News: "Ghost Hunt: The Hall-Mills Double Homicide," an Asynchronous Multi-City Theatrical Adventure, Has Begun

Image courtesy Kampfire PR
Thinkery and Verse (Karen Alvarado and J.M. Meyer, co-artistic directors) and Butch Mermaid (Ania Upstill, artistic director) have annoucned their collaboration in the world premiere experiential production of Ghost Hunt: The Hall-Mills Double Homicide, based on their more traditional Hall-Mills stage-play, Thou Shalt Not, which was set to premiere this spring in New York City. Part podcast, part gaming (think Pokemon Go), part theatrical production, this unique experience is entirely Covid-19 safe (set in a NJ community which has lost over 1400 people to the illness) and uses a free gaming app called ‘GeoCaching,’ in which audiences will track, hunt, and discover hidden caches at locations tied to Hall-Mills murders.

Ghost Hunt is a geo-cached audio adventure that invites participants to experience the story of a tragic double homicide at the sites where the murders occurred and justice was lost. “This is an innovative, experimental, and experiential audio adventure,” says producing director Upstill. The games began yesterday, September 16.

In 1922, a young woman found her life destroyed when her mother, a choir singer at a small New Brunswick, New Jersey church, was discovered murdered alongside the church’s rector in a ruthless double homicide: Reverend Edward Hall had been shot in the skull, while the woman next to him, Eleanor Mills, suffered three gunshots to the face and a slit throat. Someone eerily posed the bodies and scattered their love letters at their feet. The case has never been solved. Ghost Hunt, with the support of the congregation of Church of Saint John the Evangelist, the home parish of the minister and the choir singer,, investigates a terrifying injustice, which enveloped a small-town society in a ruthless big-city circus.

Once logged into the GeoCaching application, each “cache” or “location” contains relics related to the failed investigation of the crime and a QR code that invokes a digital audio journey into the heart of the case: the haunted back-alley home of the murdered Eleanor Mills, the mansion of the doomed Edward Hall, the site of the murders on DeRussey’s Lane, the Venice enclave where Frances Hall recovered from ‘the shock’ of the murders, the courthouse brought to its knees by a media circus, the San Antonio train station visited by the replacement priest, a forgotten Virginia battlefield, the New York streets where the victim’s daughter tried to move on, the Brooklyn burial site of the wealthy Hall family, and more.

While much of the experience does take place in New Brunswick, New Jersey there are opportunities to explore caches in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Venice, Italy, Virginia, and Texas. Although the tangible experience is only available in said locations, one can still explore and listen from the comfort of their own homes as the audio material is available on the website for those unable to visit Venice and unwilling to visit New Jersey.

According to lead writer J.M. Meyer, "Our Ghost Hunt often uses vaudevillian wordplay to attack the social complacency that surrounded the murders in 1922. But we also use language that closely observes the flow of traumatic memory. James Joyce's Ulysses, being published in 1922, is one of our sign posts for how to use language, and enables us to counter the bizarre anemoia that Americans tend to have when thinking about the 1920s.”

For years, the male-dominated vestry did not allow the Church of Saint John the Evangelist to discuss the murders. Now the vestry is mostly women, and so they do not just talk about it, they sponsored this play--Women do not cover up violence against women. Martha Godfrey, who is a member of the vestry at Saint John’s reflects on the tragedy, “The Hall-Mills case is something that we’ve had hanging over our heads for a long time. It used to be, people would get mad at you for talking about it. I think, as a congregation, we need to get out in front of it. The play is a way of doing that.” The organist, Dr. Susan Huslage agrees, adding, “Why wouldn’t we be allowed to talk about it? It’s how the community views us, though it was a long time ago—certainly before any of us were around. But growing up here, we knew the people involved. It’s not a good thing to have in your past.”

The producers of Ghost Hunt are committed to inclusionary practices which include an ensemble that includes approximately 50% BIPOC and LGBTQ persons--the added bonus in this production is that it is polar opposite to St. John’s historical exclusions.

To complete this ambitious project, Thinkery & Verse and Butch Mermaid collaborated with Tommy Byrne, Lou Bullock, as well as the ensemble to finesse the text, commissioned six location creators, fourteen voice actors, award-winning Ashley Basile as props master, Jackie Mercer as production manager, Kendall Perry as audio engineer, and Katie Rosin/Kampfire PR as publicist, all working in coordination across two continents, one metropolis, and four states. The Center at West Park has provided Thinkery & Verse a digital residency in order to promote the project’s visibility and facilitate the public’s understanding of the story.

The production stars Karen Alvarado (August Osage County, Resident Ensemble Players; The Odyssey, Brooklyn Academy of Music), Ashley Bufkin (Bayano: My Odisea, National Black Theatre; A Doll’s House Part Two, Barrington Stage Co; Julius Caesar, Shakespeare’s Globe), Frank Dolce (TV: Sons of Tucson, FOX; One Life to Live, ABC; Bdwy: Billy Elliot), James Edward Becton (Our Trojan War, Brooklyn Academy of Music), and Erin Bogert, Celine Dirkes, Kaitlin Omerod Huston, Johnny Kavanagh, Johnny Meyer, Nelly Saviñon, Rebecca Servon, Lazarus Simmons, Joey Sponseller, Reagan Tankersley, and Ania Upstill.

FREE Starting September 16 on the GeoCache App

Running Time: Via online portal: 90 minutes.
Via in-person site visits: indefinite.

Visit the website here. 

Twitter: thinkery_verse Instagram: thinkery_and_verse Facebook: thinkeryandverse


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