Elizabeth Elwood, Mystery Writer – Blog

Murder, Mayhem and Mistletoe on Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Blog Site

Posted by on Dec 14, 2017 in Elizabeth Elwood | 0 comments

EQMMI was delighted to be asked to write a post for the Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine blog site – and here it is. Read why mystery stories are a perfect fit for the Festive Season, not to mention some tips for seasonal mystery reading.: https://somethingisgoingtohappen.net/2017/12/13/murder-mayhem-and-mistletoe-by-elizabeth-elwood/

And even better, order the holiday issue of the magazine and read my story: “Ghosts of Christmas Past”

Body and Soul wins two CTC awards.

Posted by on Jul 5, 2017 in Elizabeth Elwood | 0 comments

Body&SoulPosterVagabond Player’s production of Body and Soul  was a winner in two categories at the Community Theatre Coalition awards. Elizabeth Elwood and Jacqollyne Keath won for Best Sound Design and Miles Lavkulich won for Best Lighting. Kudos also to Mary Larsen, Miles and Elizabeth for their nominations for Best Set Decoration and Best Significant Achievement. Congratulations to all the CTC winners and nominees, and a special thank you to the wonderful Body and Soul cast, crew and production team that made the project so successful.



Body and Soul director, Elizabeth Elwood, received the award for Best Sound Design.


Cast photo

collage copy


Set design by Elizabeth Elwood

Set design by Elizabeth Elwood

Oops! Do I dare admit a link between one of my characters and a real-life person!

Posted by on Jun 4, 2017 in Elizabeth Elwood | 0 comments

Front coverThe Devil Gets His Due and Other Mystery Stories, as with my other books, comes with a disclaimer that the characters in the various tales are entirely a product of my imagination. However, unlike my other books, Devil has one notable exception where fact meets fiction, and what fun that was to write.

Anne Kent in “The House of Once Before” is the one exception and her character is based on National Post columnist, Barbara Kay, who has encouraged my writing ever since I sent out review copies of my first book. After reading To Catch an Actress, Barbara contacted me to say how much she had enjoyed it and gave me permission to quote her endorsements. She continued to be supportive after my second book was published, and subsequently, when I was visiting Montreal, we arranged to meet.

3 Day Event_Front coverWe discussed mystery writing—Barbara also had a manuscript in the works, later to be published as the intriguing mystery novel, A Three-Day Event—and when I told her my intention to use Montreal as a setting for a future story, she laughed and asked if my outspoken protagonist, Bertram Beary, was going to meet an equally outspoken newspaper columnist on his travels.  I took this comment as lightly as Barbara had made it, but after I returned to Vancouver, we kept in touch.

0595428509.qxdSubsequently, I wrote two more books and after The Beacon and Other Mystery Stories came out, Barbara gave me another wonderful boost when she featured my series in her column. A couple of years later, Barbara and her husband were downsizing, and she wrote a column about their new home, which happened to be a house that she had visited and loved in her youth.  The next time we were in touch, I quipped that her move would make a great subject for a mystery story. She reminded me that we had joked about Beary meeting an outspoken lady columnist and suggested that this was my chance to make it happen.

prospect pointAnd so “The House of Once Before” was born. Naturally, Barbara’s new home had an imaginary set of characters as the first occupants, for these provided the mystery that Anne Kent solved. It was great fun to create a literary mystery for a female protagonist who, like Bertram Beary, never fears to say what she thinks and refuses to hide behind the veil of political correctness. Thank you, Barbara, for stepping into my story and making it special.

The photo above was taken at Prospect Point during Barbara’s recent visit to Vancouver.


Inspiration from Fort Benton

Posted by on Apr 24, 2017 in Elizabeth Elwood | 0 comments

Inspiration from Fort Benton

One of the advantages of writing a short-story collection is that I can send my characters travelling to places that I have enjoyed visiting myself. One such location is a small town that we discovered while searching for a coffee shop during a cross-country driving trip several years ago. Fort Benton, which boasts of being ‘The birthplace of Montana’, is located on the Missouri River a little below the series of rapids that gave Great Falls its name. Because the river was not navigable beyond that point, the town became the place where the steamboats stopped and the stage coaches began.

