The cast of TheatreX’s upcoming Fringe show Escape THIS in rehearsal. Pictured: Ryan Vanasse, Christy Johnson, Kyle Doherty, and Hannah Bakke. Photo by Joe Hendren.
When Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt in 1798, he had no idea that his most enduring legacy would be Egyptomania. The French military expedition included historians and archaeologists, whose questing for ancient artifacts uncovered the Rosetta Stone. The Rosetta Stone allowed linguists to start decoding Egyptian hieroglyphics, and in the next century and a half a whole series of archaeological expeditions uncovered ancient tombs lost to antiquity and sometimes literally buried in the sands.
Enter Howard Carter. The British archaeologist’s 1923 expedition uncovered the now-legendary tomb of King Tut, attracting world-wide press coverage and making the expedition staff into celebrities. When they started dying off, rumors circulated of a deadly curse. Add in a century of Hollywood movies about mummies, tomb raiding, and deadly traps, and you have the nucleus of the present-day escape room phenomenon – which happens to be the subject of TheatreX’s Fringe show Escape THIS.
How popular are escape rooms? Let’s put it this way: you can find 15 in the Twin Cities Metro without going past the first-ring suburbs. They’re everywhere, in flavors ranging from classic Egyptian tombs to medieval dungeons and the lairs of mad scientists. Enter the escape room and you need to solve puzzles to get out, ideally without the ethical dilemmas of the Saw franchise.
Hannah Bakke of TheatreX’s Escape THIS spoke with the Arts Reader‘s Basil Considine about being stuck in an escape room, jumping through aerial hoops, and playing the mandolin – just another day in the actor’s life.
You’re an actor in Escape THIS, a play that riffs on the popular escape room entertainment. What was your escape room experience prior to this show?
I have participated in one escape room to date–there used to be one near Lake Monster Brewery in Saint Paul. However, as a cast we are hoping to find a time for us all to do one together!
Tell me about the character(s) that you play.
There are four characters that participate in the escape room. Chuck, Marla, and Steve all know each other, and I play Amy (Chuck’s date). Amy is a bit of a people pleaser and seemingly sweet. If I were to fill in some of the blanks in her life, I’d say she is a kindergarten teacher and drinks her coffee black. She definitely is the kind of person whom you’d never expect to be a slob, but definitely has some moldy pizza living under her bed.
When did rehearsals begin? How often do you rehearse?
We had a few rehearsals beginning mid-June, however come mid-July we will begin rehearsing four nights a week.
Did you have any prior acquaintance with Rob Matsushita’s work?
I was not familiar with Rob Matsushita’s work prior to Escape THIS.
What are some aspects of his script that you especially appreciate or enjoy?
I have appreciated how intentional Rob has been throughout our rehearsal process. After our first read through he took notes, made adjustments, listened to our thoughts, and came back with something even more awesome than the first draft. The script is intentional as well – there are plenty of jokes that everyone will find funny and accessible. However, there are also bits made specifically for the escape room enthusiast or the escape room employee which will absolutely make that person’s day.
Most actors’ lives are not filled with linear paths doing just one thing. What are some of things that have filled up your last year?
I have never heard the phrase “not filled with linear paths” as a way to describe the actor’s life –I love it! I’m totally going to pull that out at Thanksgiving when my relatives ask me what I’m doing with my life. (I jest – I am very lucky to be surrounded by people who are excited about my non-linear life!)
This last year was chock full of wonderful things. I returned home after a year-long tour with Missoula Children’s Theatre and got married 3 months later. I took courses on the aerial hoop (you can catch my lyra routine in another Fringe show, Mens Club, at the Four Seasons Dance Studio).
During the month of June, I had the honor of performing in Spring Awakening with The Chameleon Theatre Circle as Thea. Our production incorporated onstage instrumentalists, so I had the opportunity to sing, dance, and play mandolin at the same time. I also work as a teaching artist around town, most recently devising a re-telling of Snow White with students in 2nd through 3rd grade at Merrill Arts Center.
When not working in the theatre I am looking for more opportunities to work in the theatre, working as a barista at Caribou Coffee, or scheming and dreaming with the person I am married to.
What’s up for you post-Fringe?
Post-Fringe, I will be continuing with my non-linear life! I am excited to begin working on a new show, Cole Porter’s The Ambassador Review, and I plan to take some time to write kooky songs with my mandolin. (Think Garfunkel and Oates or Flo & Joan). I also want to continue and grow my work as a teaching artist.
Theatre X’s Escape THIS opens August 2 at the Ritz Theater Mainstage in Minneapolis, MN.