IT BEGAN IN 1949 as a murder mystery board game. By the end of the century, it had inspired a cult comedy film, a musical, even a video game. This year, Clue: On Stage emerged in the top spot of the Educational Theatre Association’s annual survey of most produced high school and middle school plays, ending the five-year reign held by John Cariani’s Almost, Maine.

Overkill? Not according to Mary Bogrette, theatre director at Bloomfield Hills High School in Michigan. “Everybody needs a good laugh,” she said. “I think more high schools will want to do it because we need some absurd comedy right now.”

Playscripts’ Clue: On Stage is a farce based on the 1985 screenplay by Jonathan Lynn, with additional material by Sandy Rustin, Hunter Foster, and Eric Price. As in the Hasbro board game, each character functions as both suspect and detective as they all move from room to room of Boddy Manor to figure out who killed whom, where, and with what.

Dramatics interviewed Thespians and teachers who worked on Clue across the United States to learn more about the play’s challenges and rewards.

Bloomfield Hills High School Thespians performed Clue at their school before taking the show to the Mid-Michigan Theatre Arts Festival.
Bloomfield Hills High School Thespians performed Clue at their school before taking the show to the Mid-Michigan Theatre Arts Festival. Photo by Georgia Zimmerman.


Members of Bloomfield Hills’ Troupe 8055 performed Clue at their school before taking the show to the annual Mid-Michigan Theatre Arts Festival in February. Among elements Bogrette loves: “a lot of blocking, a fast pace, and the challenge to work on slapstick while keeping characters real.”

In farce, “everything leads to the next thing. One person leaves and the next enters,” said Eddie Eichenhorn, the Bloomfield Hills incoming senior who played Mr. Green. “We were all one big acting unit.”

Corinne Peterson, a 2020 graduate who played Mrs. White, added that, in Clue, actors’ reactions often outweigh spoken lines. “Everyone had their special moments, and not everything you say is what the audience is focusing on in that scene.” Sometimes the laughs spring from Colonel Mustard’s delayed response, the maid Yvette’s gasp, or Miss Scarlet’s distinctive giggle. The script requires deft scene partnering, accent work, and copious ad libs that help actors bond through inside jokes and improvisations.

“Everyone is so equal, and they’re all so interdependent,” said junior Catherine Recknagel, Bogrette’s assistant director. “It’s a great exercise in teamwork.”

Senior Jack Hale (Professor Plum) added that teamwork extended not just among castmates but also between cast and crew. “When you’re running through three different sets of doors in a specific pattern, it’s a relief to know you’re going through this door and somebody’s going to have a candlestick, and you’ll go through that door and somebody’s going to have the revolver you need.”

In addition to the famous mansion, Clue’s weapons are almost as iconic as its characters, said props head Natasha Mehta, a Bloomfield Hills senior. To avoid visual confusion and “to keep the integrity of the game and the movie,” she stressed the need for ongoing communication among sets, props, and costumes teams. This ensured, for example, that scenic design palettes contrasted the silver of the props and that visual character references matched their namesake colors.

The bent lead pipe was a favorite project of props head Ella Dean, a sophomore. “We had to redo and redo the pipe. We settled on a wire wrapped in foam, then plaster-crafted and painted.”

Dean and Mehta were honored at the Mid-Michigan Theatre Arts Festival with the “Outstanding Technical Merit Award” for their props. “It made all of our hard work, blood, sweat, tears, and countless hours in the shop worth it,” said Dean.

Issaquah High School students lobbied for their production of Clue as soon as it was released for amateur licensing. Photo by Missy Young.


Emmy Frodsham, a senior at Issaquah High School in Washington, served as stage manager for her school’s production of Clue in November 2019. Her favorite prop to make was a disembodied human head. “We ended up using papier-mâché and dressing it up to resemble a human head. That was just a really fun and strange process.”

Clue presents countless design challenges, most notably in its sets. While the script references nine rooms and plenty of classic door-slamming farce, “physically having six doors wasn’t in the budget,” said Meghan Woffinden-Luey, theatre manager of the Longman Performance Center at Issaquah and director of Troupe 8397.

In addition to one set of double doors and a single doorframe on wheels, the troupe delineated rooms and plot shifts through lighting, sound cues, and signage. They made multipurpose set pieces, such as a conservatory trellis that spun around to become a fireplace.