FFF39Starting as a fur-trading post and later sold to the military, Fort Benton was where infamous trails such as the Whoop-up Trail to Alberta and the Fort Walsh Trail to Saskatchewan began. According to one of the plaques in the riverside park, the town in the early days was so wild that the U.S. Calvalry had to be called in if arrests had to be made.

M0NTANA FLAGSWith the advent of the North West Mounted Police in 1874, however, the whiskey trade was halted and an era of commercial interaction and cooperation between Canada and Fort Benton began. This historic connection is reflected in the three flagpoles that stand by the river, for the Canadian flag flies between the U.S. and the Montana State flags.

THE CAMELBACK BRIDGEIn 1883, the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad to Helena and the Canadian Pacific Railroad to Calgary caused a decline in business and ended Fort Benton’s importance as a prosperous commercial hub; however, there are still many fascinating sites to see that reflect the town’s history and its glory days. The Fort Benton Bridge, which was the first bridge to cross the Missouri River in Montana Territory, is the oldest steel truss bridge remaining in the state. THE COLONEL'S ENDAlthough a new traffic bridge was built in 1963, the old bridge is accessible as a walking bridge and provides lovely views of the river and surrounding hills. When I strolled out and watched the powerful Missouri churning past the metal plates that sheathed the concrete piers below the bridge, I realized it was the perfect location to begin a mystery story.

GRAND HOTELAnother striking historical landmark in Fort Benton is the Grand Union Hotel, built in 1882. Although the hotel failed when the town’s fortunes declined, a multi-million-dollar project in the nineties restored the hotel to its former elegance, and now it provides a delightful lodging and dining experience for visitors to the town. Fine dining, old-world atmosphere, and a saloon providing beer on tap with highly original names! My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed our stay there, and I resolved on the spot that one of my story characters would have to stay there at some point in the future.

CLOSE UP OF SHEPThe thing that most deeply touched my heart, though, when we first visited the town, was the statue of a dog that stands outside the Grand Union Hotel. Our dog, Max, had died shortly before we began our trip, so the Montana memorial was particularly moving for me. The statue is of a dog called Shep, whose sad story goes back to 1936 when his master died and the body was sent back east at the request of his family. The faithful dog kept vigil at the railway station, continuing to watch for his master until the day he died. Shep was buried on the hillside overlooking the railway station and a small cairn marks the spot, alongside the original Shep memorial.

FB28The statue by the hotel is a bronze sculpture surrounded by bricks that people can buy to commemorate their own pets. Naturally, we bought a brick to commemorate Max, and on a subsequent trip to Montana, we returned to see it in place. So if you ever visit Fort Benton, be sure to look for the brick that bears the name, Max, the Ho Hum Husky.

FB33The Shep statue was not the only moving tribute to dogs in the town of Fort Benton. The military park adjacent to the fort has a section devoted to service dogs, and predictably, one of the plaques is dedicated to a Shep who served in Vietnam. Naturally, having visited the two Shep memorials and having read the touching dedication to service dogs in the military park, it was inevitable that the final story in my latest book would be a novella set in Fort Benton and developed around a series of incidents related to dogs. Now that The Devil Gets his Due and Other Mystery Stories is out, I hope readers will enjoy their literary visit to this charming town as much as I enjoyed our stays there.

CH3Oh, and by the way, Fort Benton did have that coffee shop we were looking for, and it was a delightful one too!

Front cover reduced2


Now available on Amazon


EXCERPT:  The footbridge that crosses the Missouri River at Fort Benton is the most historically significant bridge in Montana. Certainly, it is one of the oldest, built in 1888, a year before the Territory became a State and the first bridge to ford the Missouri in Montana. For seventy-five years, the steel-truss bridge carried traffic—horses, carts and wagons in the early days, and later motor vehicles—but in 1963, a new bridge was built a quarter-mile upstream, and the old steel bridge was closed. The striking quartet of trapezoidal trusses connecting to the east bank remains intact; however, the original swing span that was constructed to allow the passage of steamboats was replaced when the centre pier was washed out in a flood in 1908. Today, the west bank connects to the original structure by a long camelback span, supported, like the original trusses, by concrete piers sheathed in metal plates. The old bridge now serves as a pedestrian feature of the river park, although it can only be accessed from the west side, as the cottonwood-laden east bank is privately owned. So while the traffic in and out of Fort Benton motors across the Chouteau County Memorial Bridge by the Grand Union Hotel, tourists strolling the river path can walk out over the old bridge and look back towards the unique little town that constitutes the birthplace of Montana.

