Go West this summer and get ahead.

Mood to set the food: Dinner and a show

Agatha's is a murder mystery comedy dinner theater located in downtown Atlanta.PHOTO BY NADIA DELJOU | THE SIGNAL
Agatha’s is a murder mystery comedy dinner theater located in downtown Atlanta.

When dining out to the same places becomes such a bland and static routine, add a little spark to your dish. Let murder mysteries and Shakespeare’s sonnets take you on a wild ride throughout the cultures of history.

Agatha’s: A Taste of Mystery

Diners are given a new name when they enter into the restaurant.

During the mid-1980’s, murder mysteries were booming and becoming the new “it” trend. Because of this pop-cultural change, numerous mystery theaters were created.

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One in particular was created right here in these buzzing Atlanta streets. ‘Agatha’s: A Taste of Mystery’ opened up across The Fox Theatre during the ’80s and stayed in this location for up to nine to ten years. Currently, however, it resides in downtown Atlanta.

So what makes this Atlanta hotspot so unique? What aspects of it create a different vibe for customers that other restaurants don’t offer?

“We are a murder mystery comedy dinner theater. We emphasize more on the comedy than the murder mystery,” said Ryan Girard, creative director of the establishment. “It’s not like that movie ‘Clue’ in so much that you come in a try to solve a murder. There is a murder and there is a mystery that is going to be solved but you don’t ask questions. You don’t get to write names on ballots or anything like that.”

The method that the restaurant uses is more interactive based than the audience simply eating their meal and watching actors preform. As soon as a customer walks in, they become part of this entire rouge. In a way, they become an actor.

“What happens at Agatha’s, is when you come in everyone gets a brand new identity at the door and there are 20 people each night that actually play a part in the show,” Girard said. “You’re not sitting and watching the show. You’re actually going to take part in the show, in one way, shape or form. Those twenty people actually stand up and have parts in the show. Other members are going to have small singing groups. It’s unlike any other dinner theaters.”

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There is no actual stage. The actors use the entire restaurant as their stage. They like to interact with the audience and move around the tables. The method that they use to achieve the best connection with their audience is they never eat while watching the show.

“When you first arrive is when we have our appetizer hour and you get your brand new identity. You have an appetizer for an hour and then we go straight into Act 1 of our show. The actors go away and they serve your soup course. Then they clear that and come out to do Act 2. It continues like this until we serve the last course, desert, and do the last act.”

Another beneficial aspect that visitors can gain from this restaurant is that friends are easily obtained. The way that the seating is set up makes it simple for strangers to get to know each other and develop a friendship.

Diners come to the restaurant to eat and watch the actors perform.PHOTO BY NADIA DELJOU | THE SIGNAL

“You’re going to be seated across from someone you don’t know. You can talk throughout a show which can be 2 or 3 hours, so you are able to interact with new people at your table,” Girard said. “You meet them, you spend time with them [and] you watch a comedy show. That’s what we tend to focus on more- the comedy. We really just want you talk and have a great time. We want you to laugh, we want you to eat some good food [and] we want you to meet some nice people.”

The reactions that Agatha’s receives from it’s customers is a sheer indication of how impactful this creative experience is on them. Many people don’t have an idea of what to expect when first entering but are pretty clear after leaving of what an adventure it truly was.

“A lot of people say, ‘well I’ve been to a murder mystery before or I’ve been to a dinner theater before but never one like this.’ We hire the funniest, the best improvisers and actors in Atlanta. You’re coming to see them perform with you because you also play a part in the show,” Girard said.

Agatha’s has one goal for their audience.

“As far as the performance goes, the show starts at the door. It doesn’t start when Act 1 starts,” Girard said. “We’re going to entertain you from the second you walk in to the second you leave. So you’re going to come in and have a good time.”

The New American Shakespeare Tavern

Diners come to the restaurant to eat and watch the actors perform.PHOTO BY NADIA DELJOU | THE SIGNAL
Diners come to the restaurant to eat and watch the actors perform.

To dine or not to dine, that is the question! Nowhere else in Atlanta are you able to find a place that offers an Elizabethan experience while having dinner with loved ones.

The New American Shakespeare Tavern was created almost 30 years ago and has been located on Peachtree Street for about 24 years. This establishment differs from any other playhouse because they try to recreate William Shakespeare’s plays almost identical to the way he preformed them in his time. They also strive to create the best relationship between the actors and audience.

“We are not doing conceptual Shakespeare like setting it in Brooklyn or something. That also means that we do directly address… the audience. We talk right to you,” said Troy Willis, an acting teacher at the tavern. “While we are doing a soliloquies on stage, we like to talk directly to people in the crowd. If a cellphone goes off, we will acknowledge it in some sort of fashion. We try to incorporate the audience as the most important scene partner that we have. It’s a live experience for everybody.”

This Shakespeare Tavern is becoming such a prominently featured establishment that people from around the country are coming to take part in the experience. They are so original and rare, people are automatically drawn in.

“On any given night, I would say its about 50 percent new people that haven’t been to the Shakespeare tavern before,” Willis said.

Unfortunately, Georgia’s Shakespeare community is going under. Especially with today’s economy, many other playhouse theatres are having to close because they are being funded by the government. So how is The New American Shakespeare Tavern staying afloat?

“Our business model is different from other theatres, most of our income actually comes from ticket sales,” Willis said. “That helps us from not falling through. We haven’t let any of our people go even through the turn of the economy. We are kind of a family.”

The tavern appreciates their audience and owes them a lot for what they have achieved during these past years. They use this appreciation to create the motto that they like to follow.

“Our goal is to have a direct communication between actor and audience. The audience is our most important business model. They help pay for everything that we do,” Willis said.

Currently they are in development to expand their building. They are hoping to stretch the residence that they are in right now a couple buildings down the block. This will allow them to have a substantial increase in theatre stage space and allow them to develop a more impactful outer view.

“We would build a ten million dollar new establishment. Whether it happens here on Peachtree street or we also have an idea in the works that we hope to possibly build it over on Renaissance,” Willis said. “It would be across the street from the Civic Center. That’s our plan.”

All in all, what is the main reason to pay a visit to this inventive, artistic founding? Besides having a “half-price pint night” every Friday where a person can receive a pint of beer for $2.50 and foods that were common around this time like Sheperd’s Pie, Cornish Pasty or even The King’s Supper Sandwich, Willis adds another great point as to why people should come get in touch with their Shakespearean side.

“I would say we are a unique experience unlike any other theatrical experience that they have had. I don’t consider a dinner theatre, but you can have dinner and then watch some theatre,” Willis said.

“At the turn of the last century, there was a convention that started called The Fourth Wall. It’s basically putting an imaginary wall between the actors on stage and the audience,” Willis continued. “This started about 120 years ago and makes it kind of like a sitcom on TV. We don’t do that here. We talk to the audience.”

Both of these places have their own twist on imaginative ways people are able to spend their Atlanta nights. They make you want to ditch the old, basic restaurant that you usually visit and take a stab at something more dynamic. So ditch that easily accessible Chinese or Southern restaurant right down the street and dive in to some exciting cuisine that offers a side of culture.

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