For over a year now, Anne Hotchkis has been a woman of mystery.
It started in April 2013 at the Cornwall Public Library when she launched Beach Mysteries, a book about sea creatures found along the Northumberland Strait.
“It was so well received that I wanted to start another writing project,” says the retired teacher-turned-writer.
So, she took a mystery-writing class from Diane Wallace at the P.E.I. Seniors College at the Cotton Centre in Stratford last fall.
“After watching mystery shows on TV, like Murder, She Wrote, CSI, Castle and the Mentalist, and reading mystery novels, I wanted to experiment to see if I could write a murder mystery musical of my own. So I did,” says Hotchkis, who will unveil her newest work, Murder at the Hollow Rooms, at Cornwall United Church on May 15-16 at 7:30 p.m.
The musical, with text by Hotchkis, lyrics by Sam Morgulis and music composed by Perry Neatby, is about four teenage detectives who arrive at a spooky bed and breakfast at Victoria-by-the-Sea to take part in a murder mystery weekend. And it doesn’t take long for the plot to unfold.
“They are greeted by their host, Maggie. Then, just as the young people are sent off to bed for the night, they hear a creaking noise, a grandfather clock striking midnight and then a horrific scream,” says the author.
When things finally calm down, the teens learn that the victim in their murder mystery weekend is a character named Desmond — and it’s up to them to find the killer.
The plot thickens the next morning with an unusual twist in the case — Maggie asks the youths to take part in a scavenger hunt at the beach.
“So, they have to go off to the beach at low tide and begin picking up all the things on their list. For every sea creature they find, they are given a clue to the murder of Desmond,” says Hotchkis.
One person who has provided important clues for the production is her writing teacher.
“Diane has spent tireless hours taking my text and turning it into a musical production,” says Hotchkis.
The new P.E.I. resident, who has worked in previous theatrical productions, is thrilled to be part of the creative team.
“Anne got this idea that she wanted to do a musical, so I was happy to jump on board as the director.
“It’s contributing funds to the church, which I believe is a good cause. And it’s fun,” says Wallace, who is also adding her creative stamp. “What I’ve tried to do with each cast member is bring out their natural talents. So we have people playing the guitar, ukulele, as well as singing and dancing. It’s exciting because the characters are coming alive.”
She has also found an important role for Hotchkis.
“Diane told me that, after writing the script, I was going to be the producer. So, besides looking after publicity, I had to find cast members and stage managers. It involved a lot of legwork.”
With less than a week before opening night, Hotchkis is finalizing dress rehearsal details.
And she’s feeling very pleased.
“It’s been a big challenge. We’ve been practising since January. But now that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel it feels wonderful.”
Murder at the Hollow Rooms
When and where: Cornwall United Church, May 15-16, 7:30 p.m.
Admission: Tickets are $10 at the door. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Behind the scenes: Musical director Kay Linkletter had many of the cast at her own home to learn the music. She also worked through the music as composer Perry Neatby wrote 13 songs for the show. They include On the Prowl, the Murder Mystery Song, Don’t Spy on Me and the Tickle Fish Song.
Inspiration: Anne Hotchkis grew up in Amherst, N.S. Each summer, from ages eight to 13, her mother took her to Charlottetown to see Anne of
Green Gables – The Musical. “Going on the ferry was the big thing. And the experience (of seeing this show) inspired me to write a musical.”
The four teenage detectives take a break from the murder investigation at the beach. From left are Ryan Gallant, Olivia MacPhail, Amy Cormier and Salman Ashenaei. It’s a scene from Murder at the Hollow Rooms. Written by Anne Hotchkis with lyrics by Sam Morgulis and music by Perry Neatby, the musical plays May 15-16 at Cornwall United Church. It’s a fundraiser for the church.
©GUARDIAN PHOTO BY SALLY COLE