However, on a Saturday morning in September, tourists are a rare commodity, and the locals, long used to the black metal span yawning over their river, rarely deem it worth the crossing, knowing that they simply have to return again. Walkers and joggers stick to the river path and feel no temptation to turn onto the concrete walkway that leads to the bridge. But children are another matter, and the young Mason boys and their friend, Rory O’Mara, considered it an adventure to walk out along the wooden planking and stare down at the swirling waters below.

As they reached the point where the camelback truss ended and the trio of Baltimore trusses began, the boys turned back to see one of their schoolmates walking her dog along the river path. The German shepherd was bounding ahead, and as it came to the bridge, Jack Mason whistled and yelled out, “Hey, Shep! Here boy!” As an afterthought, he waved to the girl and added, “Sally, come join us.”

Shep darted onto the planked walkway. Sally waved back and followed the dog onto the bridge. She was only part way along the camelback span by the time the dog reached the boys. Ralph Mason gave the dog a perfunctory pat and then leaned out over the railing. He liked to see the powerful water surging up and curling around the metal plates.

Jack and Rory started to play with Shep, but Ralph remained mesmerized by the water below the bridge. Something that looked like a sack seemed to be bobbing against the concrete pier.

As Sally reached the end of the first span, Shep abandoned Jack and raced back to meet her. Rory turned to see what had transfixed his friend’s brother.

“There’s a sack down there,” said Ralph. “It’s caught on the pier. It’s full of some stuff, and there’s bits of cloth attached to the back of it.”

“No way,” said Rory. “A sack wouldn’t float.” He moved to the railing and stared down into the water.

“Jeez, you moron,” he said. “That’s not a sack. It’s got legs. That’s a body down there.”

Jack abandoned Shep and came to the railing.

As the boys stared downwards, the body lifted, and an expanse of tan cowhide rose and subsided, its tattooed insignia of interlocking antlers hovering momentarily in view before it glided back under the slate grey water. 

“Holy moly, that’s The Colonel!” said Ralph.  

Jack’s eyes bulged and his face went white. Then he gasped as the force of the current rolled the torso against the pier. He felt suddenly sick. He reeled away from the railing and threw up.

“What are you guys staring at?”

Sally’s voice behind him made Ralph look round. She and Shep had reached the centre span.

“We gotta get the sheriff,” said Rory. “There’s a body down there.” 

“No,” breathed Sally. “Are you serious?” 

She moved towards the railing.

Ralph stopped her. Even at the age of ten, cowboy-country gallantry was ingrained in his psyche, and he had already seen the effect of the corpse on his older brother. 

“Don’t look,” he said firmly. “He doesn’t have a head.”


Now available – Body and Soul

Posted by on Dec 31, 2016 in Elizabeth Elwood | 0 comments

front-coverAfter a highly successful run with Vagabond Players at the Bernie Legge Theatre, Body and Soul is now available for other theatre groups. This charming romantic comedy was enthusiastically received by New Westminster audiences and the play is sure to be a hit with community theatre groups everywhere. The plot combines time travel with the supernatural, the script is witty and original, and the story is full of surprises. For queries about royalties, contact info@elihuentertainment.com, and for additional information, view the Body and Soul page in the play section of this website and read about the Vagabond Players production.

Body and Soul

Posted by on Jul 26, 2016 in Elizabeth Elwood | 0 comments

Body and Soul

Fifteen years ago, I wrote a marionette musical called The Christmas Spirit, which Elwoodettes Marionettes produced for the Vagabond Players Christmas show in 2003. The audiences were greatly amused by the whimsical plot where, though time travel, a woman named Mary Fairfax was brought forward several hundred years and found herself inhabiting an old English manor house which was haunted by her spirit. Thus she found herself present in both body and soul.

The Bernie Legge Theatre, Queens Park, New Westminster

The Bernie Legge Theatre, Queens Park, New Westminster

Because the plot went over so well, I thought it would be fun to take that concept and use it in a romantic comedy for actors, as opposed to marionettes, and what better place to premiere the play than the Bernie Legge Theatre, which reputedly has several ghosts of its own. The original story took place in England, but the play is set in Canada—in a heritage home in the Queens Park area of New Westminster.

