Murder at Sons of Norway Lodge
Three mystery night plays tell entertaining tales of death, discord, and dysfunction
Laguna Woods, Calif.
In 2008, Mickey Andrew, then the vice president of Sons of Norway Bernt Balchen Lodge in Anchorage, Alaska, asked me to find a murder mystery play that we could put on at Viking Hall as a membership event. I futilely searched the internet for days and could find nothing that was even remotely satisfactory for our lodge. Most of the mystery night play offerings I found were inane, poorly written, or both. After spending $80 for a number of online mystery plays and coming up with nothing worth putting on, I decided to write one myself, one specifically geared for production by a Sons of Norway lodge. I went ahead with the project, and our members put on a successful mystery night dinner and play that proved to be fun for all. Later, I was urged to write a second mystery night play and then a third to follow the first two. The end product, finished in 2013, was a trilogy covering several years of murder and mayhem at a dysfunctional version of Bernt Balchen Lodge. The overall name for the trilogy was Murder at Bernt Balchen Lodge.
In 2017, Marit Kristiansen, former president of Sons of Norway and one of the members of Bernt Balchen Lodge, suggested that I should make the three plays available to other Sons of Norway lodges so that they, too, could put on mystery night plays that were especially written for production by Sons of Norway members. So I went ahead, with the blessing of my lodge, and wrote to Sons of Norway headquarters staff to inquire whether they would be interested in making the plays available to all the lodges. In early 2018, Doris Kamstra, the membership manager of Sons of Norway, contacted me and said Sons was definitely interested in the plays. Doris and her staff renamed the mystery night trilogy Murder at Sons of Norway Lodge and painstakingly edited each of the plays to make them more generic so they were no longer were specific to Bernt Balchen Lodge.
The complete Murder at Sons of Norway Lodge trilogy is now available online free of charge to any Sons of Norway lodge or member at Sons of Norway’s official website. In proper sequence the three mystery night plays are The Beginning of the End, Death Knocks Again, and The Ambassadors Come to Dinner. The three plays tell the tale of what can happen when “peace and harmony” do not prevail in a Sons of Norway lodge and envy and hatred rule the hearts of the members. Each of the plays is in a sense a “morality play,” that by negative example teaches the true values embraced by Sons of Norway. By intention, the plays also showcase many bits and pieces of Norwegian culture and heritage. And despite the dark murderous goings-on that dominate the plays, they are meant to be fun for both the actors and the audience.
The plays require minimal staging and only a few props. Also, the actors can choose to read their lines rather than memorize them. The setting for each play is simply a Sons of Norway lodge hall or meeting place. The plays come with general guidance on putting them on and more specific guidance on which props are necessary, character backgrounds, and clue sheets for the audience. The artwork created by Tim Szawinski, Ruth Kvernplassen, and Janet Clemens for the three plays was intended for use as flyers or posters that lodges may wish to use to advertise their own particular events. Each piece of artwork has a blank space reserved for individual lodges to insert their own unique event announcements. In addition, Sons of Norway has created ticket sheets that lodges may use for their mystery night events.
If by any chance a Sons of Norway lodge wants to change parts of the dialogue, the names and number of characters, or staging directions, etc. it will be free to do so. In other words, lodges are permitted, if they so desire, to customize the plays within reason so as to best fit their own unique needs or constraints.
The three mystery plays plus the associated support materials, including artwork, can be accessed by Sons of Norway members on the official Sons of Norway website (www.sofn.com). Members should first log in and then go to “Member Resources.” Once in “Member Resources,” click on “Cultural Programming,” and open the “Idea Bank.” The three Murder at Sons of Norway Lodge plays are under “Skits.” With the exception of the artwork and ticket sheets, each play will come complete with all the support materials. The flyer and poster artwork and the ticket sheets will be need to be downloaded separately. Nonetheless, members should find the process as simple as one, two, three.
Are the plays worth downloading? As the author I am not in a position to evaluate the quality of my own work. That is a job for others to do. However, in the summer of 2015, I had the privilege, as lodge president, of giving a brief oral summary of the plays to His Majesty King Harald of Norway when he visited Bernt Balchen Lodge in Alaska, and he laughed heartily at my telling. I would propose that his laugher could be considered at least an informal royal endorsement of the plays.
Terje “Ted” Birkedal was born in Stavanger, Norway, in 1946. He grew up in Colorado and earned a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Colorado. He retired in 2012 but remains active in his field and has served as the President of Sons of Norway Bernt Balchen Lodge in Anchorage since 2012. He has conducted archeological fieldwork in the American South, the Great Plains, Norway, Canada, Guam, and Alaska. He has always been passionate about Norwegian prehistory and history.
This article originally appeared in the April 5, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.