One block East of Forsyth Park sits a 4-bedroom black box of mystery and madness. Those who dare to rap the iron skull knocker are greeted by a cast of clever characters who spin yarns that tangle even the most seasoned strategists.
The “escape room” concept blossomed in Japan and it has since swept the globe in various forms over the last 10 years. Escape Savannah is unique in the way it allows potential escapees to interact with scripted actors.
In 2011, manager Becca Cook was approached by friends to run an escape room here in Savannah. She hired fellow cabaret performer Dame Darcy to get it started. “We came in and ran it with palm readings, costumes and over the top acting,” Cook says.
“People kept telling me this is the most immersive escape room ever.” Finally she visited another escape room that consisted of a simple video and puzzle game and thought, “well this could have been a lot easier!”
Seven years after that precocious decision to include real people, Cook finds herself managing 12 employees who carry out three separate scenarios, sometimes simultaneously, 6 days a week (closed on Mondays).
“I started this as a side project,” Cook recalls, “but now it’s a full time job where I get to play with dolls, pirates and zombies.”
Each carefully constructed room begins with game designer Catherine Bartlett. Her interconnected web of clues, locks, and secrets all fit within a storyline that is equal parts creepy and fun.
The plans are then passed onto the artists and actors who beta test the system and flesh out the decor, costumes and surprises that make visitors scream, laugh and beg for more.
“We just want to make sure everyone has a good time,” says Cook.
The one-hour fast-paced team-building exercise has seen corporate groups, the Red Hat Society, and hear-impaired kids. A group of aerospace engineers from Gulfstream currently holds the record at 24 minutes.
“One of the most fun things about the rooms,” says hazmat-suited actor Jaryl Draper, “is when people who don’t know each other come out being really close afterward.”
But take warning, the puzzle pressure can expose rifts in an existing relationship. “The only people I’ve seen not get along are couples and families,” Cook says. When congeniality has dissolved, conflicting ideas can get personal.
“It doesn’t help to fight and segment,” says Victorian ghost actor Jared Claxon, “you really have to come together.”
Cook has also proven herself as a facilitator of collaboration for her employees when they want to escape from work. Each scallywag, zombie and ghost is also an actor, painter, novelist or paranormal psychologist (yes, Claxon is a real life ghostbuster). The space has been used for art projects, jam sessions, and movie making. Cook says, “We have very creative minds here and we support each other in our own personal projects.”
Cook and her team of escapists have successfully built the dream of every child — a clubhouse that turns work into play and provides a therapeutic departure from real life for each welcome adventurer. – Pat Longstreth
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