A visit to Irving House.

A visit to Irving House.

The historical details have been adjusted accordingly. Mary’s ‘tragic’ story now stems from an event during the second Boer War, specifically the battle of Paardeberg Drift, a struggle where Canadian soldiers stood out for their bravery. The references to Mary being the star of the local operatic society are also pertinent as there was an opera house in New Westminster at the time. The design for the wainscoting and other set details were inspired by a tour of Irving House.

The real Wee Geordie.

The real Wee Geordie.

One reference in the play needs clarification: Geordie Fairfax, the tall, cantankerous Scottish landlord in the play, is referred to by his tenants as ‘Wee Geordie’, an eponym that will resonate with people who are old enough to have seen the delightful 1950s comedy of that name that starred Bill Travers. The film was loosely based on the life of Scots Olympian and farmer, Tom Nicolson, so the real Geordie, being a sturdy hammer thrower, was definitely not ‘Wee’.

Jim Keary's Queen of the Night

Jim Keary’s Queen of the Night

Another point of interest for long-time Vagabond Players patrons: The opera collages that will be decorating the set are the artwork of the late James Keary, a member of the club who acted in and designed sets for Vagabond Players shows during the eighties. Jim is fondly remembered by all who knew him. He was a great supporter of my own artistic endeavours and I like to think that he, along with his collages, will be there in spirit on opening night.

Body&SoulPosterThe play is now cast, with a wonderfully talented group of actors, and an equally fine production team is in place. The lovely poster design by Michael McCray is ready to go, reflecting the New Westminster heritage-house location. The cast list and other details can be seen on the Body and Soul page in the play section on this website. Another new play! Another new adventure.

Inspired by Opera.

Posted by on Mar 23, 2016 in Elizabeth Elwood | 0 comments

Inspired by Opera.

When I recently attended the charming Burnaby Lyric Opera performance of La Bohème at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, the afternoon brought back memories of many lovely productions of the popular Puccini opera. Surprisingly, considering how familiar I was with the opera, I had only seen one other production on stage, and that was with the Vancouver Opera in 1970.


Metropolitan Opera production with Stratas.

However, I had watched several filmed productions, including the wonderful Zeffirelli film with Mirella Freni and a Metropolitan Opera version in which Teresa Stratas was by far the most consumptive-looking Mimi I have ever seen. The glorious score is familiar to me from listening to the Pavarotti/Freni recording many times, not to mention from working on the arias with the wonderful Luigi Wood in my younger days as a singer.

Boheme 3

Chorus time – on the other side of the curtain.

My familiarity with La Bohème also stems from experience on the other side of the curtain. I had been in the VOA chorus for the company’s 1976 production, which was directed by Jan Rubes, and starred Clarice Carson as Mimi, William McKinney as Rodolfo and Mary Costa as Musetta. The chorus as a whole was only on stage in Act II, by far the liveliest act and great fun for the participants. However, the few tiny bits and pieces from Act III—customs officers, milkmaids and peasants scurrying back and forth between the customs house and the tavern—were allotted to a handful of the chorus singers too. My memories of that scene are vivid.


The Pavarotti/Freni Recording

The setting is a cold February morning and the snow is slowly falling. I can still remember the feel of the chill in the air, which could have been a draught from the wings as I crossed the massive Queen Elizabeth Theatre stage, but more likely, it was the dim blue lighting and the sporadic snowflakes that created such a wintry atmosphere that I actually felt cold. It was eerie on that vast stage, looking back at the warmly lit windows of the tavern, and then gliding across to the snow-covered customs house. No wonder, years later, when wanting a suitably spine-chilling atmosphere for a mystery story, I recalled this experience and gave my heroine, Philippa, one of those bit parts. Naturally, in between singing her chorus music, she also solves the murder of a spectacularly unpopular prima donna. Appropriately, the story is titled “Mimi’s Farewell” and is part of an upcoming collection in the Beary mystery series.


The Burnaby Lyric Opera production.

