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Fall Arts Preview: Murder mystery keeps audiences in the dark

Actors, scenery and costumes won’t be revealed until lights go up
Written by Mack Gordon and directed by Marisa Emma Smith, Three Stories Up takes place completely in the dark. Photo Dan Toulgoet

Just in time for Halloween, Alley Theatre will be presenting Three Stories Up, a murder mystery that explores Vancouver’s criminal underworld. Taking place at an undisclosed location in East Vancouver, the part radio play/part film noir is sure to be a unique experience for theatre lovers.

Written by Mack Gordon and directed by Marisa Emma Smith, Three Stories Up is different from most plays as it will be performed in the dark. The actors, scenery and costumes will be a complete mystery to audiences until the lights go up at the end.

“I thought it would be neat for people to not have any visual expectations so that when you go into the space you just have no idea where you are and so you just have no choice but to imagine something,” explains Smith.

She came up with the idea to have the play in the dark after reading the script. Reading a stack of plays on a trip to Bowen Island, Smith says this one stood out because of its descriptive dialogue.

“It was a murder mystery, which usually isn’t my genre, but it’s rare in theatre that you watch something and there’s suspense,” says Smith. “Also the female lead was just so compelling, her grief was portrayed so viscerally because Mack’s writing is poetic
as well.”

The play centres around a transit cop named Beatrice whose husband, Austin, a high-ranking undercover police officer, has been murdered. She finds one of his informants and together they try and solve the crime.

When thinking about the concept of doing the play in the dark, Smith and Gordon visited Dark Table in Kitsilano, a blind dining restaurant. They said it was a unique experience that they also hope to give audiences.

“It really not only brought out all of your other senses but it gave you this opportunity to really be present in your experience,” explains Gordon. “Because the lights are out you’re not worrying about what you look like, you’re not worrying about anyone looking at you — you’re just worrying about connecting with the material.”

“It’s such a neat thing to do with other people because you can talk about it and you’re going through kind of a novel experience together,” adds Smith.

The play was inspired by Gordon’s work with the Vancouver Police Department. He was part of a police training program that hires actors to play criminals in simulations. He also wanted to write a play with a strong narrative after his more experimental work, Shake the Sheets, at last year’s Fringe festival.

“He’ll play an informant or he’ll play a criminal and it’s very realistic,” explains Smith of Gordon’s work with the VPD. “They use real locations, they’ll go into like a bar and they’ll have to get information from him and they have to have a lot of skill to be able to get the information out of him.”

The suspenseful murder mystery also addresses universal themes of grief and loss. Smith says she was drawn to the idea that we rarely hear stories about how police officers deal with their own grief.

“I hope that there’s a sense of communion in that as well, that there’s a feeling that you do need to kind of acknowledge loss and acknowledge that we need to grieve,” says Gordon.

Smith and Gordon expect the show will have a lasting impact on the audience that they can share with others.

“I just hope that it’s this fun, giggly, giddy experience for people afterwards where they’re like, ‘Can you believe that happened?’” says Smith.

Three Stories Up runs from Oct. 20 to 31. Details at For tickets, go to