54 September/October 2013 | BethesdaMagazine.com
related WORK As told to Sarah Tincher
The Mystery Maven
CJ (Carol) Crowe, 49, Bethesda,
founder of Do or Die Mysteries
Since I was 5 years old, all I
ever wanted to do was be in theater.
I was in my first play at Montgomery Mall as a kid—it was a Noah’s
Ark play, and I was a parrot with a
brown paper bag over my head, [with]
eye slits and some construction-paper feathers. I walked across that
stage, people clapped and that was it,
but I still remember that. From that
moment, I knew I wanted to do this.
I’ve always been in and around theater and entertainment management.
I used to perform at the Maryland
Renaissance Festival, and was later
director of operations for both the
Maryland Renaissance Festival and
for Spotlighters Theatre in Baltimore;
and I’ve taught acting. I’ve had “day
jobs,” but now I’m working with Do or
Die Mysteries full time and teaching
at Spotlighters Theatre part time.
Do or Die has jumped around over
the years, but now we perform with
a cast of six actors every Saturday
night at Flanagan’s Harp & Fiddle in
Bethesda, my hometown.
Before I started performing in murder mysteries, I had never attended
one. The first murder mystery script I
wrote [was] 65 pages, but my average
scripts are now 12 to 17 pages, so I’ve
learned a lot. We just started watching
what we were doing with the improvisation, and we eventually got a feel for
where structure needed to be imposed
and where it needed to be taken away.
There was a point when I was writ-
ing a lot that was topical, like “CSI:
Glen Burnie,” but those [scripts] get
dated. I learned it’s best to stick to
universal themes, such as Christmas,
crooked politicians, women who are
control freaks, men who sleep around;
the topical elements get added in later.
I started my first murder mystery
company, Murder Upon Request,
with a partner in 1987, but in 1992 I
branched out to establish Do or Die. I
had very definitive ideas of what I felt
the genre needed, and I wasn’t seeing it being done anywhere else. We
would do shows that other people
had written, and they wouldn’t hold
together; there’s a very delicate balance [in] providing a cohesive show
that at every turn has the ability for
the audience to genuinely interact.
You can explain murder mysteries until you’re blue in the face, but
it truly is different. These shows are
about generating laughter. We want
people to interact at their comfort
level. If you are a shy and introverted
person, and just want to watch a show
and laugh, we want you to have that
experience. If you are all about, “I
wanna play,” we want you to step in.
My favorite part is the acting—
that’s what makes it all worthwhile.
I’ve done television, I’ve done live
theater, but once I started performing at the Renaissance Festival, I just
knew that interactive theater was
what I really wanted. I love to make
people laugh, and I’m good at it.
It’s a little skill, but everybody
needs to have one. n