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Photo: Courtesy of It's A Trap - A red maned dragon leads you on your magical quest in one of the escape room's missions.
Winter Park / Maitland Observer Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015 3 years ago

Escape reality in Winter Park

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Get locked in
by: Sarah Wilson Staff Writer

Take two steps inside, and the door clicks closed behind you with an echoing thud. By the dim light of your handheld lantern, you see the slanted toothy smile of a red-maned dragon greet you from inside a barred cage in the corner. You’ve entered this makeshift cabin to meet a wizard who holds the secret antidote to cure the plague that’s ravaged your home village, but instead the sassy caged dragon says he’s going to hold you captive until you can solve a riddle that will set him free. Then, he promises, he’ll help you cure your people.

But you soon find out: It’s a trap.

This shouldn’t surprise you if you read the named scrawled on the outside wall of the strip mall you walked into, the so-called magical cabin sandwiched in between a sub shop and an auto parts store. It’s A Trap has been transporting visitors who walk into its Winter Park space to faraway mythical lands since the escape room opened in November 2014. The actors and owners welcome you in with the lure of immersive entertainment; then leave you on your own to find your way out.

More and more escape rooms, which started as an entertainment craze in Japan dating back to 2007, are popping up across the United States as the trend makes its way westward. According to escaperoomdirectory.com, there are more than 200 across the country, including 14 in Florida, five of which are in the Orlando area.

The second of those to open in Central Florida was It’s A Trap. Co-owner Debra Beardsley said she sees the “we lock you in, you find your way out” entertainment trend as one she expects to see continue to grow.

It’s A Trap is located at 6744 Aloma Ave. in Winter Park. For more information, visit itsatrapgame.com

“It’s a tangible experience, it’s not digital, it’s not combative, it’s collaborative,” she said. “… This is a chance where you get to put your phone away, and you have to come together and touch things and do things as a team… I think the world is really starting to crave those types of experiences.”

At It’s A Trap you and up to seven other friends or strangers are welcomed into a themed adventure room, where guides and clues await inside to help you escape. Depending on which door you enter and when, you could be setting foot into an enchanted medieval hut, the superhero-filled streets of New York City, or a heroine’s secret lair.

Beardsley, who worked previously in immersive theater in New York, teamed up with her husband Alex to bring their own version of the all-senses experience to their new hometown of Winter Park. Together they built out an empty storefront on Goldenrod Road and turned it into their own interactive theater branded as a “mom-and-pop escape room” far away from Orlando’s other escape rooms on International Drive.

“We wanted to be on the local side of town,” she said. “We need entertainment over on this side of town too, and if you ask a local if they want to go over to I-Drive to do something…” she trailed off adding an over-the-top eye roll and a laugh.

The Beardsley’s created It’s A Trap from the ground up, Debra tackling the stories and Alex handling the logistics. They collected props for months from garage sales and flea markets, picking up items they liked and figuring out ways to incorporate them into their stories.

Their goal, Beardsley said, is to always be as fantastical and creative as possible.

“If you want to leave reality for a little while, come to It’s A Trap,” she said with a smile.

Beardsley said she and her husband find inspiration for their escape room plots from years of playing video games and Dungeons and Dragons, and from pop culture in both TV and movies. She said they’ve embraced the increasingly popular idea of “geek chic,” that being geeky can be cool too.

“You know [your experience at It’s A Trap] is going to be authentically geeky. There’s years and years of geeky-ness behind it,” Beardsley said with a laugh. “It gives us more geek street-cred, you might say.”

Beardsley built up her credibility making a career out of nerding out about theater, while her husband got his kicks as a puzzle-loving engineer.

Inside the escape rooms, every character in each of their rooms has an extensive backstory of their own – geeky or not – that helps keep the story flowing and the audience immersed in their surroundings.

“If you sat and talked to the characters, they would be able to give you hours of back story about their lives,” Beardsley said.

As for the sassy red dragon, his trickster power-hungry ways stem back from his childhood spent as the youngest and smallest member of his dragon family. Now he’s found himself in a dimension where he’s the only dragon, so he’s ready to spread his wings and take over.

Will he get his happy ending or will you? Or are they one in the same? Beardsley challenges you to come find out.

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