Back when a well-dressed man felt naked without his hat, the film noir image of a detective pounding the pavement or lurking in the shadows was incomplete without a fedora, the brim pulled low.
The whole cynical, world-weary attitude of the Chandler-esque private eye was summed up in the tilt of his chapeau.
When the newly formed Black Fedora Comedy Mystery Theatre opens its doors Thursday, the mood will be much lighter, and the audience will be more than passive observers. They’ll be participants.
Founders Sherry and Darryl Wade, who moved to Charleston four months ago, brought their successful production company with them from Atlanta. But instead of performing for corporate, college and private clients in makeshift theaters, Black Fedora has its own performance space on Church Street.
“We’ve had our eyes on Charleston for at least 15 years,” says Sherry Wade.
“Having our own theater space was something Darryl had wanted for a long time so he would have more control and be able to offer a better, more consistent product.
“When we began researching cities, we wanted one that was also a major tourist destination. Charleston was it.”
Her husband says he feels like the company finally is going to play in the major leagues after years in the minor leagues, and that having a set schedule in a single venue will enable Black Fedora and its inaugural in-house corps of 20 actors to offer a more substantial product.
“It does feel like that with our own theater we’re in the big game now. We’ve always wanted to do a little bit more than we’d done before. More sets, more atmosphere and to make it an experience from the moment guests step through the door.
“That’s one of the reasons we also have a shop filled with mystery-related items and gifts. That way, patrons are within an environment of mystery from the time they arrive to the time they leave.”
In between, audience members not only will be treated to such plays as opening night’s “Inspector NoClue’s Murder Mystery” but be key players in weighing clues and solving the mystery.
“Inspector NoClue” was the first show Darryl Wade wrote for his Atlanta operation. He has updated and personalized it for Charleston.
For the company’s coming-out party, Wade plays the inspector.
“The most fun thing about doing this is that we are not the stars,” he says. “The audience is. I purposely started rewriting the lines so that a willing audience member gets the last line and the last laugh.”
The Wades anticipate that after two or three months, Black Fedora will have three different plays running simultaneously. Along with “Inspector NoClue,” the company will present “The Charleston History Mystery” (opening Sept. 1) and (mainly for kids) “The Pirate Treasure Mystery” (Oct. 1).
Darryl Wade began what would evolve into Black Fedora 20 years ago while working as an admissions counselor at Oglethorpe University. His first production for a college comedy was called “Bomb Shelter TV,” a campus institution to this day.
“He was soon asked to come up with creative events for prospective students and parents coming to visit the university,” says Sherry. “After a short time, he decided he could do the same thing for corporations and special entertainment events.”
Why just comedy mystery and not straight mysteries as well? No puzzle there. It’s because that’s what the founder most enjoys.
“Darryl likes making people laugh; that’s his goal more than anything,” says Sherry, who is also a cast regular. “We’re hoping to bring a night of laughter to an audience by having the actors out among them at all times. There’s a prewritten ending and solution, but the audience is fed clues and solves the mystery.”
The Wades have rented and are reworking the former retail space at 164 Church St. to accommodate performances. Just a bit of tweaking remains to be done, says Sherry.
“Actually, we started looking just over a year ago, before moving to Charleston and buying a house. We started the transformation process three months ago and are fortunate to be working with interior designer Dave Puls, who is building the seating and shelves, our box office and so on. We’re almost there.”
Reach Bill Thompson at 937-5707.