About Grace O'Keefe

Grace O'Keefe is based in London, UK and covers immersive entertainment and all things theatre!

Crowdfunding at a Glance: How to raise money for your escape room with crowdfunding

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In addition to my role as writer at The Escape Roomer, I’m the Head of Community and Theatre at Greenlit.com, a British Crowdfunding Platform designed for and by creatives.

 

Greenlit launched in 2019 with a mission – to be the very best place to crowdfund your creative project. Originally, we concentrated on film projects; our success means we’ve expanded to support all kinds of creative work.

Making a film, a game, a play, an album is hard. And the big crowdfunding platforms offer little help – your work gets lost among the hundreds of gadgets and products. At Greenlit, we only deal with creative work and people, and we want your project to succeed.

 

We would love to give advice to any escape rooms who may be interested in crowdfunding, so here’s our sheet about crowdfunding at a glance:

Crowdfunding at a Glance

This sheet covers:

  1. How much can I raise?
  2. What’s my timeline?
  3. Making money
  4. Your pitch
  5. Common terms

 

Some exclusive crowdfunding tips for The Escape Roomer:

  • Use your backers! It’s a great idea to have experience rewards, so why not use your backers as Beta Testers? Remember, they’re already invested (literally and figuratively) in your success.
  • Shout it out! Make sure people feel appreciated for backing. Giving them a shout out on social media helps make them feel special AND boost your reach. A real win-win!
  • Upgrade it! Have different stretch rewards so people know exactly what their money is going towards. Entice them to give more so they can get more!

 

 

If you’re interested in crowdfunding, you can reach out to me directly at grace@greenlit.com!

Mamma Mia! The Party | Review

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Mamma Mia! The Party: Review | Feel transported to the island of Skopelos to dance, dine and have the time of your life! As the sun sets, you’ll take your seats at Nikos’ family-run taverna where you’ll enjoy a delicious four-course Greek meal before dancing the night away at a glittering ABBA disco. Plan your getaway with family and friends to Mamma Mia! The Party for the ultimate Greek holiday experience to remember.

 

Mamma Mia! Here we go again…

A few need-to-know facts about me which may inform this review:

  • I am in the top .5% of ABBA listeners according to my Spotify wrapped
  • The first dance at my wedding will be “I Do, I Do, I Do”
  • I think Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again is one of the greatest cinematic masterpieces of the last decade

 

Needless to say, I am the prime target audience for Mamma Mia: The Party. And I am pleased to report that my time in Skopelos more than lived up to my expectations.

My biggest shout out of the evening is the incredible staff who are working throughout the immersive experience. Every person I encountered was friendly, genuine, and quick on the trigger when asking if you’d like them to take a picture of you at the many photo opportunities. This is the perfect place for a night out that you can later post on Instagram. It comes as no surprise that this is a perfect and popular destination for hen-do’s.

We had fantastic seats right on the stage, so we enjoyed our fair share of attention from the performers. But from my perspective, it seemed like every seat in the house had an incredible view and were interacted with at some point. Even your waiter will be a talented performer who joins in on the song and dance.

 

 

We love dinner theatre

The ticket comes with a three course meal. As a serial theme party-thrower, a big pet peeve of mine is when a theatrical-dining experience does not have food that fits the theme. Luckily at Mamma Mia: The Party the delicious menu is straight out of Greece. From the mezze platter starter to the lamb (so good!), the food was delicious. Out of the entire menu, the only thing I didn’t absolutely love was the Lemon Cake which was served with yoghurt, but I’m not a yogurt fan, so your mileage may vary! I’d actually highly recommend getting the Vegan dessert option, donuts, which my friend ordered. They were delicious!

 

Mamma Mia: The Show

Let’s be honest, it’s Mamma Mia, we’re here for the ABBA, not the plot. There is a forbidden lovers storyline which served the many opportunities for song and dance well (we can’t always be finding our long lost father out of three potential candidates). There are various characters and a few side plots and diversions, my favourite of which was an invocation to Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft, that happens in a stunning sequence in the dark with an aerial artist. The aerial work in the show, done by Allie Ho Chee, is truly stunning. Her character Bella also has a really fun dance number earlier in the show. Bella and her partner Nina, played by Jessica Spalis, were highlights of the cast for me. They both brought great energy and immense physical talent to Skopelos!

The best part of the theatrical experience of Mamma Mia: The Party was the immersion. I really enjoyed setting “The Party” on Skopelos, the island where Mamma Mia! was filmed. There’s a nice, uncomplicated meta-ness to the parameters of the world. You’ll find a series of informational posters by the complimentary coat check (as they said, it’s Greece so you’re going to be warm!) that include ferry times, maps and concert posters taking place on the island which was a lovely touch of immersion. 

