Tag: immersive theater

Giving Escape Room Stories Room to Breathe through Theater

Madame Daphne’s Tarot Reading Room and Séance Parlor is hard to find without assistance, hidden away in a Houston artist’s studio. An invitation from Madame Daphne herself provides instructions through the former rice packaging plant’s stark white interior to the medium’s lair, its lavish decor making it feel like a room out of place. Stepping over the threshold begins a 90 minute experience that tells a tale of deception, magic, and love spanning almost a century.

Strange Bird Immersive’s production The Man From Beyond thrusts 4-8 players into a supernatural adventure that combines a masterfully crafted escape room themed around Harry Houdini with an immersive theater performance to frame the experience, set within the walls of Madame Daphne’s parlor.

An Immersive Theater Sandwich
The Man From Beyond‘s fictional narrative starts the minute players step into the room, as Madame Daphne greets her guests with a dramatic flourish. All the standard onboarding activities of an escape room are wrapped up into the context of the room, with a flair for the dramatic. The requisite waivers are still signed, but are done through the narrative conceit of the séance. Players are presented with the rules for the experience through a series of photographs in the hallway leading to the séance parlor, illuminated by candlelight. The séance itself sets the stage for the escape room portion, setting the narrative context for players when they take over the story’s agency.

Once the room’s clock starts ticking, the room transforms from séance parlor into a standard escape room. In a room surrounded by Houdini’s tools of the trade, players must tackle a century-old mystery on a deadline. At key milestones in the experience, micro-moments of theatrical exposition serve as narrative cut scenes, serving the dual purpose of rewarding player’s progress through the puzzle portion and reminding players of their broader purpose in the room. Solving a major puzzle might unlock information about Houdini’s wife Bess’ previous efforts to speak to her dead husband.

Most room escape games leave little room for telling a narrative that exists outside the room’s theming. A room based around an archaeological dig might hide some of its puzzles in a dig site and draw upon those themes to inform its puzzles, but a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required to tackle the room’s challenges. Even rooms that try to adhere to their own internal narrative consistency stick to a bare-bones plot due to the realities of room design. Players must often split themselves up into continually shifting groups to divide and conquer in the most efficient way possible. While this tactic is highly effective at uncovering a room’s secrets, it forces players to experience the room’s narrative in a disjointed fashion. Players might all be aware they’re escaping from a jail cell, but the specifics of their escape route might only be known to a few participants, on a need-to-know basis. This challenge is exacerbated in the final minutes of a room, as teams scramble to put together the final pieces needed to escape. Often, escape room operators’ explanations at the end of the room are as necessary to explain the accomplishments of teammates as they are to highlight overlooked puzzles and clues.

The Man From Beyond addresses that problem by explicitly carving out time outside the escape room’s unforgiving countdown to allow players time to take in the story. Every player is aware of what they’re doing because they experienced the introduction together, before the clock started ticking. Every player knows the main narrative beats because the information is broadcast to the group at key moments. And the grand finale can be fully experienced since it takes place after escaping the room, removing any time pressures that might otherwise cause players to gloss over the story.

Because Strange Bird Immersive created space for players to breathe and take in the narrative, it stopped the puzzles from overwhelming the game’s powerful narrative themes. During my team’s playthrough, we made it through the puzzles at a steady clip, but were so moved by the bittersweet tale that few of us made it out through the full experience without shedding a few tears along the way. It wasn’t just that the story was pulling on our heartstrings. It was knowing everything that happened was because of our actions.

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Getting to Know The Tension Experience Before It Gets to Know You

tension-experience

The Tension Experience is an immersive experience that is part game, part theater, part something extremely hard to put a finger on. Tension does not cater to the weak… It’s themes run towards horror and the occult. You must be willing to receive phone calls, emails, and forum contacts from characters as well as other participants. You will be expected to make choices, many of which test your adventurous spirit or moral fortitude. Although Tension live-events occur in Los Angeles, a thriving online community exists where all are welcomed warmly.

-Kimberly, The Tension Experience participant

In early February, a number of online horror sites received invitations to check out The Tension Experience, a website linked to the Los Angeles-based OOA Institute. As the year progressed, the enigmatic society used a series of puzzles to tease and hint at something larger, offering Enlightenment to those who were willing to follow and learn their secrets. Things changed on April 1st, when the full site for the Tension Experience went live, offering up forums for a growing community to converge and discuss theories about the coming experience, as well as the puzzles hidden throughout the site and the Experience’s social media presences on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

The thing about the OOA? They’re always watching. While that may sound cliché, this is an experience designed to insinuate its way into your personal life, as far as you’ll let it. In order to fully enter the ranks of the OOA, you’re asked to fill out a questionnaire. These questions are simple at first, asking “What’s your name” or “What’s your phone number?” But then the questions get weird. Straight up uncomfortable. As the registration process notes,

The Tension Experience is a paranoia, fear based experiment. We use personal information and data collected to tailor the experience for each participant involved. By using this website you understand that we will go out of our way to create a unique experience based on YOU. At any time you wish to end your experience with us please email [email protected] Upon your request all information will be deleted from our servers, and your GAME will end.

That is not just boilerplate language. The more honest you are with the questionnaire, the more…personalized your horror experience with the OOA will be. Russel Eaton, a member who runs a podcast called My Haunt Life, was called up in the middle of the day…and the voice on the other end of the line was his own. The OOA took snippets of his podcast that he released the day before and played it back to him in order to send him a particular message. “Live consultations” for Los Angeles-based participants have served as introductions to even deeper haunts. But while the experience seems rooted in Los Angeles, it manages to get extremely personal even when far removed from its California roots.

On Monday June 26th, I was sent an email message telling me to sit and watch my computer. Moments later, I learned of a Periscope stream made just for me. The video, which has since been taken down, showed a person standing near a statue named the Scout…all the way in Kansas City, less than an hour from my home. While I wasn’t able to check out the statue myself, the community collaborated to find someone who could check out the monument. At the statue, they found a letter for me. Whoever was responsible for the event is unknown.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the OOA so far, it’s this: they’re willing to go to surprising lengths to surprise and even shock you, in ways you probably wouldn’t imagine.    

Now, what’s all this leading towards? No one at this point really knows. Underneath the secrecy surrounding it, dates have been announced for mysterious events. July 15th is noted as the day “tickets go live.” Live for what exactly? There’s been no clarification on that so all we can do is wait and see.

Neil King, writer at We Are Indie Horror, wrote about the experience’s personalized nature:  

The Tension Experience continues to shock, surprise, and intrigue. The future of these events will only become more intense and this writer sits on the edge of his seat constantly waiting for the next phone call or post. I have never been a part of something like this and every day that passes I become prouder to be an Apostle of the Beginning (introductory member of the OOA).”

For individuals living in the Los Angeles area who are curious to learn more, there is a lottery being run to give out tickets for an exclusive panel hosted by the OOA institute itself during the ScareLA festival between August 6-8th. Only 100 people will be selected to attend. If you’d like to try your luck and unravel the mystery, click here to be taken to the official page for the event where you can also enter the lottery.

All in all, The Tension Experience looks like it’s going to be something to keep an eye on. Even if you don’t live anywhere near L.A, don’t feel discouraged. Jump in and discover what’s going on.