up puzzle and drink, before finding your seat at a communal table. Whet your appetite with a starter while introductions transport you into the story. Then choose your engagement level: get up and ask the suspects anything, eavesdrop while helping yourself to the buffet dinner, or set your mind against the new serving of modern puzzles. Collaboration is welcome, as are smartphones. Dessert is served while you discuss and accuse. Then curl up with a hot drink to witness the unique finale you’ve created.

“Involving… far too easy to get caught up in the whole drama” ~ The Age (Australia)

When and Where
Murder by Midnight, presented by Enigmatic Events
Created and directed by Vanessa B Baylen
Charity Preview on Jan 30 in aid of Victoria Cool Aid Society
Jan 30 – Feb 13, 2016 (Fridays & Saturdays), 6:30pm, at Ambrosia Event Centre: 638 Fisgard St
$68 ticket includes detective kit and 3-course dinner
Tickets on-sale Jan 1, 2016; gift vouchers on-sale Dec 1, 2015
More details available at

“The most amazing theatrical experience ever” ~ Channel 4 (UK)

Who’s Who

Vanessa B.Baylen is an international multi-award winning interactive event creator; Murder By Midnight marks her North American murder debut. Chris Rudram is the owner of local start-up, Enigmatic Events. Murder By Midnight is a new work from this first-time collaboration.

“Chris is very professional and a wonderful host. He made sure we had fun, and we did.” ~ Paper Street Theatre (Victoria, BC)

Disclaimer:  I will be attending the preview of Murder by Midnight as a guest of Enigmatic Events.

About @lacouvee

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