Escape from Godot is a game and a show, the show is the game and the game is the show. And audience members do both at the same time, the whole time. Appealing to theatre fans and puzzle hounds alike, Escape from Godot is designed to be played without any knowledge of the source material, or even knowing there *is* source material. The results are hilarious, heartbreaking, and absurd.
The design process started with the initial pitch, “What if you could complete puzzles to escape from the classic existentialist play ‘Waiting for Godot,’ an infamous play where ‘nothing happens.’” Adding to the challenge is the fact that the show consists of two people who never leave the stage and a minimal set with which to interact.
After that initial concept, we knew we wanted the final win-condition to recreate the final moment of the original play, but swapping the actors for the audience. The final feeling of introspection is embodied by each audience member, rather than viewed from your seat. It acts as a counterpoint to the frenetic puzzle solving nature of an escape room- in Escape from Godot, in order to win, players must stand still and silent on-stage as the lights fade to black.
Typically in team-based competitive or timed game situations, dominant personalities emerge that can often overshadow the more thoughtful and observant members of the group. We took care to design challenges that engage diverse participants, but with the props and characters in the original work. We wrote the script to draw in all audience members, including those we lovingly refer to as “shy campers.”
The non-puzzle interactions often generated the most elated reactions from the players, though the mechanic was merely reading aloud in public: to some this is as thrilling as cliff diving, and seeing the show respond to your voice offers exciting positive feedback.
Through playtesting, we identified the ideal audience size for playability without crowding; adjusted the crucial onboarding instructions; and evaluated social dynamic support. This helped find a balance of high-stakes human interaction versus puzzle-hungry participants ripping seats out of the floor looking for clues.
By far the hardest puzzle to solve is unspoken: the audience must climb on-stage with actors in the middle of a scene. This reverse-breaking of the fourth wall forces players to make the decision to break intrinsic social conditioning for the good of the group. Many audience players comment that this experience creates an actual miniature existential crisis for them right in the theatre. Becoming part of the play that questions why we make the choices we do, cause them to question each choice they make.
One additional important change came from our initial performance, realizing the step onto the stage may not be possible for people with mobility issues, and was addressed in following performances by including puzzle parts and solutions that could be done anywhere in the performance space.
Existence is a puzzle. Theatre is absurd. So why not play with a play?