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Pegasus Performances serves up comedy and murder

AUTHOR  Centaine Tyler • DATE  


Len Harvey, left, in the headdress formerly owned by Bette Midler, pictured right. The headdress is now part of Pegasus Performances’ extensive costume collection for murder mystery dinner theatre. (Photos courtesy of Alison Whitley)

For Alison Whitley, artistic director of Pegasus Performances, murder is not just a pastime, it’s a full-time job.

Whitley has been running murder mystery dinner theatres with Pegasus for the past 22 years with her husband. The couple met while working in another theatre company that also did murder mysteries, among other types of theatre.

When Whitley got married, the owner of that theatre company gave her the murder mysteries as her wedding present, “which was really just a recipe for fake blood and a prop gun,” Whitley recalls.

Whitley’s collection of props and costumes has since expanded dramatically, from the medieval to old-school gangster, and everything in between. However, one costume piece stands out in particular: a brilliant feather headdress worn by singer Bette Midler on one of her tours that Whitley bought on auction. Pegasus has re-purposed it as a witch doctor headdress.

For several years, Pegasus took up residency at the Deane House restaurant for private shows and monthly public shows until the restaurant closed for renovations in August of 2013, and the company continued their performances across the river in Fort Calgary through February of this year. Pegasus has also performed in restaurants, community halls, and private homes all over the city.

“I’ve cheerfully killed some of my dearest friends. I’ve helped stab people with a Barbie doll, a drapery rod, a Queen Anne table leg, a ski pole – or impale them with a golf ball.” -Alison Whitley

They’re especially busy between Halloween and Christmas, including three public shows on October 30 and 31: The Malteaser Rabbit will be performed at the National on 8th Avenue on October 30 and 31, attracting the “younger, pub crowd” and on Oct. 30, a performance of Cooking Up Murder will be shown at the Bow Valley Ranche restaurant in Fish Creek Park.

Pegasus uses all original scripts written by Canadian playwrights. The shows are always either written new, or selected from the company roster. Sometimes a client will call in and ask for a customized script, like a murder mystery set in the oil and gas industry for example.

However, there is one custom script that Whitley won’t soon forget.

An agricultural genetics company was looking to book Pegasus Performances for an upcoming party, and their request was to have a mystery centred on their prized insemination bull.

“Now they thought it was almost a shame to kill this guy off, plus it turns out he was worth millions in life insurance, so I suggested that we castrate him!” says Whitley. The genetics company loved the idea.

When the show went on, the man playing the bull came out with an enormous Band-Aid covering his crotch, and whenever he walked by certain tables, the diners would slam their knives on the table as if to scare him and remind him of the castration.

Audience participation and interaction like that is always welcome at a Pegasus show. Whitley thinks that it’s what people really enjoy about live theatre. It gives audiences the chance to become the “super-sleuth” and figure out who committed the crime – which some people are really keen on, she says — or they can just sit back and enjoy the show.

Dinner theatre also involves a fair bit of improv. One thing that makes Pegasus unique is that at the end of every murder mystery, they have a fully-improvised “kangaroo court” where they pull members from the audience to act as the judge and bailiff, and everyone in the audience can question the suspects (whether it’s related to the case or not).

Whitley says the theatre has a running gag where if an audience member asks a particularly funny question during the kangaroo court, they all say “hey, you’re not allowed to be funnier than we are!”

Whitley’s daughter has grown up with the show, in fact she says it was perfectly normal for her daughter to ask questions like “who are you killing tonight?” and “is dad coming home after you kill him?” Whitley runs Pegasus out of her home office, which also made for some interesting encounters for her daughter.

One day Whitley was practicing a scene in their living room for an upcoming medieval show, and she was trying to time a costume transition while the minstrel sang a particularly bawdy song.

Apparently, her then-four-year-old had been within earshot because she was later found pacing around the living room singing “My thing is my own, and I’ll keep it so still, yet other young lasses may do what they will!”

It’s been a long time since Whitley started the company with only a prop gun and a fake blood recipe, but she has never looked back.

“I’ve done it in an aluminum shed on a farm, in restaurants, community halls, a large boat – even private homes,”

“I’ve had affairs with men both older and much younger than myself. I’ve even had affairs with my own husband. I’ve cheerfully killed some of my dearest friends. I’ve helped stab people with a Barbie doll, a drapery rod, a Queen Anne table leg, a ski pole – or impale them with a golf ball.”

For more information, visit Pegasus Performances’ official website or Facebook page.