 

Interactivity & World Building in Mamma Mia! The Party

While there’s no escape or puzzle elements to the show (unless you want to escape the music of ABBA and then we can’t be friends), the interactivity is some of the best I’ve experienced. Part of that is the ingeniously simple structure of the night: it is genuinely like you really are just attending a really great Mamma Mia themed party. Despite there being only a few set-up interactive moments, the way the show functions is that every interaction, be it with your waiter, the front of house, or the performers passing by, feels like an experience.

Overall, Mamma Mia: The Party was one of my favourite immersive experiences ever. The ticket prices are steep, but it’s a great value for an amazing and well thought out night out. And it’s certainly the closest I’m going to get to Greece this year!

 

Mamma Mia! The Party can be booked by heading to their website here.

Witness for the Prosecution | Review

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Witness for the Prosecution Review | Step inside the magnificent surroundings of London County Hall and experience the intensity and drama of Agatha Christie’s gripping story of justice, passion and betrayal in a unique courtroom setting. Leonard Vole is accused of murdering a widow to inherit her wealth. The stakes are high – will Leonard survive the shocking witness testimony, will he be able to convince the jury, and you of his innocence and escape the hangman’s noose?

Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution has been intriguing amateur sleuths since 1925 when she first penned the story in her short story ​​”Traitor’s Hands”. Originally adapted into a stage play in 1953 by Christie, the play has seen the West End, Broadway and a film adaptation. This current production of Witness for the Prosecution takes place in the stunning London County Hall, which served as the headquarters of London’s local government until 1986. The play is performed in-the-round, with the site-specific courthouse setting allowing for very effective immersion during the courthouse scenes.

The show has been described as both immersive and interactive, so, as this is The Escape Roomer, my review will be in two parts. The first will look at the show as a piece of theatre and the second will focus on the immersive and interactive elements of Witness for the Prosecution.

London County Hall. Photo by Grace O’Kefe.

I originally had tickets for Witness for the Prosecution at the end of March 2020 (we all know how that turned out), so I was delighted to have the opportunity to see the play two years later. Director Lucy Bailey immediately establishes a superb level of tension in the nightmarish opening sequence, with Mic Pool’s sound design particularly getting my heart pounding before the courtroom is transformed into the play’s secondary setting: the accused’s barrister’s office. As an American who had spent one entire summer interning at a law firm, occasionally making it into the city’s courts, I was intrigued to see if there were any differences in the British legal system. My takeaway: it seems that we basically stole everything except for the wigs. 

The County Hall is a stunning venue that immediately transports you into the drama and sets the stakes as life or death. My seat in the courtroom stalls was perhaps the comfiest theatre seat I’ve had the pleasure to sit in for two hours. As the performance is in-the-round, you are basically guaranteed to have a great view, although note that there are quite a few flights of stairs to get up to the seats in the galleries.

The cast of Witness for the Prosecution. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.

Christie’s script is well-paced and timeless, touching on issues of class, gender relations and xenophobia, without ever feeling dated despite being a period piece. The introduction to the case is in the defendant’s barrister’s office, who, as portrayed by Jonathan Firth, has all the wit, vivacity and presence that you’d expect of one of Christie’s detectives. Our defendant Leonard Vole’s arc is actually a very interesting examination of male vulnerability, the role is played with a great deal of sensitivity and range by Joe McNamara throughout the piece.

Witness for the Prosecution is at its best during the courtroom scenes, which allows the site-specific setting as well as its full company of actors to shine. There are many non-speaking characters in the play as various members of the court. In particular, I found myself drawn to the court stenographer, played by Lorna Lowe, who fittingly was an attorney before training at Lamda. Without drawing focus, her reactions to the scandalous court proceedings added a level of realism that reminded me of my time spent observing court cases. 

As this is Agatha Christie, of course, this is no mere courtroom drama, it is also a mystery. Christie’s clever plotting leads us through several twists and turns, and if you’ve managed to remain unspoiled, trying to solve the case alongside the characters is a great deal of fun. Although my guest and I had different guesses of ‘whodunnit’, I must admit we were both entirely wrong. Leave it to Agatha Christie to be ten steps ahead of us even half a century later. Overall, Witness for the Prosecution is a gripping murder mystery and a beautifully-executed piece of theatre.

The cast of Witness for the Prosecution. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.

