In the tenth installment of Halloween in the Time of Coronavirus, Madison Rhoades discusses putting a new production of THE SEANCE on hold while gaming an escape from the Coronavirus pandemic.
Cross Roads Escape Games is one of many entertainment organizations taking up this season's rallying cry: "Halloween is not canceled!" Of course, escape rooms are not specifically tied to Halloween, but Cross Roads' offerings definitely have seasonal appeal. Their current trio of games uses themes common to Halloween haunts (The Psych Ward, The Fun House), and The Hex Room casts players as stereotypical horror movie victims attempting to escape a death trap set by a crazed fright film fan. Also, Cross Roads expanded beyond escape games last Halloween when they offered their first immersive theatre production, The Séance, a successful effort that was supposed to return this October - until the pandemic intervened.
The loss of The Séance is disappointing. Nevertheless, Cross Roads Escape Games has managed to at least partially escape the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic that has impacted so much of the Halloween industry. While traditional haunted house attractions have been cancelled or converted to drive-throughs, the Orange County company has maintained its escape-room format with relatively unobtrusive modifications for safety. Besides additional cleaning and sanitization, tickets to a game are sold in a block to a single group, so players are never teamed up with outsiders' additionally, start times have been staggered so that strangers never meet in the waiting room.
All this sounds a little counterintuitive. If one were to imagine potentially dangerous pandemic situations, being locked in a small room for a long time with a group of people would rank somewhere close to singing in a choir or working out in a gym. To learn how Cross Roads Escape Games pulled this off this seemingly impossible task, we interviewed the company's owner and creative director, Madison Rhoades.
Hollywood Gothique: When did you realized that you would need to change your plans for Halloween? Obviously, Crossroads Escape Games is a year-round business, so you had to make adjustments before October, but I'm thinking in terms of whether this affected the decision to not bring back THE SEANCE.
Madison Rhoades: Our first big project for this year was going to be an update to our horror themed game, The Hex Room. We were initially planning on closing it for three weeks in May to install new scenery, new puzzles, and new special effects. When things were still not looking up by end of April, we decided to put the project on hold so we could keep money on hand if we had to stay closed even longer (which we did). We also had planned a bigger and better production of The Séance in a new location for 2020, but those were also canceled early May when it became apparent things were not going to be the same this year.
Hollywood Gothique: What were the specific challenges that Covid-19 presented for Cross Roads Escape Games? Escape rooms seemed to present a challenge since they are inherently about being in an enclosed room with other people for an hour.
Madison Rhoades: After being closed for a little over three months, we found that a lot of people were seeking out Escape Rooms because they seem to be one of the safest forms of entertainment right now. Even before the pandemic, we were appointment based, and our games are private, so players are never grouped with people they don't know. Escape Rooms are ideal for small groups of friends or family members. The only person you come in contact with is your game master when you check in, but they are in a different room watching over monitors during your game.
Hollywood Gothique: How did you go about adjusting your event to take Covid-19 into account?
Madison Rhoades: We cut and spread out our games significantly, so our lobby is never shared by different groups who are coming and going, which also gives us plenty of time between games to both reset and disinfect all the props and surfaces. We require masks to be worn by both customers and staff and have also added hand sanitizing stations throughout the building. We require players to use hand sanitizer before and after the games. We also removed some non essential props, so there would be less to touch, and updated costume pieces so they could be cleaned between groups.
Hollywood Gothique: Were any strategies abandoned and for being impractical or too expensive?
Madison Rhoades: Some strategies we implemented, which cost a bit of an investment, were things like removing the patient gowns that players were normally given before entering The Psych Ward, and instead providing them with a sticker of their patient number that they could stick on their chest. One thing that was not in the cards for us was a gun-like machine that sprayed a fine mist of disinfectant which we found to be too expensive to invest in. We find wiping down all the props better anyway because then we know we are covering the full surface, and not just getting the front.
Hollywood Gothique: What was the core element of your event that you wanted to preserve?
Madison Rhoades: One thing I love about our games is how immersive they are through scenery and costume pieces the guests get. I didn't want to lose that, so we made some modifications to the costumes, but didn't get rid of them completely. For example, in The Hex Room, the Jock would usually be given big football shoulder pads which we changed to a football, something that can be easily wiped down between games.
Hollywood Gothique: Besides precautions to protect your audience, how different is this year in terms of theme/impact/approach?
Madison Rhoades: The biggest difference this year has been the number of events and games we normally run - with how much we have had to spread out our time slots, we just don't have the same number of games available as we normally do. Like most businesses, we are thankful to be open, but these are not changes we can keep up forever. We also try to produce something new every year, so its weird not having a big project going. Instead, our project this year is trying to keep our business afloat.
Cross Roads Escape Games is located at 4245 East La Palma Avenue, Anaheim CA 92807. For more information, call (714) 572-1004, or visit CrossRoadsEscapeGames.com.
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