The door swings open revealing a blue-carpeted stairway illuminated only by flickering candles – the way forward. I climb the stairs first, my friends filling in behind me, and I reach the heavy wooden door. I knock three times – with purpose – until an ornately dressed woman opens the door. Kind-faced and knowing, she escorts us into her room. I take in the surroundings – a burning fireplace in the corner, a large antique mirror hanging upon the cloth-covered wall, a goat’s head mounted above a cluttered bookcase, a large and round wooden table with symbols etched into it and a spirit board right in the center. I find myself intrinsically drawn to a particular symbol and sit in front of it, running my fingers over the etching. My journey into the spirit realm is about to begin…
Cross Roads Escape Games is known in Southern California for their award-winning escape rooms, but for Halloween 2019, they’re trying something slightly different. While The Hex Room and The Psych Ward can be seen as escape rooms with immersive elements, Cross Roads’ new experience, The Séance, is an hour-long, immersive theater piece with some escape room elements woven throughout. With little to no touch between actor and participant, The Séance encourages – and might even necessitate – verbal interaction and hands-on participation with the actor and within the room itself. If the audience ever gets stuck in their search for clues, the actor is ready to steer them in the correct direction, offering the freedom to explore and figure out riddles, but not to change the outcome of the narrative.
After teasing The Séance at Midsummer Scream 2019, Cross Roads continues the story of Madam Ruth, who has unfortunately passed away after our last encounter with her. Groups of eight guests are now welcomed into the spiritual space of Madam Ruby, who is trying to find out what really happened to Ruth. Through supernatural rituals, Madam Ruby leads participants through a séance to connect with the dead. But all is not as it appears to be, and the twists in the narrative are intricately designed and deftly navigated by the cast, and aided by beautiful lighting and production design. When the participants finally come together in a concerted effort against evil, The Séance will have guests believing in magic.
Cross Roads has done an excellent job of transporting guests into the world of magic they’ve created. From the moment participants walk in, it is clear they are entering a spiritual and mystical realm. The knickknacks lining the antique shelves, the colorful drapes hanging from the ceiling, the large spirit board in the center of the wooden table adorned with ancient runes… The space is simply spectacular. Ian Momii’s lighting design and Dan Waldkirch’s sound work in perfect harmony with director Madison Rhoades’ script, enhancing the tension where needed and providing an eeriness that keeps guests on the edge of their seats. Lauren Orgill’s costume design for Madam Ruby is on point – jangling bracelets, ornate rings and earrings, a gentle head scarf, and a billowing dress in warm purples and golds – making no mistake as to what Ruby proclaims to be. But the highlight of the ambiance is definitely the uncanny use of puppets designed by Madison Rhoades, and created by Zach Dahm and Nathan Manahan. The not-quite-human puppets enable The Séance to reach into the portal between our world and the afterlife, and to create delightfully surprising moments.
When participants aren’t searching for artifacts or conducting rituals, they are interacting with and led through the narrative by the superb Geovanna Flores as Madam Ruby. The anchor of The Séance, Flores maintains her energy and the audience’s interest throughout the entire sixty-minute piece. She entrances as the sultry and spell-binding fortune teller, every movement deliberate and fascinating. Flores fills Ruby with nuance, expertly leading guests through her character’s journey. But the magic and effects could not happen without a second cast member to assist; in our performance, Stepy Kamei’s staccato and otherworldly physicality and menacing voice work made her presence known and appreciated even without her face being visible.
The Séance, while not a super scary experience, is an innovative, interactive, and family-friendly (ages 16+) taste of the supernatural. The puppetry, set design, and phenomenal acting combine seamlessly for a cute and spooky Halloween event, which I sincerely hope they keep around longer than its current run (open now through November 3rd). If Cross Roads continues their foray into immersive theater, which seems to be a beautiful and natural fit, they are sure to create even bigger and better experiences in the future, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
Find out more about Cross Roads Escape Games, and buy tickets to The Séance or their phenomenal escape rooms, on their website, Instagram, Twitter or Facebook page. Make sure to subscribe to our Event Calendar for more immersive and escape room experiences throughout the year.