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Dinner theater ventures into corporate team-building

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A chalk outline is part of a performance by The Dinner Detective. (Courtesy of The Dinner Detective)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Trust falls and personality tests are hallmarks of corporate team-building events, but The Dinner Detective offers something different: an interactive dinner theater experience that specializes in corporate team-building events.

The business, born in 2004 in Culver City, Calif., has worked with a number of New Mexico companies since it expanded to the state about a year ago. Clients include Lighthouse Technologies, New Mexico Gaming LLC, Goodman Realty, Hospital Services Corp., LSG and Associates, the New Mexico Dental Association and Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino.

“It was fun,” said Pepper Skodack, a representative with LSG and Associates, a staffing agency. “They were able to incorporate a lot of the acronyms that we use and a lot of stuff that was familiar to the employees.”

While most mystery dinner performances are set in the past, The Dinner Detective uses present day cold cases in its stories, allowing the actors to mix in with the audience, said founder and president Scott O’Brien. The shows use no costumes or stage.

“The performers are in line with you,” he said.”They sit at your table. The audience doesn’t know until someone dies.”

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O’Brien said the business idea was hatched while he and his wife were working with television producer David E. Kelly on the hit show “The Practice.” The couple went to a dinner theater and left underwhelmed by the show and overwhelmed by the size of the crowd.

“My wife dared me to do better. That’s how all of this started,” said O’Brien.

Part of what makes The Dinner Detective conducive to corporate events is the use of trained improvisation actors who can go off script and include personalized corporate messages, themes and team-building exercises in the stories.

Being different and thinking outside the box are major motivators for O’Brien, and he believes that is what has made The Dinner Detective so popular. “If you’ve got something cool and different, it picks up steam pretty quickly,” he said. “That’s what happened in Albuquerque.”

The Dinner Detective is in 53 cities, performing in Albuquerque at the Marriott at Louisiana and Interstate 40. It also does public performances.

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