HOUGHTON - Kids solving murder mysteries. Outside of an episode of "Scooby-Doo," the two don't really seem to go together. But the sixth, seventh and eighth grade students of the Houghton Middle School will be putting their sleuthing skills to the test when two productions run this weekend.
The sixth graders will be putting on "No Body to Murder" and the seventh graders will be performing "10 Little Chipmunks."
Doing two plays instead of just one came about three years when director David Crawley realized there were a lot of students who wanted to be involved.
Ben Lilleskov plays dead. Lilleskov plays Thaddeus Thornbury, a mean, greedy man who makes people compete for his money.
"I had to give out understudy roles to all the female parts in the seventh and eight grade play," Crawley said. "I had 27 girls try out for ten parts."
About 45 students all together are involved in both plays both on and off the stage.
"No Body to Murder" tells the story of Billie Body, who mysteriously drops dead after word gets out of an escaped murderer on the loose. Secrets are revealed amongst those who knew Billie and a surprise ending is in store for the audience.
"10 Little Chipmunks" features Thaddeus Thornbury, a greedy man who has spent his life selling chipmunks to the national forest. His family all want his money, but Thaddeus' will stipulates that his fortune will go only to the last surviving heir. But the catch is that after he dies, the last surviving member only has 50 hours to claim the money. As a result, bodies start dropping.
Eighth grade student Ben Lilleskov plays Thaddeus, whom he describes as mean, greedy old man.
Lilleskov has been in other plays at the school and auditioned for this one because he likes doing it.
"It's fun," he said.
And despite it being one of the more difficult aspects of theater, he said he has enjoyed learning his lines the most.
Lilleskov has been practicing for the play three or four days a week and enjoys the rehearsal the part, but doesn't find auditioning nerve-wracking.
Also performing in the play Shea Donnelly and Kaitlyn McKay, who play a mother and daughter.
"My character is a hippy and crazy," McKay said.
The hardest part for Donnelly so far has been learning her lines, she said.
"The funnest part, though, is when you know all your lines and can have fun with it."
Director David Crawley said he wanted to do a murder mystery because he feels those kinds of plays are better written.
He also feels that plays for kids don't often take advantage of a child's true acting ability.
"There are thousands of plays for kids and the majority of them are based on the idea that kids can't act so they just give them a bunch of stupid things to say. I?refuse to do that,"?Crawley said.
In fact, Crawley found the play that he did last year was performed by adults at a community theater.
"I?didn't come to do high school plays or middle school plays. I?came to do theater," he said.
Crawley said he's read through stacks of plays but won't choose until he finds one that actually gives kids a chance to act.
"I?just want to challenge the kids," he said. "They appreciate being challenged."
So far the kids have been enjoying being in the play.
Auditions for the play began in December with rehearsals starting after Christmas break. Crawley gave them their scripts so they could work on their lines before they started rehearing.
While Crawley just does the plays at the school (he's not a teacher there), his favorite part of doing them is seeing the kids progress.
He also wants to stress that the shows are not just for the parents of the kids in the plays.
"This is for anybody that enjoys theater, not just the families" he said. "This is something that people will enjoy coming to see."
Tickets are currently available and are $4 for students and seniors and $6 for the public. Performances are Friday, Saturday and Sunday.