Selling Out With … Marty Parker
Room escape events are having a moment right now. The combination of immersive theater, audience participation and the adrenaline rush you get from competing make for a fun night out, so it’s no surprise these events are popping up in nearly every city in the country.
One of the biggest names in the game is Bucket List Productions with their show Trapped in a Room With a Zombie. In it, you and your team have one hour to escape the room using the clues you find and solving puzzles. But while you’re working, there’s a zombie chained to the wall trying to catch you, adding to the drama.
To find out more about the success of these types of events, we interviewed the creator and owner of Bucket List Productions, Marty Parker. See what he had to say about the appeal of being trapped in a room with a monster and the future of immersive events:
Selling Out: Trapped in a Room With a Zombie combines two popular trends right now: zombies and interactive-immersive theater. How did you initially come up with the idea?
Marty Parker: My company Bucket List Productions, LLC produces team builders that motivate and inspire people to live fulfilled, passionate lives such as mud runs, color runs, tomato fights and bubble runs. I was looking for something that could make the jump more into performance arts, as I have a love and background for the performance arts. An email in 2013 from a friend said she wouldn’t do any of my current events, but if I did a room escape she would try it. So I flew to the only room escape in the country in San Francisco and tried one and thought, wouldn’t it be neat if you combined it with the murder-mystery concept. I laughed for half an hour straight when I was driving back from a Bubble Palooza thinking about how to combine the two and thought it would be hysterical to put a zombie in the show that got released closer to the protagonists every five minutes!
SO: You’re now in more than 20 cities across the globe. How did you know when it was time to expand? Do you employ different marketing strategies in the different markets?
MP: I had been looking for a way to compete with Red Frog, a competitor to our Mud Ninja mud run who puts on Warrior Dash. As soon as I created my first show, I knew that it was exactly like a mud run … from the sign-up process, the marketing and the event itself … both are challenge courses. Except it didn’t cost six figures to expand, I could do it quickly. So instead of opening up mud runs like Red Frog, I opened up room escapes.
We just started marketing a couple months ago and we use the same techniques in all markets.
SO: Zombies are certainly having a moment, with the success of The Walking Dead and the new spin-off prequel Fear the Walking Dead, but do you have a strategy in mind if (or perhaps when) zombies go the way of vampires and become less prevalent in pop culture?
MP: We are a team-building company that produces events, so we are working on other productions at the moment. The Trapped series is mocking the model of The Blue Man Group, another immersive performance concept. They have been around for 15 years. They just change their show. We have multiple shows to offer through the series. Trapped In A Room With A Zombie II: STILL HUNGRY is offered in several cities and will replace the first show. We have more in the pipeline after that.
SO: While the idea of literally being trapped in a room with a zombie is pretty terrifying (at least for me!), your website and imagery have more of a playful feel than a scary one. Can you talk about the reasoning and strategy behind this?
MP: Trapped In A Room With A Zombie is written to be an adrenaline-producing comedy. It is not written to be scary. The entire concept is ridiculously funny … you are paying $28 to intentionally trap yourself in a room with something that is trying to eat you! We use bright lights and our zombie’s talk to the protagonists (participants) making them laugh … while trying to eat them. The reason: More people would go to a circus than a haunted house. Apart from the fact that I enjoy laughing and love seeing people laugh, we are able to sell more tickets as we are a family-friendly venue that specializes in corporate team-building. The moment we are perceived as scary, the moment our demography of people buying tickets goes down.
SO: Is there a certain demographic or type of customer that seems especially drawn to this type of show? Why do you think they, in particular, enjoy it?
MP: We have not seen a particular age demographic, only a particular lifestyle demographic. If you live an active lifestyle by doing mud runs, bubble runs and always looking for a cool Facebook picture, then you will someday trap yourself in a room with a zombie. Participants love the fact that we suck them out of reality and allow them to live a movie for a smidge of time. They keep talking about the show for several days following their adventure.
SO: You also market the show as a great team-building exercise for businesses. Can you talk a little more about that?
MP: This is the No. 1 way we market the show as it is designed as a team builder. We pay a staff member to take copious notes for an hour on who did what in the show and how that relates to the corporate environment. This analysis is highly sought after by managers to evaluate their teams.
SO: How much of your audience is made up of team-building groups versus customers just going for fun? Do you do anything different with these two types of audiences?
MP: The numbers differ by city due to how the show is run by Associate Producers. But our goal is to cater 80% to corporations and have 20% of the company used by the public, which is what we are starting to see in certain locations.
We deliver the same team-building sessions regardless if the session is made up of four different couples on a date night and a birthday party or a corporation. All sessions receive the in-depth analysis. We are a team-building event, and that is what participants sign up for.
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