The subject matter of the opera lends itself well to the mystery genre. Based on Henry Mürger’s Scènes de la Vie de Bohème, the opera deals with the life of young artists, who can sometimes be volatile and insecure individuals. Public perception conventionally thinks of Mimi and Rodolfo’s relationship as a gloriously romantic love affair, but their story is actually a tale of two people every bit as riven by jealousy and quarrels as Musetta and Marcello, the secondary characters who spend most of their onstage time having spats. The difference is that, in the principals’ case, the negative scenes happen offstage. But what a perfect scenario for a mystery story where the couple’s relationship differs dramatically on stage and off and the detective must pick up the nuances that distinguish what is real and what is histrionic.


The composer himself.

While it was fun to use the darker aspects of Mimi and Rodolfo’s relationship in my mystery writing, I found a use for their more conventionally romantic image when writing my play, Body and Soul, which is due to premiere with the Vagabond Players in October of this year. The setting is a heritage house, haunted by a ghost who, in life, was a leading soprano with the local operatic society. Her most glorious memories are of moments on stage with her tenor and lover, Umberto, as they sang the love duet from La Bohème. Needless to say, the occupants of the house have to be very careful about their choice of music if they feel like breaking into song. More news to come on this project. Thank you, Puccini! So much inspiration in one glorious opera!

Reflections on a State Dinner – The times they are a changin!

Posted by on Feb 26, 2016 in Elizabeth Elwood | 0 comments

Reflections on a State Dinner – The times they are a changin!

Back in 1986, when my husband was involved on a variety of boards and community associations, we were invited to a State dinner for Vice President, George H. W. Bush, which was hosted by the Honorable Pat Carney, then Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, and the Honourable Don Mazankowski, who was Minister of Transport at the time. That sounds very grand, but of course, we were not invited because we were in any way important—simply because we were considered ‘safe’. Basically, when any VIPs come to town and are the featured guests at a banquet, the place has to be filled with appropriate attendees who can be guaranteed to behave themselves, and the local community and political associations are raided for bodies.

Scan Feb 26, 2016, 9_37 AM-2

The invitation.

Naturally, we were very chuffed to receive the invitation, for the event promised to be something to remember. The thick, cream-coloured card specified black tie, along with an addendum on the RSVP card that ballerina-length gowns were also acceptable for women. Since I was young and glamorous and loved dressing up, I was even more excited than my husband, who gloomily agreed that he would have to rent a tuxedo. As Hugh and I had been married in our home and I had worn an evening gown as my wedding dress, this dinner was the perfect opportunity to get my gown out again.


Hugh had to rent a tux.

On the night of the event, we made our way downtown to the Hyatt Regency, and elegant in our finery, entered the foyer by the ballroom. I was stunned. In spite of the specific directions for the dress code, the majority of the men were in business suits and a significant number of women were underdressed as well. Many were not even in cocktail dresses, but simply wore suits or day dresses, and those of us who wore the specified gowns felt over-dressed, even though we were not. West Coast laid-back ethos with a vengeance!

Liz wedding

My evening-wedding gown got an outing.

Once we got over our amazement at the way people had ignored the dress code, we settled down to enjoy the hors d’oevres and the fascinating social scene. As Hugh quipped, seeing another keen-eyed, ear-plugged, sombre-suited gentleman glide by, “All the deaf men are security.” We soon found several people that we knew and remained in the lobby chatting until the final call, since within the ballroom, we were to be seated at assigned tables. Hugh, having fully appreciated the open bar, had to make a last-minute bathroom break, which meant leaving the foyer and passing security yet again on the way out of the men’s washroom. On his emergence, he looked across to the ladies where a female RCMP officer stood on duty and informed the policeman by the men’s that, if he had to be frisked, he wanted that one to do it. This caused great hilarity among the uniformed police, but not a smile was cracked by the plain-clothes team, all intent on making sure there were no threats to the guest of honour.


The menu.

The rest of the evening was greatly enjoyable. Our table companions were interesting and the meal was definitely not the rubber chicken that one often gets at group events. When the President and his Lady appeared, we felt vindicated to see him in his tuxedo and Barbara Bush glittering from neck to toe in red sequins. The speeches were short and to the point, and when the guests of honour left, their route took them right by our table, where they paused to shake hands in the homey, friendly way that we tend to expect from our U.S. neighbours. The evening had been fun—a buzz, as my Australian cousins would say—an experience to remember. My wedding dress went back into the closet, where it has hung ever since, but the memories were taken out recently, because I realized that this was a great setting that I could use for one of my mystery stories. So when Bertram and Edwina Beary embark on “A Tale of Vice and Villainy” in an upcoming book, you’ll know where all the background detail came from. Not that we had any corpses dropping into the soup at the real event, but mystery writers are entitled to a little dramatic licence.

g and b copy

The guests of honour.