Immersion and Interactivity

Sorry Brecht, but the appeal of immersive theatre appears to be here to stay. Over the past few decades, immersion and interactivity have become increasingly prevalent buzzwords in the entertainment industry. The terms are often conflated, but as readers of The Escape Roomer, I hope you’ll indulge me with a brief, very nerdy examination of the two terms. I turn to my favourite scholarly article on the subject (yes, I do have a favourite): Catherine Bouko’s “Interactivity and Immersion in a media-based performance” from 2014. If you are a nerd like me, I highly recommend reading the whole article, but here is my cliff notes version of my understanding of her definitions:

There are three levels of immersion: the first involves the breaking down of the “fourth wall” between performers and actors, the second has the audience placed within an environment and narrative, and the third (which is nearly impossible to achieve without VR or similar technology) sees the audience experiencing confusion between reality and fiction.

A clear definition of interactivity and its varying degrees is more elusive: the baseline for interactivity involves some form of reaction to the participant from the performance, more advanced interactivity allows the audience to make choices that will affect the narrative in a predetermined way, while the final stage of interactivity allows the audience to affect the narrative in unforeseen ways beyond the control of the performance. It’s actually very rare for experiences that we might describe as interactive to reach the later stages of interactivity, as most interactive experiences have a predetermined outcome (or outcomes).

In a way, all live theatre is in some sense both interactive and immersive, as actors on stage feed off the energy and reactions of the audience, allowing the audience to interact with the performance and audience members often feel immersed in a production through the magic of live theatre. That being said, this is The Escape Roomer, so let’s break down how much immersion and interactivity you can expect in Witness for the Prosecution. 

The cast of Witness for the Prosecution. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.

Is Witness for the Prosecution Immersive or Interactive?

Witness for the Prosecution certainly has immersive elements, chief among them being its site-specific setting. According to the very trusty source of an uncited claim on Wikipedia, “it was always Christie’s wish to see the play in a site-specific location”, and if that is indeed true, you can easily see why: it is a stunningly effective way to bring you into the world of the play. This immersion is slightly undercut during the times when setting switches, despite the set changes being beautifully realised through direction, lighting and sound. While Christie’s script is tightly woven as is, it would be interesting to see a version of the play that was adapted to take place entirely in the courtroom.

The interactive elements of the play are limited to the VIP Jury tickets who decide the fate of the accused. Notably, the tickets come with a reminder that “as a member of the Jury you must shut out from your minds everything except what will take place during the trial”, which seems quite a difficult task as the entire performance plays out in front of you. I was not a member of the jury, so I cannot truly attest to the level of interactivity of the experience. That being said, from my outside perspective, there seemed to be some limit to the amount of influence they had on how the play unfolds. That being said, it seems like an excellent VIP theatrical experience, where you become part of the show and have an increased level of immersion: throughout the play, witnesses, solicitors and the judge speak directly to the jury, the jury has a brief moment to deliberate and the jury foreman gets to announce the verdict. 

Taking this all into account, if asked specifically about the level of immersion and interactivity, I would describe Witness for the Prosecution as a really fantastically executed site-specific piece of theatre that creates a heightened level of theatrical immersion. If you are interested in more immersion, as well as elements of interactivity, I’d recommend going for the VIP Jury tickets. And of course, as with any Agatha Christie mystery, the audience gets to put on their detective hats and decide for themselves: whodunit?

Witness for the Prosecution can be booked at London County Hall here.

The Curious Correspondence Club: Warehouse on the Wharf | Review

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The Curious Correspondence Club: Warehouse on the Wharf | Review | Chapter II takes you to Padstow Wharf to find the second of 12 ancient artifacts hidden among the hundreds of shipments arriving and leaving the warehouse.

Hot on the heels of another agent who went missing in action, you must use the map, film negative, and cargo panels she left behind to piece together the artifact’s location before it is moved and lost forever.

Completion Time: 70 Minutes
Date Played: October 3rd 2021
Party Size:
Recommended For: An incredibly inventive, stimulating, and varied at-home experience

Chapter II of the Curious Correspondence Club leads you from the museum to the wharf for an exciting continuation of your journey as a new recruit of the mysterious organization. Following the footsteps and clues left behind by the missing AGENT RED, I found this chapter to be even more immersive and engaging than the first (check out my review of Chapter One here). 

Once again, I was blown away by the variety, beauty, and inventiveness of the game pieces that came in the envelope. Intricate is an understatement. The variety of items that the creators portray in a 2D format is fascinating (I found the film negative to be particularly delightful)!

