By Bridgette M. Redman
Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer
In a year like no other, theater companies are doing things they’ve never done.
At Boston Court Pasadena, the staff’s creative juices have been pumped into creating a virtual escape room interwoven with a theatrical story.
“In a year where we’ve had to pivot and come up with creative ideas, this is something we were interested in being able to share: an experience that people could have in our building while not being in our building,” said Artistic Director Jessica Kubzansky.
“Fool Me Once” runs through May 16, with performances held at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sundays. The show is free, but registration is required, as there needs to be a minimum of four players and a maximum of eight.
To join, participants need a computer or tablet with a webcam or a smartphone, and they must have Zoom downloaded on their computer, a good internet connection, and their imagination.
The 60-minute escape starts with a missing stage manager who must be found before the show begins.
Escape rooms need time-based challenges, and Boston Court Pasadena wanted to be sure it was telling a story about the theater.
“The challenge is to solve all the problems in the available amount of time,” said Kubzansky. “There is no time pressure like a show. That’s a very unforgiving deadline — when the curtain goes up.”
They’re also pleased that they can take patrons who normally only see the front of house to the backstage area in this virtual experience.
Upon starting the escape room, participants will meet the room host, who in this case is the sound designer. They also meet a character called “the walker,” who becomes the team’s body in the escape room. It goes where they want it to go and explores the necessary areas to solve the puzzles.
“It really was about giving people a way to experience something that is relevant to Boston Court from the safety of their own couches but is also completely germane to what we do,” Kubzansky said.
An escape room with narrative
She does want to make sure people understand that even though there is a story and a narrative about Boston Court, this isn’t a play.
“It really is doing an escape room with a little more narrative,” Kubzansky said.
“Some of the most fun we had was figuring out key players and the stakes. There is a lot of story focus narrative involved with the challenges, but I don’t want to mislead. They are not attending a play. They are attending an escape room connected to a theater story.”
Creating from scratch
In December 2020, Kubzansky gathered her staff and asked them to participate in a virtual escape room. At the end, she said they should do this for Boston Court.
Courtney Doyle, who co-created “Fool Me Once,” said she was intrigued by the idea, as she never connected escape rooms with theater.
“It’s been a really fun process with a big learning opportunity,” Doyle said. “It’s really exciting and something we’ve never done. It’s a cool way to create something that doesn’t require people breathing on each other.”
She spoke to a neighbor who liked escape rooms but, when asked, the neighbor couldn’t remember the stories attached to the escape rooms.
“We said we’re going to do one connected to Boston Court, that we’re going to give it more narrative,” Doyle said. “That’s who we are. We tell stories. It’s been a really joyous and collaborative endeavor of a group of our staff who are all contributing ideas.”
They also designed the puzzles and story with their audience in mind.
“It’s designed for their enjoyment,” Doyle said. “If they need help, help is available. You don’t have to be a puzzle master. You don’t have to have escape room experience. It’s really just a fun ride. … We want them to succeed, and we’re there to help them in any way that isn’t too overbearing.”
Kubzansky said she might call it a guided adventure in the spirit of fun.
“The creation of this has been a Herculean task,” Doyle said.
“We’ve never developed an escape room, and then we had the added challenge of figuring out how to do it virtually. It’s been both infuriating and thrilling to see it develop, and I’m just extremely proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish having limited knowledge and experience in this field.”
Inspired by hardship
Throughout the past year, Kubzansky said their managing director has said they keep having to build the plane as they fly it.
“That’s 100% true in creating a virtual escape room, which is something none of us have done before,” Kubzansky said.
“I think it is in the theater DNA to be scrappy and figure things out as you need it and pull it off with the look of ease,” Doyle added.
Patrons are encouraged to log in with a Zoom link at least 5 minutes before the game starts and to plan to stay 5 minutes afterward for a group photo. Being on time is important because of the time deadline.
Everything is specific to a participant’s individual discoveries, meaning each group could have a different outcome. It’s not, they said, a passive adventure.
They hope people playing the game can experience Boston Court at a time when they cannot be with them in person.
“If it weren’t for a pandemic, I would have ever thought we should do an escape room,” said Kubzansky. “We would have been making plays and music and art in the way we have always done in the past. It’s entirely pandemic born.”
“Fool Me Once,” a virtual escape room through
Boston Court Pasadena
WHEN: Through May 16
COST: Free, but registration required