Looking back on that evening from so many years later, I feel a little sad as I realize that there are several differences today that are a sad reflection on our society. We are now so bound by political correctness that almost any remark can be construed to be offensive. When my husband made his quip outside the men’s washroom, the officers on duty laughed and sent him on his way, but I can’t help wondering what the reaction would have been today. Leaving aside the issues of ‘speech’ crime, the police have so many additional stresses to deal with that they seem to have lost their sense of humour. One can’t stop and chat with a policeman these days without being surveyed with suspicion. The old community feeling of easy interaction between honest citizens and the Force seems to have disappeared into the ether. Everyone was much less edgy in the pre-911 days.


Not so cozy any more!

The other major difference that struck me was our own attitude towards the host of security men. We, along with our other friends who were present, thought it was vastly entertaining to see a raft of plain-clothes policemen on duty to protect the Vice-President. Today, our reaction would have been quite different, for the sight of all the security personnel would have simply reminded us of our own vulnerability in a world where terrorism has become a common term in daily news. Instead of being relaxed, we would have been surveying the crowd with the same suspicious eye as the men and women on duty. Hey ho! Writing my ‘cozy’ mystery simply reminded me that our corner of the world is not as cozy a place as it was thirty years ago.

From play to mystery story —Shadow of Murder and “Mary Poppins, Where are you?”

Posted by on Jan 3, 2016 in Elizabeth Elwood | 0 comments

From play to mystery story —Shadow of Murder and “Mary Poppins, Where are you?”

My third play was another murder mystery. The idea came to me years ago when I was home with a dose of flu. I was too ill to concentrate on a book so I resorted to browsing through the want ads. Suddenly, I came across a notice for a children’s nanny. It read: “Mary Poppins, Where are You?” This was around the time of the Bernardo/Homolka murders and the thought popped into my head: What if the nanny had been one half of a homicidal couple and the ad had been placed by her partner in crime after she had been released from jail. Suddenly the cheerful wording of the notice took on a sinister tone.

Chris O'Connor and Isabel Mendenhall

Chris O’Connor and Isabel Mendenhall

A lot has been written and filmed about couples who have been convicted of multiple murders. The inevitable question that comes to mind is: Was the female half of the partnership a willing participant, or was she intimidated into aiding and abetting her partner? This became the subject of my play. The script deals with a serial killer named Peter Crampton who has escaped from jail in order to get even with the girlfriend who gave evidence against him. When the play begins, his girlfriend has been released from jail, but she has disappeared from view and no one knows where she is.


“Mary Poppins, Where are you” was published in The Beacon and Other Mystery Stories

I set the play in a hunting lodge in the mountains.  Although I was very attached to the title that had given me the idea for the plot, I realized that it would have to be changed as it would be misleading on a marquee. Therefore, the play-script became Shadow of Murder. However, I decided to re-use the plot for one of my mystery books, and in that format, I was able to keep the original title. As it turned out, “Mary Poppins, Where are you?” was already in print before the play was produced, so the short story provided a great resource for the actors’ character studies.


Pat McDermott and Mary Adams

Although the play has a very dark theme, its tone is that of a typical community-theatre murder mystery. There are elements of romance and humour that offset the serious subject matter. The suspense comes from the fact that the characters are isolated at the lodge and a dangerous killer is at large in the vicinity. Without these elements, the play would have been irretrievably gloomy. However, most of these features were unnecessary when I rewrote the script as a short story. Therefore, I dispensed with the humour and romance, and kept the tone serious and sinister.

Shadow Set

The Lodge

Transforming Shadow of Murder into story form was fun. I’d learned my lesson on my previous projects and I took a different approach right from the start. The biggest plus was being able to take the action outside the hunting lodge. Dialogues took place by the lake; characters mulled over problems while walking forested trails; squad cars raced along highways in high winds; motorists were stranded by landslides; policemen discovered bodies in the river. It was so much easier to narrate the events as they happened rather than write dialogue to let the audience know about the action that was occurring outside the stage set.


