Dining Drama: Shanes Dinner Theater
Cloak & Dagger settles in at Shanes
Tessa Berg Photo
All the world’s a stage, and Steve Emerson is merely a player, writer, director and box office attendant. As the artistic director for Shanes Dinner Theater, the latest home of Cloak & Dagger, Emerson is immersed. The transient murder mystery theater company—which got its start at the Jai Lai in 1990—is now in its fourth home after stints on Morse Road and the Columbus Maennerchor.
For Emerson, this stay is different, as the theater company was acquired by the catering company in January.
“I feel for the first time, it’s permanent. Cloak & Dagger was always loading into a space, doing their thing and then coming out. We were temporary. But now this is our space,” he says. “I feel like we have a home.”
Changes include more shows, of all kinds. The venue showcases five evenings of entertainment, as well as a Friday afternoon improv serial soap- opera spoof called “Doctors Hospital Emergency Room,” all produced by Emerson. Evening performances include murder mysteries, a burlesque night (Thursdays) and Wednesday
Night Comedy hosted by Johnny DiLoretto.
“I’m a theater director and a writer and an actor,” Emerson says. “So producing improv comedy has been great and horrible at the same time.
But I’m excited about it, and having Johnny on board, he makes me excited about it.”
Shanes Dinner Theater
447 E. Livingston Ave. German Village
Emerson works with owner Scott Morit to pair the cuisine with the shows. Oven-roasted hickory-smoked barbecue beef will be served with a Western, prime rib for a play about the Titanic, international fare for “Spyballs,” a riff on James Bond. The two joked about serving “Gold (chicken) fingers” for the latter.
A new addition to the experience is an entree buffet, which allows guests to choose their main course during two dinner breaks, while still having drinks, salads and desserts delivered to their table by actors.
“We’re one of a dozen companies in the United States where the actors actually wait on the tables,” Emerson says.
The company likes to break the so-called “fourth wall” between the audience and the stage, involving the dinner guests in the story. “You are a guest at the casino, or you’re in an estate room aboard the Enormous (the Titanic spoof), or you are an international spy at the spy ball.”
Emerson believes that what he does is a more populist form of theater.
“The very first piece of theater that I did in high school was dinner theater. It seemed natural that you could be doing a number from ‘Godspell’ and people are eating a salad,” he explains. He describes his audience as fairly conservative. “To a lot of them, [traditional theater] is really ridiculous. Why would you go sit for two hours and watch a show when you can sit for two hours and watch a show and drink?”
Emerson enjoys the multi-generational audience. “That’s the thing that I love. They bring mom and dad. And I can see this son, who paid for the tickets—and I know he did, because I also answer the phone—watching his mom and dad laugh at a show,” he says. “It’s a group experience.”