Just as in Chapter I, be prepared for a variety of puzzles that cater to different types of thinkers. In my previous review, I admonished myself for diving into these mysteries as a “solo agent” and suggested playing with at least one other person, however, I rarely listen to anyone, including myself, and therefore attempted Chapter II while home alone on a chilly autumn night. Luckily for me, I did have an easier time with Chapter II, in part because I was familiar with the foundations of what makes the Curious Correspondence Club tick, but also due to the setting.

While I loved the museum setting of Chapter I, I found the objectives within Chapter II more directly connected to the puzzles at hand, something that I struggled with in the first chapter. The puzzles were not necessarily less challenging, however, I did find them, to their benefit, more easily completed because of this correspondence (no pun intended) to the in-game tasks. Given that I am now a full fledged agent rather than going through my initiation, I hope that the following chapters follow this model, as having clearly defined tasks laid out handily in the introductory note gave me more time to focus on the actual tasks at hand rather than questioning what I was supposed to be doing. 

As a humanities minded individual, I was initially unsure if I would be well suited to solving the code breaking, observational puzzles contained in Chapter II. To the contrary, I found them more intuitive and satisfying to solve (and more easily done without hints!) than the museum-set Chapter I, perhaps because I didn’t have any outside knowledge about the Greeks or dinosaurs clouding my thought process. I very much enjoyed taking on the role of a secret agent for the evening, next time I’ll have to break out my black polo neck. 

I definitely relied a lot less on the hints this time, although I would use them to “check my work” if I wasn’t 100% sure of my answer because I learned from Chapter I that a wrong solution in one section could lead to disaster later down the line (disaster here meaning I had to unnecessarily redo things, something that I find very annoying). When I did use the hints, I found them to be more helpful than last time, again I think the plot structure of Chapter II definitely helped in this regard. 

The one tactile/building puzzle in the envelope, while very interesting in concept, proved to be an absolutely impossible task for me as a solo player. That being said, as I stated in my previous review, fine motor skills are by no means my strong suit! The rest of the puzzles I could have managed alone, but I think every player could benefit from an extra pair of hands when it comes to this task. 

The Verdict

I found Chapter II to be a brilliant instalment of the Curious Correspondence Club that creates an excellent blueprint of how the future chapters could play out. Like the Godfather Part 2 or Shrek 2, I’d class it as a rare sequel that surpasses the original.

It made me very excited to play the future episodes, perhaps I will even finally listen to my own advice and make my partner play Chapter III with me. I would highly recommend this game to all puzzle lovers who are up for an exciting and unique challenge.

Warehouse on the Wharf can be purchased as part of the Curious Correspondence Club subscription on their website here.

Ratings

Curious Correspondence Club: The Custodian’s Keys | Review

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Curious Correspondence Club: The Custodian’s Keys Review | A museum ticket marked with a curious symbol leads you to the M. B. Franklin Museum of Natural History to investigate six keys, six exhibits, and one strange lock.  You must explore each exhibit and solve the clues to pair the right keys with the right locks. Completing this puzzle will reveal the location of an ancient treasure within the museum. Will you be able to unlock the secrets?

Completion Time: 80 Minutes
Date Played: September 22nd 2021
Party Size: 1 (and a half)
Recommended For: A challenging, beautifully designed, and tactile at-home experience

Each envelope from The Curious Correspondence Club contains a world of treasures: the relatively small letter opens up to reveal an array of cleverly and beautifully designed props with puzzles to solve and mysteries to uncover. 

It’s impossible not to be impressed by the detail, variety, and scope of this at home experience. You’ll truly be transported to another world from the comfort of your own house.

Expert puzzle solvers, this game is for you! I believe even the most experienced minds would be challenged by the mysteries contained inside this little envelope.

When I first opened the envelope, I immediately laid out the various props, delighted and amazed by the inventiveness and quality of each piece of paper that has been expertly engineered and transformed into items you encounter in the M. B. Franklin Museum. 

Top marks for beauty and originality!

It was almost too beautiful, as I felt the urge to preserve the items. For the first 20 minutes of game play, I resisted marking up or damaging the pieces, which did not make the task at hand any easier for myself. And these puzzles are certainly not an easy task. 

The puzzles themselves are incredibly varied and cater to different types of thinkers. The tactile elements were particularly exciting, although some of them proved a bit tricky to manoeuvre correctly. I was led down the wrong path on more than one occasion by a minutely askew piece, but to be fair, fine motor skills are not my strong suit! 

