Meet the minds behind Roundtable Productions

By on February 8, 2017

Creative Lititz company debuts escape room at Bube’s Brewery

Meeting Kate Hopkins and Rob Earhart for the first time, you may think you recognize them from somewhere. Chances are you have seen them on stage, enjoyed their work at a murder mystery production or Renaissance faire event and, probably, at the time, shook your head in amazement at their ingenuity and creativity.

The pair, with Krystal Dorsey, are partners in Roundtable Productions, an entrepreneurial Lititz production company that got its start providing authentic period clothing (Hopkins is a talented costume designer) and realistic staging, as well as exciting jousting and sword fights, to bring Renaissance Elizabethan and Medieval shows to life.

Locally, the group is best known for plot twisting murder mystery events that have brought “ah ha” moments on a regular basis to guests at the General Sutter Inn, Bube’s Brewery, and other locations. Kate and Rob met at a Renaissance faire and have been together for two decades.

To their friends and colleagues and those who know their creativity, it is no surprise that the group – with experience in script writing, set building, stage production, costumes, stunts and more &tstr; will bring this expertise to Bube’s Brewery in Mount Joy starting in March in the newest form of active, immersive entertainment &tstr; an escape room.

If you have been living in the woods for the past few years, or like this writer, just not familiar with the hottest and latest forms of active entertainment, escape rooms are “it” and “in.”

Rob Earhart and Kate Hopkins of Roundtable Productions have something new in store for Bube’s Brewery.

Rob Earhart and Kate Hopkins of Roundtable Productions have something new in store for Bube’s
Brewery.

The activity got its start as a video game and then spun off as live entertainment debuting in Japan in 2006. It arrived in the U.S. via San Francisco in 2012. In just a few years the phenomenon has exploded with several thousand locations worldwide. It’s still early in the escape room era and more local entrepreneurs as well as large entertainment companies are rushing to get into the action adding twists and turns to the genre as savvy participants crave new and bigger challenges.

Kate, Rob and Krystal had no thoughts — until very recently — of opening an escape room. There are currently several rooms operating in the Lancaster County area. “To be honest,” Hopkins said, “I knew very little about the concept.”

Their first introduction came by chance.

“We work most weekends,” she continued, “and time to relax is mid-week.” On a trip to New York City last summer, they came across an escape room with a Sherlock Holmes story line (a favorite of Earhart) and gave it a try. They enjoyed the experience but actually weren’t able to solve the puzzles and escape in the 60 minute time period.

“On the drive home, we really critiqued it and talked about what we liked and what we thought we could do better,” she said. “We never once discussed getting involved; it had only been joked about.”

One of the things that held them back, Earhart explained, was that they just did not want to invest in a building to set up a permanent installation. “And we just had too much other stuff going on with the mysteries, knight and joust training, and other projects.”

A Lititz native, Earhart also is an accomplished blacksmith who has forged swords and decorative metal work and still helps a friend with an active business in Chester County.

Hopkins, originally from Maine, is a seamstress and costume designer who has worked in theater and even as a wedding dress designer. She does much of the directing for the group’s productions.

A Virginia native, Dorsey’s background is stunt coordination as well as prop design. She has experience at some of the country’s largest theme parks.

Recently, on a trip to Philadelphia, Kate and Rob tried a modern, CIA-themed, escape room with eight other people.

“We got into it and had a great time working together,” Hopkins said, “and Krystal got us thinking seriously about designing a portable program to be used at specialty conventions or for corporate team building exercises.”

Back home, they called a group that was planning a local convention to inquire if they would be interested. Earhart said, “Not only were they interested, but had booked an escape room early in their convention planning.”

“That’s when the epiphany came,” Hopkins laughed, “and it all came together quickly.” They realized they had all the expertise to design their own, unique production with Earhart’s writing skills and the group’s staging and production experience. The final piece of the puzzle was locating an appropriate site. Working with Bube’s Brewery &tstr; where they continue to run murder mysteries and other programs – they found the basement art gallery, nestled behind huge, wooden fermenting barrels, ideal as their escape room and have spent the last several weeks designing and constructing sets.

Similar to their murder mystery programs, the first Roundtable Escape will have a 1920s theme, an era they are comfortable with.

“We always have done pre-high tech themes for our programs,” Hopkins explained, “to challenge guests to use their wits and not be looking for a CSI-type test to solve the mystery.”

Bootleggers Escape is the name of the program. Hopkins explained the story line will be that a Prohibition-era Speakeasy is about to be raided and the patrons are locked into a room where they have 60 minutes to escape before the police arrive. The program also will use some historical facts from the brewery’s past.

Because of the size of Bube’s facility, only six players will participate at a time making it more intimate. The cost will be $24.99 per person which is competitive with other venues. The escape room will operate Thursday through Sunday with daytime and evening hours through April.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Earhart and Hopkins smiled. “We think we have something which will capture the interest of kids through adults. “And,” Hopkins continued, “since we aren’t using someone else’s materials, we can make adjustments to keep the story and clues fresh.”

Escape rooms are usually one and done. If you solve the puzzle and get out of the room, there is no reason to return, so many larger locations have several rooms under one roof.

“Certainly there is competition between facilities,” Hopkins said, “but we are learning escape room owners encourage guests to attend other programs to help build interest and awareness of the programs.”

Social media is playing a huge role in escape room growth. Players may be photographed by site owners after play and images of excited escapees holding signs that say “I Escaped” are posted on multiple sites where friends re-post or Tweet and the buzz grows.

While the sheer number of escape rooms is expected to grow for years, their complexity is growing even faster.

“Today, there are level one to four facilities,” Hopkins said, “going from the low-tech word or number clues and puzzles to help you discover a physical keys to escape the room, to high tech computer programs generating both puzzles and clues while an on-site technician makes adjustments so guests are constantly challenged.”

Bootleggers Escape will be more of a hands-on room with the exception of a small monitor in the room displaying the countdown clock as well as special clues when groups are stuck on puzzles.

“Part of the excitement,” Hopkins said, “is working against the clock, and sometimes guests actually escape in the last minute. We want that tension in the Bootlegger program too.”

The Roundtable Productions’ Bootleggers Escape opens March 2 at Bube’s Brewery in Mount Joy. The website is roundtable.productions/escape, where reservations to participate in your first or your 100th escape room can be made.

Art Petrosemolo is a freelance feature writer and photographer who recently retired to this area from New Jersey. He welcomes reader feedback at artpetrosemolo@comcast.net.

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