I want to welcome Whitney Axley-Andrews to the BTS Entertainment Corner. She and her husband are behind six dinner theater productions from Birmingham, AL, to Charleston, SC, under the “Dinner Detective” banner. I had the pleasure of being welcomed to their cast in Charleston, SC this October. She’s also an incredible actress with an amazing resume from film, TV and theater. Here’s one of her quotes on acting:
One of the first lessons I learned in acting was to always, “Hit your mark, look the other actor in the eye, and tell the truth.” Whether I am on stage in a community theater or on the set of a high-budget, feature film, I build my performance on that quest to tell the truth, whether it’s one line or the lead. Even between projects, I strive to absorb the most out of life as I can, never knowing when it will help add another dimension to my next performance.
1) Let’s start with your acting career. Was theater your first taste of acting or film/TV? Do you have a preference and why?
Yes, I did theater in school, my first performance was in elementary in Mary Poppins. I remember the outfit, lol.
When I was wanting to retire from being a marine mammal trainer, I decided I was going to move back to NC in 2001 and become a full-time actor. I moved to LA in 2015 and lived there for 4.5 yrs. I loved living there and took many acting classes and made lots of friends.
I actually worked more in NC though doing student films, extra work, and theater productions. I did some commercials for Harris Teeter, Nascar/Coke and others. I prefer film as I find it to be more intimate and you can’t hide, the camera sees everything!
2) How much has the industry changed since you started out? How have you adapted to these changes?
You know, I do not keep up with the industry as much anymore now that I only focus on my business. I remember what it was like when I would go on auditions and the professionalism I always tried to have, I don’t see that a lot now. It’s kind of sad, there is not a large population of actors that have a great work ethic. That was just understood when I went out on jobs. I am always surprised by how many people sign up for auditions and do not show. That burns the bridge with me.
I think now that technology is so prevalent, it is easier to submit electronically which only helps the actor base grow for anyone looking for talent. I personally can’t use technology in that way as much as I do group auditions and they are improv based.
3) Not only were you an actor with “The Dinner Detective”, but you now operate (along with your husband) six different locations. Take us through the genesis of this experience. What do you see in the future for this endeavor?
Well, my first job in LA in 2005 was an actor in “The Dinner Detective” and I was with them until I left in 2010. I loved how it changed every show, no two shows are the same since it is an improv-based show. That kept it fresh and fun for me, always working with different talented actors.
In 2014, my husband I talked about opening a business and I suggested “The Dinner Detective”. The franchisor had asked me when I left LA if I wanted to open one in ATL, I was not ready then but I suggested it to my husband a couple years later. He decided to take a chance and we both now work full time doing DD. We grow a location or 2 every year and have plans to grow to 12 in the next 5 yrs. The company will have over 100 locations in the next 5 years—currently at 65.
My husband and I make an exceptional team, he is the back end and the financial brains and I am the creative/show quality control person. I am the one who travels and he stays at home and does everything from his computer. I call him my “Mission Control”. Neither one of us could do this without the other! What he is strong in, I am weak and what he is weak in, I am strong. We compliment each other perfectly!
4) How are you able to balance running this company with your acting career? Have you had to turn down any work to make sure “the show must go on”?
I do not act anymore at all. The DD is what I do full time. Besides working I have 3yrs. old identical twin girls and 18 and 19 yr-old step children, they take the rest of my time! Balancing family and this full-time business can be very challenging. I do have the benefits of being able to work from home and when I need a break I take a quiet work trip. Works well for everyone.
5) How has the experience with the “Dinner Detective” helped you as an actor? A business woman? A person?
I have grown immensely as a business woman, challenging myself to go in directions that would have not previously thought possible. I love that I get to grow this business with my husband and we work together as a team. I love that I get to work from home and be a part of my babies lives and watch them grow. I have learned more about managing people and business than I ever thought I would. I love teaching people to be better at what they do, and I am very passionate about what I do.
I want my actors to challenge themselves and push themselves to be the best they can be and to produce the best possible product. Too many times I see actors be complacent and lazy. I want them to challenge themselves in ways they have not done before. I have high standards and require nothing but the best. Quality is very important to us and we only want the best for the customer and the actors.
I have learned to lead in ways that have made me uncomfortable, confront difficult situations, and grow as an independent thinker when it comes to business. There have been growing pains, but now I feel like I have a great sense of what our goals are and how to get there. I love that I am successful and that my hard work pays off. That is absolutely what I do, work hard!
6) From what I’ve seen about the show so far, it’s really a unique experience. Tell our readers about the show, as much as you can share, so they get a feel for this “must see” event.
Well, like I mentioned before, this is an improv-based show so no 2 shows are the same. I also have a cast of 20-30, depending on the city, so many of the actors change to make the dynamic always changing. Our show is fast-paced and comedic, think Saturday Night Live meets Clue! It is an adult show that is set in present day.
We are different from your typical Murder Mystery in that we do not do costumes, memorization, or hokey jokes and ask the audience members to read a blurb from a card. We are a highly interactive dinner show that is TONS of fun!
The LA Times called us “Fun, Spunky, High Energy” which is exactly what we are! We also do many private shows which have included: Delta Airlines, GE, Porsche, Chick-Fil-A, Dodgers, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, United Rentals and many more!
7) Any advice for actors and entrepreneurs? Warnings?
I highly recommend that you give whatever you do your ALL! What you do and how you do it is a reflection of the person that you are, represent yourself with dignity and grace. Treat others kindly and with respect, this includes their time. Know what you are doing and feel confident in that. If you are not confident then act as though you are and you will start feeling that way. Do not have an attitude with anyone or show anything negative.
I have had actors that misread the time on the audition confirmation and came too early, they sat around for 30 minutes and then showed frustration and attitude, because of that I didn’t hire them even though they may have been a good fit. I can’t afford to see that attitude/negativity come back later down the line.
People will show you what they are made of and I always pay attention to little things, this is what will come back and haunt you. If there is any negativity that is circulated in my cast, I will find out who is starting it and cut them out. No tolerance for anything that is not positive and supportive. Learn and be constructive, not defensive. Be the best you can be ALWAYS and learn from others!