“Every time an accusation was made,” Frodsham explained, “we changed the lighting for a moment to cast the stage in shadows and accent the suspect in their pseudonym’s color.” This dramatic touch further offset the comedy, she said.

“I was excited when I found out we were doing Clue because I love the board game, but I’d never seen the play or the movie before, so I went into it thinking it was going to be a drama,” Frodsham admitted. “Even after watching it for the millionth time from the booth, this show always made me laugh.”

The idea to produce Clue came from Issaquah students and especially 2020 graduate Alaina Dean, who had been lobbying for the play since it was released for school licensing. Woffinden-Luey read the script and loved it. “Having never seen the movie, the humor was fresh to me, the characters felt real, and the time period was interesting to design,” she said, adding that she appreciated the commentary on gay rights, strong female characters, and enthusiastic student buy-in.

Dean enjoyed the wide creative latitude for character development. “It was really fun to personally develop Mrs. White. I got to think of other occupations her husbands had, explore her feminism, and realize she is a very lonely woman,” Dean said. “She was much more than just a widow with a history of murder.”

Christian Mohr, a senior who played Professor Plum, called Clue “a perfect blend of comedy and suspense.” He and his castmates embraced both the challenge of developing duplicitous characters with dangerous secrets and the lesson in comedic timing.

“Landing a good gag onstage depends on two things: buildup and delivery,” he said. “The joke needs to be established. If the audience is hit out of left field with a piece of humor, they might not get it. … The delivery also heavily matters, such as doing a joke too fast or slow, or emphasizing the wrong part of the gag.”

According to Woffinden-Luey, logistics further complicated these dynamics. For example, in dinner scene rehearsals, she kept saying, “We’ll figure it out in tech,” since they needed physical table setting props to nail down timing. “The other difficult scene was the chase,” she said. “I had a feeling it should be like an old Scooby-Doo chase scene. We rehearsed it every day to get the timing and the trade-offs right.”

In the end, these challenges taught Mohr and his castmates “how reliant the scenes were on [good partnering]. A great scene is like a piece of machinery: You have many parts, both big and small, working together to create an action.”

The Notre Dame High School Clue production featured projection art on one set wall to identify rooms of Boddy Manor. Photo by Laura Goodhard.


Theatre director Bethany Moody knew the fun and familiarity of Clue would excite her Thespians of Troupe 8672 at Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “Both my audience members and my theatre students gravitate toward and connect with high-energy, farcical productions,” she said. “This production requires a large number of highly energetic actors who can deliver quick humor.”

By quick, she means “the script may be on to a different joke before the previous joke clicks in the audience’s head.” To focus attention, the play needs both a strong ensemble spirit and well-defined characters. “Seeing the actors play with their emotions, reactions, and line delivery was particularly triumphant for me. Each one seemed to truly make their characters their own,” Moody said.

Levi Brown, a junior who played Wadsworth the butler, said, “Anyone can slap on a posh English accent and roll their eyes, but actors need to connect with the depth of the character to find the little nuances that make the portrayal not only more believable but also more human.”

That’s not easy to do with well-known, larger-than-life figures, each concealing their true identity and possible motives. Brown describes Clue characters as “exaggerated stereotypes of mankind. For instance, everyone knows a Wadsworth — an uptight, perfectionist control freak keen on correcting others. To land this role, you must take that stereotype and run with it. … Comedy is a balance of realism and relatability with exaggerations and extremes.”

Because Clue so evenly distributes action among the cast, the play presents a master class in ensemble building. “Every actor was given jokes, lines, and entertaining blocking. I was able to better appreciate my scene partners because they were given the opportunity to maximize their time in the spotlight,” Brown said.

Graduate Gabriel Davis didn’t want to imitate the film character. “I really wanted to make him my own,” said Davis. “I paid close attention to how Mr. Green acted toward the other characters and to the stage directions the author provided.”

Davis also found it challenging to keep plot twists fresh throughout weeks of rehearsing. “You really must be present in the scene,” he said. “As an actor you know what’s about to happen, but you must stay in the moment as these events are truly happening to you in real time. For example, when the big reveal happens at the end of the show, we had to perform as if we were finding out this information for the very first time.”

