One or two characters who might reasonably do so, such as our party boss or the manor's trusty butler, should greet their guests shortly after arrival, perhaps even showing them to their seats or being otherwise helpful. Other characters might circulate as well, mingling with the guests and giving little clues. Characters may be used to distribute programs, or clue sheets upon which the audience member may eventually record their guess as to the killer.
The main purpose of having actors in character serve as greeters is to set up the audience for what is to come. When someone walks in to the mystery, he may have no idea what is going to happen. A greeter can set up the location for the audience and get the situation rolling with a few hints about the other characters.
If the mystery is to be funny and outrageous the greeters should also be, so as to give the audience a clue as to how they are expected to react for the remainder of the evening. Or, if the mystery is to be taken very seriously the characters should be serious, too.
When all have been seated and dinner orders have been taken, one character should step forward and make a general announcement about the format of the mystery. If a prize is being offered for correctly guessing the killer, the rules of this contest should be explained, including how much information will be required (name of killer, correct motive, weapon -- whatever), and if there can be more than one winner.
It’s also a good idea for this performer to also set the mood, and warm the audience up for the show. Try and get some interaction going, even if it’s only to ask them (as a group) how they’re doing, and if they’re ready to have some fun. If, at first, the reception is a bit low on energy, try the old standby of repeating your greeting until you get a bigger response.
Sean Holiday, of On The Edge, begins each show with the ice breaking question, "Is everybody ready for a murder this evening?"
When the crowd assents: "Good. Who wants to be first?"
It gets a laugh, and, more importantly, lets them know that, when we ask a question, we want an answer.
And, finally, a general introduction to the setting and situation may be used to cover any necessary back story. If the murder has already taken place before the time period covered by the show (one way to conserve on the number of cast members needed) the details must be explained before the action commences so that the audience will not be confused and will know what to look for. In some shows performed by On The Edge a pre-recorded audio tape introduction has been used for this purpose.
Whichever character does the introduction should be sure to stay in character as they do it, their attitude and speech kept consistent with how they will act later in the show.
While greeting and introductions are going on the serving of the dinner can also begin with drinks and appetizers provided to tide the audience through the first act and insure that everyone is relaxed and attentive for the show.
Next Step: Style.