While Ryan Byers spends most of his days working as an attorney at the law offices of Rammelkamp Bradney in Jacksonville, he is more than just a man of the courtroom. Over the past six years, Byers, along with his wife Amy, have been organizing annual murder mystery plays as a fundraiser for the Chatham Area Public Library. This year’s play, titled “Wedded Blitz: There Goes the Bride,” had a plot line centered on a fictional bridal expo held at the library.
“Usually what I try to do, since this is a fundraiser for the Chatham Area Public Library, is I try to tie the theme of the play into something that’s going on at the library,” said Byers, whose wife Amy is the director of the library. “This year’s was a little different, it didn’t directly relate to the library. What happened was, a man and woman who are regular cast members of ours got married last year, and then in November of last year, I got married to my now wife. So because of that we decided that we were going to do a wedding theme.”
This year’s event marked the 16th year of the fundraiser, with Byers and his wife having been involved for the past six. In year’s past, Byers’ plays have taken on themes regarding the emergence of electronic books – his 2011 play was titled “Death by Download” – or even election-themed shows such as the one performed in 2012. All of the actors and actresses that perform each year are amateur volunteers, typically members of the Chatham Area Public Library staff as well as other community members.
“To give a little more background, this was the 16th year for the fundraiser, well before I was involved with the library and well before my wife was employed by the library,” Byers explained. “So I have now written the last six (plays). And in that time, all of the actors have been community volunteers, all of whom have different levels of background in terms of acting experience.”
Byers’ experience with creative writing originated during his undergraduate years at the University of Illinois, where he was part of an improv troupe named “Like Disco … But Not Really.” Some of Byers’ past plays have included “Death by Download” written in 2011 and based around the new library program that began allowing patrons to check out electronic books.
“I had never written a play before I wrote one of these, and I’d never really written anything like it before,” said Byers. “Obviously I do a lot of writing in my professional life and I wrote a lot in college, but when I started doing these (plays) I didn’t have sort of creative writing outlet, which is why I really wanted to take a crack at it.”
“The (writing) process for me started with my improv background, and what I did when I was writing the script was I came up with a basic plot, and I came up with characters, and I thought to myself, ‘if I was improvising a scene that involved these characters, and I knew that I needed to hit these plot beats, what would I do and what would I say?’, so I thought that through and I wrote it down, and that was the writing process, essentially.”
Although Byers’ plays are labeled as “murder mysteries,” Byers writes them in a way so that they’re all structured to come off as comedic. Another aspect of his plays, is that Byers constructs them in such a manner that the audience can be actively involved solving the crime.
“I like being able to entertain people, I like being able to make people laugh,” said Byers. “And I try and take quite a bit of time and go to some lengths to make sure that it is actually a solvable mystery. At the end we ask the audience to guess who the murderer is, and guess what the motive is, and what the weapon is, almost as if they’re playing ‘Clue’.”