With so many jokes, transitions, and stage directions, things are bound to go wrong, “such as a missing prop or a forgotten line,” Davis said. “If you and your scene partners work well together, you’ll be able to make the audience believe whatever happened was intentional. … Being a great actor isn’t about never making mistakes. It’s about being able to overcome that mistake and get yourself back into the scene.”

For performers, technicians, and audience members alike, Clue presents many puzzles to solve and even more potential solutions. At Notre Dame, this included constructing the luxurious, mazelike setting of Boddy Manor on a tight budget.

“I decided to go with more of an abstract theme for our set and bring elements of the game board into Boddy Manor,” said Moody. “As far as the rooms were concerned, I thought about my game board as a child, and I decided to utilize projections as actors ran from room to room.”

Stage manager Matthew Laws, a senior at Notre Dame, explained that part of one set wall in the middle of the stage was a screen onto which they projected room images. Like the Issaquah Thespians, they used both sound cues and doors on wheels to indicate room divisions.

Laws had never run sound effects before stage managing Clue, a production with complex sound elements integrated with precision lighting cues and finely orchestrated onstage mayhem. “I remember that the gunshots and the series of sound cues at the end … [were] rapid fire, happening all in the span of a minute or two.”

Juneau-Douglas High School Thespians performed a dress rehearsal of Clue days before performances were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Juneau-Douglas High School Thespians performed a dress rehearsal of Clue days before performances were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Michaela Moore.


Troupe 3986 at Juneau-Douglas High School had just conquered tech week and nailed their final dress rehearsal when their school district shut down all activity due to the novel coronavirus and Alaska’s statewide shelter-in-place mandate.

Troupe director Michaela Moore describes Clue as Agatha Christie meets vaudeville. “The script has moments of glorious wit and moments of slapstick,” she said, making it a joy to direct. Interspersed with fast-paced whirlwinds of running characters, brisk gags, and well-placed props, she said, “are some long scenes with lots of exposition. You have to keep the physical movement and humor going during these scenes or they can become stagnant and slow the momentum.”

Juneau-Douglas Thespians also innovated a set from limited resources, including a few moveable furniture pieces and both a black scrim and a center-stage curtain that could be flown in and out to differentiate rooms. “With actors and a three-person crew working quickly and efficiently, we were able to coordinate moving set pieces and props with the lights, curtain, and scrim in a seamless manner,” Moore said. Aside from a large front door and massive framed hall paintings, the set was considerably more representative than realistic.

For costumes, Moore spent hours perusing vintage clothing online. “I made a detailed costume plot for every character, including headwear, jewelry, pantyhose or socks, shoes, gloves, coats, etc. Using that costume plot, I scoured all the secondhand shops in our town.” The cast also brought items from home to realize their vision for costumes and props.

One important prop the Juneau-Douglas team and others mentioned was the cat required for a particularly wild chase sequence. “We hid a battery-operated car under a realistic stuffed cat,” said Moore. “A crew member controlled the cat running and hiding. It worked beautifully.”

With this minimalist set, portraying murders and secret passageways required ingenuity. “We used a trick shelf and a trick fireplace. Both opened in front of black curtains hung to look as if they were leading into and from a passageway,” Moore said. She also had characters hold flameless candles at certain points in the show, which they dropped at strategic moments, coupled with dramatic sound effects, so “the audience couldn’t actually see the exact point of violence.”

Graduate Kayla Kohlhase had “a lot of fun coming up with fun character traits for Mrs. Peacock,” whom she gave a New Jersey accent, a quirky gait, and over-the-top gestures. For characters in Clue, exaggeration can help clarify action and land jokes during chaos, she said, adding, “If you put your whole body into the characters, improv comes much easier and reactions come quicker.”

Junior Cahal Burnham also enjoyed developing Colonel Mustard, whom he described as a “fatuous, cowardly military man. … Being the butt-of-the-joke character has always been fun for me. His cowardice, while comical, is ultimately what makes him a believable character. It makes him seem human.”

In the end, Clue is a consummate ensemble piece, training a cast and crew in comedic timing, precise and complex cues, aerobic blocking, scene partnering, ad-libbing, and as Burnham put it, “being able to salvage a whiffed gag.”

Despite canceled performances, Moore counts her Clue experience among “the most fulfilling, inspiring moments spent with a cast. We never stopped creating and problem-solving as an ensemble and never stopped laughing together.”

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