Leading Toronto immersive theatre company produces its first escape room-style experiences
When the iconic video rental store Queen Video closed its final location on Bloor Street this past March it felt like a sad inevitability. In the age of YouTube and Netflix, the video rental store is a relic from another era. Now, Outside the March, one of Toronto’s leading immersive theatre companies, has taken over the space and re-christened it The Tape Escape, to house three immersive, escape room-style puzzle experiences that harken back to that bygone era.
Production designers Anahita Dehbonehie and Nick Blais have restored the video store to its former glory (circa 1999) and created a fully-immersive space that’s an art installation in its own right.
The detail is meticulous: over 5,000 VHS tapes line the shelves, ‘90s pop music plays in the background, a Super-Nintendo sits in the corner with Super Mario Bros 3 loaded up and beckoning you to play. I gleefully browsed the shelves and reminisced about the tactile thrill of holding a physical piece of recorded, analog media in my hand. It was a delightful nostalgia trip.
Actors playing video store employees perform short introductory scenes before guiding you through your choice of one of three available “in-store rental” experiences; A Grown-Up’s Guide to Flying, Love Without Late Fees, and Yesterday’s Heroes, created by Mitchell Cushman, Vanessa Smythe, and Nick Bottomley.
I partook in the latter two experiences during my visit and, as someone who is a fan of the immersive theatre genre and who has also occasionally dabbled in solving escape rooms, I thought The Tape Escape creatively combined some of the best aspects of both experiences.
Whether it be a choose-your-own adventure love story or a mystical time-travel plot, the creative elements of the experience create a compelling narrative through-line that contextualizes the puzzle-solving journey.
While you’re not locked in a room that you have to escape for these experiences, there is an element of collaborative, practical problem solving based on a series of clues found throughout the environment. I found the skill level required for the puzzles about what you would see for an average escape room: not too easy, not too hard. I could tell that a lot of thought had been put into the logic of the puzzles and I really liked the way each of the puzzles inventively integrated the movie themes. I also enjoyed the thrill that came with solving a puzzle and feeling exceptionally smart and accomplished for a hot minute.
Each experience runs about one hour (depending on how expeditious your group is at solving the puzzles). I had a great time and enjoyed both experiences immensely.
Whether you’re a ‘90s kid in the mood to relish in nostalgia, an immersive theatre-lover, escape room aficionado or just looking for a fun and unique experience to try with a group of friends, The Tape Escape has you covered. Just remember to be kind, rewind, and return on time to avoid the late fees.
- The Tape Escape is located 480 Bloor St. W through August 4, 2019
- Experiences run Wednesday to Sunday, multiple times per day
- Tickets $31.95
- Tickets are available online at outsidethemarch.ca.
Photo of Zoe Danahy, Tony Cushman, Nicholas Porteous, Raylene Turner, Rais Clarke-Mendes, Francis Melling, Danté Prince, and Kavone Manning by Neil Silcox