by Lynn on August 13, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the former Annex Queen Video on Bloor St. West

Created by Mitchell Cushman, Vanessa Smythe and Nick Bottomley.

Production design by Anahita Dehbonehie and Nick Blais.

This is a totally immersive experience from Outside the March. The experience is described this way: “…a new Escape Room-inspired experience set in a VHS video store…The Tape Escape is Outside the March’s foray into the booming world of escape rooms—a series of story-based, puzzle-infused mysteries staged inside of a brick-and-mortar VHS rental store. Step back into the world of the 1990s with this love letter to the lost art of browsing created in an installation of over 5000 VHS tapes. Audiences will experience the show in small groups, solving a series of movie-themed puzzles and mysteries to uncover the untold tales of the store’s staff and membership base.”

Well, yeah, browsing is a lost art because the places we brows (bookstores, video stores, record stores etc.) ARE ALL CLOSING! But I digress.

You can sign up for any or all of the three different stories to follow:

Love Without Late Fees

Six Tapes to Find the One. “Two single renters jump start their relationship by sharing six video rentals.

A Grown-up’s Guide to Flying

Second shelf on the right and straight on ‘til morning. Gene is celebrating her 8th birthday. A beloved relative leads her on a treasure hunt through the nooks, crannies and shadows of the video store. Peter Pan is the guiding force.

Yesterday’s Heroes

Embark into What Was. “Buried somewhere in the walls of The Tape Escape, a whispering voice calls out to you again and again. Venture on a quest through the shelves overflowing with stories to find the one that can’t be recorded over. …..”

I saw A Grown-up’s Guide to Flying and Yesterday’s Heroes. For both I was in a small group and together we followed clues that lead us through the store to the next clue closer to the solution. As each piece is about 45 minutes, that’s how long we had to solve the puzzles and find the clues and solutions. Instead of being locked in a room, unable to get out until the puzzle is solved, we just run out of time without the final piece and we could leave.

With A Grown-up’s Guide to Flying it was like being in a maze of clues and information. The store guides help a lot leading us to the next clue. But while I knew that Peter Pan was the theme it was hard to get a handle on the secret or the mystery.

With Yesterday’s Heroes my group was smart about the clues and curious about the adventure. There were secret rooms with codes to get into them or not. Again, the point of the mystery was buried in clues and journeys into the bowels of the store. And I got more and more frustrated about the exercise. The film of A Christmas Carol was central to the story. I envisioned that we had to find the original, brilliant one with Alistair Sim.

Nope. One of my smart group mates saw a hieroglyphic clue of a frog and other etchings and concluded that the film was the one by the Muppets. To which I said to myself: “GET ME  OUTTA HERE!!!!

The Tape Escape is not theatre, site-specific or otherwise. It’s games playing, treasure hunting and group collaboration. As always the design of the place is inspired and brilliant so kudos to Anahita Dehbonehie and Nick Blais. The story-telling is obtuse, confusing and buried me in minutiae without a glimmer of what we were looking for. Also going down stairs to the bowels of the place is dangerous—a narrow staircase, no banister and low ceiling.

See this if you like games, video games, treasure hunts etc. Otherwise, just watch Netflix.

Outside the March presents:

Held over to Aug. 25.

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