When Chris McCord, owner of the Historic Wolf Hotel in Ellinwood, KS called performing artist Brett Crandall, it didn’t take long for the two to realize they have a lot in common. They are both passionate entrepreneurs. Both have very big ideas. But the two also share a unique, personal drive to showcase the wholesome, yet gritty charm of the Sunflower State to the world. After a brief meeting and tour of the well-preserved landmark, Crandall began to piece together a comedy riddled with crimes inspired by Ellinwood’s colorful history. The result was Murder at the Wolf Hotel, a new interactive murder-mystery play in which a bumbling detective sleuths out which of the suspects, volunteers from the audience, is guilty.
As a Halloween treat, WaKeeney Public Library sponsored a free performance of Murder at the Wolf Hotel on Sunday, October 25 at Jake & Chet’s Cafe in WaKeeney. Audience members enjoye a free dessert and coffee, tea, or soda, compliments of the Library.
Brett Crandall is an actor, writer, producer and puppeteer who received his formal acting training at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. He then appeared in plays in New York as well as in tours of children’s shows with the Traveling Lantern Theatre Company in the Northeast. He played multiple characters in Robin Hood, Pinocchio, A Christmas Carol, and The Caterpillar Hunter for libraries and elementary schools.
A few years ago, Brett created his own production company, Brett Crandall Studios, to bring “performance opportunities for both artists and audiences” to different parts of the country. His recent productions include The Wizard of Oz, Oliver Twist, and A Christmas Carol.
For this new original play, inspired by Kansas history during the Prohibition Era, Crandall researched the town of Ellinwood. It was originally a stop along the Santa Fe Trail and attracted many German and Austrian immigrants. It expanded as a popular rest station for cowboys on the Cox Cattle Trail with up to eleven saloons by the turn of the century in an underground complex of barber shops, blacksmith shops, brothels and other stores built under the town’s main streets. “The Underground” is now a tourist destination along with the refurbished Wolf Hotel.
Since its debut, the play has been performed in Satanta, Garden City, Lawrence, Liberal, and Crandall’s hometown of Deerfield. Crandall explains one of his goals is to shed light on the lives of disenfranchised Kansans of the past, such as interracial and LGBTQ+ couples, by offering a diverse representation and historical context left out of the history books. He hopes to “dispel myths about what minorities experienced 100 years ago and may still experience today.”
Murder at the Wolf Hotel was performed in the lounge area and side room at Jake & Chet’s Cafe which had plenty of atmosphere to evoke the hotel speakeasy setting. There was also ample room for spacing of tables and groups to observe the social distancing and precautions for Covid-19 which is already the norm at the restaurant. The Library also offered free face masks, hand sanitizers, and door prizes for all attendees.
To book a stay at The Historic Wolf Hotel, visit historicwolfhotel.com. To learn more about Brett Crandall Studios, visit BrettCrandallStudios.com.