From Hex Room to Psych Ward to Séance - Madison Rhoades explains the shift from escape room to immersive play for Halloween.
Immersive theatrical experiences are popping up faster than we can count this season. Case in point: the announcement that the creators of Cross Roads Escape Games are throwing their hat into the Halloween arena with a "frightening, interactive theatrical experience" titled The Séance.
Written and directed by Madison Rhoades, the show invites guests in groups of eight to join Madam Ruby as she contacts spirits on the other side. Although Rhoades and her husband, Luke, own Cross Roads Escape Games, The Séance is not an escape room. Featuring live-actors and special effects, the one-hour production will place the audience in the action, requiring them to interact with the living and the dead.
Madison Rhoades explains the decision to create a theatrical experience rather than a game room to capitalize on the Halloween season:
“My husband, Luke, and I have a background in theatre, and The Séance is something we have wanted to do since we first opened. Back in early 2016, immersive theatre was still very new, and we felt that the world was just not ready, so we decided to wait. We built The Hex Room and The Fun House in our first year. 3 years later we made The Psych Ward which is an escape room with a strategic twist, a board game, and immersive theatre elements. We got a lot of positive feedback from this game, so we decided it was finally time to bring The Séance to life, with The Psych Ward acting as a bridge between our escape games and this new experience.”
The Séance retains some elements from the Rhoades’ escape games, such as deciphering clues left by a spirit, but those aspects will play a smaller role in the overall show, which will employ strobe lights, fog, smells, spectral special effects, and human-sized puppets to create something more horrifying than an escape room.
“There are some very terrifying moments in this show,” says Madison. “I am a huge horror movie and haunted house fan and I don’t scare easily, but this show is pretty intense. Let’s just say I warned my neighbors that if they hear screaming, not to worry!”
The Séance will also be more tightly structured than an interactive game. The show's interactivity will include some light touching, and audience members will be required to navigate stairs on their own, but the story is fixed.
“Our escape rooms have actors in them as a way of giving hints, and we give our game masters a lot of free range, but this show really sticks to the script,” Madison explains, adding that she and her husband opted against a choose-your-own-adventure approach to the narrative. “The audience has to get up from their seat and help push the story forward by interacting with the space or the actors, but they do not influence the outcome. This idea of having two endings always appealed to us, but we felt that no matter what we did, there would always be one ending that was better than the other. So instead two different endings, we put all our resources into one very epic climax."
There is no shortage of competition among immersive Halloween shows in the Southland: Creep L.A.’s House of Creep, The Shadow Space, Give Up the Ghost, House Of Spirits: A Haunted Cocktail Soirée, Drunken Devil’s Black Magic, and the yardstick by which all the others are judged, Delusion: Interactive Theatre. Because Cross Roads Escape Games has already established a customer-base, Madison is unconcerned about squeezing into this crowded field; she is confident that The Séance will present its own distinctive take on the form.
“It is similar [to Delusion] in that you are led by a character on a journey, but instead of exploring an entire mansion, you are exploring the spirit realm which is already around you,” she says. “A big reason why we wanted to make this is because my husband and I are feeling bored with traditional haunted houses. I think The Séance is a great way to get the same adrenalin fix from a haunted house, but also enjoy a story, and to be in the center of the action.”
With independent haunted house attractions finding it difficult to compete with Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles and the Knott’s Berry Farm Halloween Haunt in Orange County, opting for an immersive theatrical experience might seem to be a financially viable alternative; however, that was not the motivating factor for Rhoades.
“The Séance is more of a passion project for us then something we are expecting to profit from, at least this year. Our goal with this show is to sell it to historic locations throughout the world that they can use it to gain additional revenue for their nonprofit during the Halloween season. We designed everything to be very minimally invasive to the space. This year is the world premier so we can show interested parties what the demand is like.”
Depending on how high demand is, The Séance could theoretically continue past its scheduled closing date. Immersive theatrical events have a longer shelf life than haunted houses, which shutter their doors after Halloween, and The Séance, being located in the Cross Roads Escape Games facility, is in no danger of losing its venue due to problems with permits or leases – the perennial bane of productions like Delusion.
As for The Séance’s future, Rhoades it uncertain what next Halloween will bring. “I would love for this show to travel and be produced in historical locations around the world, so maybe that is what we will be doing, or maybe we will be making something completely new! Either way, a small vacation is definitely first on the list!”
The Séance will run Wednesday through Sunday from October 2 until November 3rd. Tickets start at $45 per person. Admission is limited to those over 16. The address of Cross Roads Escape Games is 4245 East La Palma Avenue, Anaheim, 92807. For more information visit CrossRoadsEscapeGames.com/the-seance.