The label “immersive” is thrown around carelessly these days; Outside the March is working tirelessly to remind us all just what it means. Their latest project, Tape Escape, takes participants back in time and into a 90s video store – albeit with more brainteasers than the boarded-up Blockbuster down the street. This is a truly site-specific work operating out of the recently closed Queen Video store on Bloor, a site near-ish and dear to many Torontonians for whom just walking through the door will trigger a wave of nostalgia. For others, the sight of thousands of tapes stacked on shelves will be a comforting reminder of simpler times. This is more than an invitation to reminisce, though: it’s a fun challenge even for those too young to know the sound of a VCR gobbling up a cassette.
There are three experiences on offer, each lasting around an hour and focusing on an intriguing premise. “Love Without Late Fees” is a choose-their-adventure story of a couple (played convincingly by Sebastien Heins and co-creator Vanessa Smythe in audio and video footage) who meet and bond through a matchmaking service run by the store – your group’s success in cracking the clues determines whether they find love or have to return their happiness. The carefully crafted footage made the budding relationship feel just real enough and had us invested in exploring the dozens of possible outcomes. A Grown-Up’s Guide to Flying follows a child with a degenerative eye illness whose brother throws a scavenger hunt in the store, testing your ability to use your senses when you can’t take all of them for granted. It’s a thoughtful and ambitious concept that falls a little short but does a decent job given its challenges and the constraints of the space. Both were accessible but hard enough to require strong teamwork and creative thinking; if your group was on the ball you would finish just in time, which is how it should be.
Tape Escape unboxes the escape room experience in a fun, innovative context. I’d recommend heading down to Queen Video – and returning before your late fees pile up.