The Vagabond Players cast

It was easy to create suspense with the short-story format, too. Instead of writing dialogue, I could describe the thoughts of the characters, far more evocative than the spoken word for communicating the fear that gripped them. The varied settings helped too. The dark forest, the raging storm, the turbulent river and the cold, sinister lake all generated a doom-laden atmosphere.


Isabel Mendenhall and Dwayne Campbell

Other differences between the two formats? With a story, it is easier to insert red-herrings into the plot. The clues can hide amid pages of description or exposition. The stream-of-consciousness technique works well. Character’s thoughts can be written in a way that is entirely accurate, yet still leads the reader in the wrong direction.   Red herrings in a theatrical production are trickier. It is hard to fool a group of people collectively focussed on a live performance, so a play demands visual trickery and extraneous action to divert the audience from the clues in the dialogue.



The final major difference between the two forms was in the endings. In spite of the darkness of the theme, I was able to end the stage play on an upbeat note that left the audience smiling. However, in translating that plot into a story, levity simply did not work. “Mary Poppins, Where are you?” had to be ‘played’ straight, and the story’s conclusion resounded with bitterness and a desire for retribution.  Same plot, totally different mood. The power of style and structure over content never ceases to delight me.

Black and white photos by Doug Goodwyn. ‘Whodunnit’ by Craig Premack.

Celebrating the Festive Season at the Burnaby Village Museum

Posted by on Dec 17, 2015 in Elizabeth Elwood | 0 comments

Celebrating the Festive Season at the Burnaby Village Museum

Set up for the show.

The Burnaby Village Museum is a wonderful place to visit during Heritage Christmas.  For us, the village has special significance, since we have performed there annually since 1994.  Our first gig was a single-day booking when we were eager new puppeteers.  We were also the owners of a boisterous new pet, whose image had been recreated as Max, the Ho Hum Husky, and that first booking was the premiere performance of Guard Dog in Concert.  Max, the dog, came along with Max, the puppet, and hovered backstage throughout the performance, eagerly awaiting the moment when he would go out to bow with his puppet and receive a cookie as a reward.


Max, the Ho Hum Husky


Max rivaled Rudolph and Santa for popularity!

As the years rolled on, we continued to perform at the museum.  Whatever the weather—frost, rain, wind or blizzards—we made it to Brookfield Hall in time to deliver our shows.  The bookings increased to two, and then three days.  We put on two half-hour shows a day, and later, a third one was added to accommodate the people who wanted to get in.  Max became so seasoned at performing that on one occasion, he anticipated his bow and slipped out to socialize with the audience during the final few minutes of the show.  We couldn’t figure out why the audience was laughing more than usual until we realized that the backstage blanket was empty.


Seen through new eyes.


The lights get better every year.

As our puppet company grew, we progressed from our rickety old trailer to a grand Wells Cargo version, which the village janitors probably hated as it threatened to tear down all the garlands as we made our way round to the loading door.  We developed a second Christmas show, The Fairy Tale that went Wrong, and alternated the shows from year to year.  In the early years, our daughters performed with us, and enjoyed touring the museum between shows.  More recently, our grandchildren have come to the shows, and we have enjoyed seeing the museum through young eyes all over again.   Our original trailer has come full circle too, since the grand Wells Cargo one was stolen in 2009; now the old one is back on the road, doing Trojan service and not offering any danger to the village decorations.


Die Fledermaus, the Sequel


That cozy backstage area.

Since the museum started offering free admission for Heritage Christmas, the crowds have grown so large that the longer shows are no longer practical.  Now we do eight shorter shows a day, and our booking this year is for seven days.  Quite the marathon, so we are very grateful for our cozy backstage area, and make sure we’re equipped with what we need to catch a few minutes rest in between shows.  We also venture out and take a turn around the grounds, for the lights seem to grow more brilliant and abundant every year.  So if you’re looking for a lovely way to celebrate the Festive Season, come down to the Burnaby Village Museum – and don’t forget to drop in and see the puppets on your way through.  Merry Christmas, everyone!

This year at the museum: Max, the Ho Hum Husky running Dec. 26 – 29, 2015 and Die Fledermaus, the Sequel running Dec. 30, 2015 – Jan. 1, 2016.