Market research says ‘zombies’ is the answer

Elizabeth and Evan Wilson are currently producing immersive theater, interactive events in which audience members become improvisational actors within their productions. The Wilsons are newly married. She has a theatrical background; he is from the world of music promotion. Their first project “Halloween Lies” will take place in the Lounge at the Ashland Armory on Nov. 4. The Wilsons are also building Escape Rooms which are increasing in popularity in the Rogue Valley. We chatted at Case Coffee Roasters on Lithia Way in Ashland.

EH: How does this medium differ from other theatrical events?

ElW: The difference is that you’re not a spectator. When you get together with your friends, to go to see a play, you couple it with something else (dinner or going out for drinks afterward) that’s when you get to be social. During the performance, you are a spectator.

With this, you are a part of it, you’re actively participating, and you are actively socializing with the people around you. It fills that social need for people to bond together, to interact with each other, rather than sitting in chairs watching events unfold.

“Halloween Lies” is a Hollywood movie premier-type scenario, where everybody comes dressed in Hollywood/Halloween costumes. Each person has a booklet about their character and their relationships with other characters in the room. They have money, they have items, and they have secrets.

EvW: Basically it takes place at the “Horror Movie Awards.” The night before, someone (who is winning most of the awards) mysteriously dies. Now, at the award ceremony, everybody’s goal is to find out who in the room is the killer. There will be a five-course dinner influenced by Transylvanian cuisine. There will be socializing, and the food will be served during the night while people are playing the game.

EH: What is an escape room?

ElW: The escape room is interactive theater and game play combined. The second that you enter, you are a part of the story. You walk in as a character, and you have to solve puzzles (clues and riddles) in order to get out, or to achieve a goal. In all of our experiences, we’ll have live actors dressed-up and in-character. It amplifies the experience to have interesting characters to talk to.

EH: Does this activity stem from computer games?

EvW: These were originally applications that you could download on your phone. People thought, “Why don’t we do this in a physical location, where we can get away from our phones?” Our main plan is to open three to five escape rooms in one location. We had to figure out some themes that people would like. We did market research and the zombie theme was the most popular.

EH: What is the significance of zombies?

ElW: It’s about brainwashing, and not having our own thoughts anymore. We’re eating the brains of other people and digesting what they’re saying as our own thoughts and our own feelings, rather than being our own people.

EvW: A zombie represents our own worst nature. The original zombie movie was “The Night of the Living Dead.” There are political themes — “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was about McCarthyism. It leads back to that concept, that we will be our own destruction. The concept of apocalyptic events, whether it’s disease, famine or a meteor seems to dominate this genre of storytelling. I can’t believe this is our life now, making zombie art. It’s so cool.

EH: How do these projects enhance your relationship?

ElW: Ultimately, what it’s done for us is, it has helped us learn how to communicate with each other, and it’s so much fun.

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