'Murder in Outer Space' marks 16th dinner theater by DPS Foundation

The Dickinson Public Schools Foundation’s signature event, the No. 1 murder mystery dinner play in Dickinson, is just ahead and it will be “out of this world.” This year’s play is called “Murder in Outer Space" and will take place in February.

Two actors act out a scene in a play.
Actress Jamie Prellwitz, playing the role of Captain Jenkins, eyes down fellow actor Troy Kuntz, who plays Xavier Pendable, during a rehearsal Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, for "Murder in Outer Space." The original script written by Josh Nichols will be unveiled in a dinner theater production from Feb. 10-12, 2022, in Dickinson. Tickets go on sale at the end of January.
(Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

DICKINSON — “Ladies, gentlemen, quoglargs and diffdorgs, thank you for flying with us. We hope to get you home safely without encountering many aliens, meteors or... murder. As our intergalactic journey comes to an end, don't forget to shop our SpaceMall catalog... oh and buckle up for ‘Murder in Outer Space.’”

For its 16th year, the Dickinson Public Schools Foundation will present “Murder in Outer Space,” a mystery dinner play from Feb. 10 through Feb. 12, at the Roosevelt Grand Dakota Hotel. There will be a no host social starting at 6 p.m. and the dinner/show follows at 6:30 p.m. each night.

As a way to raise grant funding for students, this is one of the foundation’s most signature events in the community, bringing in roughly $10,000 each year.

Karen Heidt, director of development for the DPS Foundation, noted that this year’s event is one not to be missed.

“People just keep coming back every year and I try to keep the cost affordable as much as I can because I want everybody to be able to come to the dinner theater. Some people just look forward to it every year,” Heidt said.


Over the years, the foundation has given more than $500,000 with its grant program.

“We work really hard to enrich education in the Dickinson Public Schools. Our teachers, our administrators and staff are just so dedicated and it's just rewarding for us… to help and give back to them and have our community supported so well. We're just very grateful,” Heidt added.

Director Josh Nichols wrote the original script for "Murder in Outer Space" and this year’s theme is all about audience participation.

“With all the murder mystery dinner theaters, something happens. Somebody parishes and it’s a who-done-it and you have to figure out how that’s done. But with this year’s particular performance, it’s set in space. The audience are passengers on a spaceship; they are traveling across the galaxy,” Nichols said. “They just came out of hibernation, cryogenic freezing and they’re just on the final leg of their journey to get to the final destination and chaos ensues. There's a lot of zany characters — everybody from robots to aliens.”

Nichols has been involved in dinner theater for 13 years. He first got on board as an actor for two years. Then Nichols began leading the shows as the director where he's served that role for the past 11 years. But with dinner theaters comes the limited amount of material a cast can work with, especially when contracting with one company. Thus, Nichols was prompted to write his own scripts and has been doing so for the past three years as a way to avoid repetition and maintain the creativity behind each year’s show.

Nichols noted that his script undergoes a detailed editing process, looking at the various plot twists and scenarios. By the time the final script is perfected, the cast has one month to rehearse. Unlike copyrighted scripts, an original play allows for interpretation and script changes on the fly, making it a “dynamic document,” he added.

Usually, Nichols has about one to two months to draft a script. But with ongoing limitations on events in 2021, he had an extra 14 months to fine-tune each line. He noted this year’s show has a “pristine script.”

“It seems dinner theater always has murder, romance, mistaken identity. Those seem to be the themes, so we try to mix that up a little bit and get through some of the typical tropes you have and try to get away from the cliches. But it is a campy performance, it’s supposed to be fun for the audience,” he said, adding that the cast tries to interact with the audience throughout the play.


Actress Jamie Prellwitz, who plays the role of Captain Jenkins, joins the cast of six others to bring this original story to life.

“It is an absolute blast, in itself. I have friends that come and once they come, they keep coming back year to year,” Prellwitz said. “It’s just a great night to get out and do something different in the community, but also (it) is a fantastic fundraiser for this school and for all the different foundation pieces that they integrate to make students’ experiences and their education over and beyond.”

An actor acts in a play.
Todd Selle, who plays the role of Officer Riley in "Murder in Outer Space," acts out a scene during a rehearsal Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, at Dickinson Middle School. Selle along with six other cast members will bring the play to life Feb. 10-12, 2022, at the Roosevelt Grand Dakota Hotel. The show will come as the 16th dinner theater production sponsored by the Dickinson Public Schools Foundation.
(Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

Casted for her seventh year, Prellwitz noted that her love for drama in high school eventually was reawakened after fellow actor Troy Kuntz persuaded her to audition.

“It’s so much fun. Getting to try different roles and the different pieces that you do year to year, each theme is different. And so, you get to jump into a different world,” Prellwitz said. “And then, to have our director be the person that wrote the screenplay on top of it is just really a cherry on top.”

Two actors act in a play.
Troy Kuntz, left, who plays the role Xavier Pendable acts out a scene with Sarah Ramsey, who plays Aurora, in "Murder in Outer Space" — an original play written and directed by Josh Nichols. The production will come to life in a dinner theater Feb. 10-12, 2022, sponsored by the Dickinson Public Schools Foundation.
(Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)
Two actors act in a play.
Playing the role of Ava, Elizabeth Tibor, left, and Jesse Kilwein, who plays the role of Dexter, rehearse a scene from "Murder in Outer Space," Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022.
(Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

The dinner, sponsored by the DPS Foundation, includes a menu of appetizers, grilled chicken with a lemon butter wine sauce served with rice and glazed carrots served buffet-style. To top the night off, a bistro red velvet cake and coffee will be served.

Tickets go on sale from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 28, in the DeMores Room at the Roosevelt Grand Dakota Hotel and range from $50 for Thursday, Feb. 10, and $55 for both Friday, Feb. 11, and Saturday, Feb. 12. Prizes will also be handed out for best costumes and sleuth award each night.

Heidt noted that these dinner theater plays are usually well received within the community, selling out each night of performances.

“It’s just a fun event. To have good food and a good play, we couldn’t do it without these actors. They dedicate a couple of months of their life to getting ready for this. I’m always so impressed by what they do. Josh does a great job and our cast — a few of them are teachers and Dickinson High School graduates,” Heidt said. “It’s just a good time.”

Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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