I found the experience challenging, not necessarily because of the puzzles themselves (although they were challenging by their own merits), but because I had trouble adapting to the mindset of how everything was meant to connect. This was less of the case in Chapter Two, which I also played (no spoilers yet for that review!) This was, in part, because I had a better understanding of how the game-makers think, but more significantly because the tasks at hand were laid out more directly and it was easier to connect the plot based challenges to the actual puzzles that you were meant to solve. I understand from a story perspective why the second chapter had more clearly explained directives, however, it feels like a missed opportunity that the first chapter didn’t act as more of a tutorial on what makes these mysteries tick.

I did end up using the hints and some spoilers, and to be honest with you, I doubt I could have completed the game without them. I liked how the hints were in character, but I felt they could have been more helpful if they were a bit clearer. I often already realized the “hint” by myself, the challenge was making the leap from that story driven thought process to the literal task at hand, so I would end up having to spoil myself. Again, this was less of the case in Chapter Two.

I did this game alone for the most part, but when I called in my partner out of desperation, there were things I missed that they quickly figured out. I would definitely recommend doing it with at least one other person, unless you’re a puzzle solving genius who’s up for a challenge. 

The Verdict

Despite the difficulty level, I really enjoyed the ingenuity and novelty on display in Chapter One and I would definitely recommend it to others, particularly mystery and puzzle enthusiasts who want their skills to be tested. I love that they’re part of a larger narrative and I’m excited to dive further into the series to see where the Curious Correspondence Club takes me.

The Custodian’s Keys by Curious Correspondence Club can be purchased on their website here.

Don’t forget to check out their free Halloween event this October.

Ratings

Meet Grace O’Keefe, our newest writer in London!

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We are absolutely delighted to announce that Grace O’Keefe has joined our team as our new writer in London, UK!

Grace hails from Baltimore, in the USA but finds herself writing, directing, acting and teaching over this side of the pond! You may know her as one half of the production company, The Queens of Cups, one of the organisers of the New Moon Monologues, or as the director of Saturn’s Return and Bad Teacher, coming soon to the Edinburgh Fringe!

Her favourite board game is Mysterium (*high fives from all the team*), and as a lifelong immersive theatre fan, we’re sure that Grace will fit right in at The Escape Roomer! Grace will be focused on reviewing all the fantastic escape room and immersive theatre events in London, as well as at-home puzzle games!

I know you’ll make Grace feel very welcome, and we’re all so excited to share more on Grace’s escapades in the near future!

Without further adieu, here’s Grace to introduce herself!


Introduce Yourself!

Hello! I’m Grace, I’m a theatremaker, TV addict, and self-proclaimed astrology expert originally hailing from the US. I currently live in London where I work as the Head of Community and Theatre at Greenlit, a UK-based crowdfunding platform designed by and for creatives.

Escape Rooms, Board Games, Immersive Theatre… What’s your poison?

I think as a theatre nerd, I have no choice but to say Immersive Theatre, but I like to dabble.

When you’re not doing Immersive Theatre, how do you spend your free time?

Watching and making theatre, unsurprisingly, does take up a lot of my time, BUT I also frequently indulge in trashy reality TV and an endless stream of YouTube videos on topics ranging from witchcraft tips to the Sims. I also love food and cooking and used to have quite the reputation for throwing parties with themed menus.

What are some of the most memorable immersive experiences you’ve had here in the UK?

The one that sticks in my mind was C-O-N-T-A-C-T, which was an outdoor immersive theatre piece that involved you following two actors around central London with dialogue happening in your headphones. It was the first theatre piece I saw after the first lockdown, and I loved seeing how theatre could be innovated in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.

What are you most excited for, now that the world is reopening?

I really miss meeting new people and exploring new places! Also, it would be great if it were easier to see my family (that probably should have come first).

If you were given a blank cheque to create your dream immersive experience, what would it be like?

I really want to figure out a way to do an immersive musical. One that I think could be really interesting is Once Upon A Mattress, a retelling of The Princess and the Pea from 1959 with music from Mary Rodgers (really rare to have a female composer on a Broadway Musical) that is way ahead of its time. It features a loud, moat-swimming princess, a HBIC Queen, and a knocked-up ingenue, and it’s just buckets of fun. The structure of the show sets it up really well to allow the audience to become part of the court and I would love to give the musical (and Mary Rodgers) the credit it deserves.

Once Upon a Mattress (1958)


A huge shout out once again to Grace O’Keefe! You can keep up with Grace’s on Instagram, Twitter or at graceokeefe.com. Read Grace’s reviews and articles here.