On Drosselmeyer, Devastating Endings, and Giving Your Story to Your Audience!

WE DID IT!! Club Drosselmeyer *actually* happened, which to me is nothing short of a miracle. We started with sort of a crazy idea that 95% of people didn’t entirely understand and we ended up with a magic, immersive, interactive world with puzzles and clues and acrobats, juggling, tap dancers, swing dancing, a full band and everyone in costume. In short, it was the awesome party I’ve always wanted to go to. 

BUT… you may have noticed, there were definitely things to improve. The most controversial, it seems- is that there were a few ways the evening could go. As reviews are pouring in, a lot of people are saying “I loved the puzzling!” and some people are also saying “wait- there was puzzling?” It was such a weird concept that some people found it hard to gain an entry- what exactly does one do when the only way to discover a storyline is to interact with the characters? And those same people were downright livid when on Friday, the story ended badly. 

So what am I talking about: there were two wildly different endings in the two nights. The purpose of the evening was that there were Nutcracker Technology blueprints hidden in the club. If you solved all the puzzles and talked to the right people, you could find the code, break into the safe and procure said blueprints. If you were the first team to get the blueprints, it was up to you what to do with them. On evening 1, the winning team handed the documents back to Drosselmeyer. Rhett, the gangster was shot, the world was saved, we all sang “we’re glad that you’re dead you rascal, you”, and we had a curtain call and all did the shim sham to great celebration! As Room Escape Artists admitted, it was cheesy but fun and satisfying. 

Evening two, the team who found the blueprints decided to give them to Rhett the Rat. Rhett gladly took the blueprints, then shot Drosselmeyer and Clara, turned on the house lights and kicked everybody out. No flowers. No curtain call. We played “springtime for Hitler”.

YEAH that ending sucked!! It was the WORST! We tried to talk them out of it- we said “you realize what he’ll do with these blueprints, right?” We tried to egg another “nice” team to get to the blueprints first. We tried mediation between the nice team and the not-so-nice team but to no avail: the “nice” team was one number off the code and the not-so-nice team was absolutely determined that they wanted to see the bad ending. They loved it, they said it was fun to be bad. They said Rhett promised to “Make Club Drosselmeyer Great Again”. So yeah, everyone died. 

We silently passed the news through the cast on the floor: “bad ending triggered”. Everyone groaned, our hearts dropped. For our last night?? The bad ending was really bad. (I have to remember not to write things where my husband gets shot.) So that’s what happened. Bodies on the floor, the house lights came up and my cast awkwardly hung in the wings. “So— really no curtain call?” Really no curtain call. “Wait, I have flowers to give you”… Thank you, put them on the table. Horrible! Terrible!! Heartless! But…. it’s just what the world was- and as I wrote previously, my weirdness with fiction is that I honestly don’t feel like I control it. The world was there- things happened- they weren’t pretty and when military technology is going to the Nazis, we don’t all bow and cheer. I felt terrible- I also felt like it wasn’t my choice. 

I know what you’re saying here: Kellian, you’re full of it- it was absolutely your choice, why did you put us through that? I KNOW!!! I’m struggling with it, too!! One person commented “How can you blame us? How dare YOU be upset about the ending? Don’t write things you don’t want to see if you’re going to be upset about it (asshole)” They didn’t say the last part but it was implied. And yeah! Fair! Totally fair!! But… we affect stories every day. Some end well and some don’t and I don’t think we *always* deserve good endings. In my mind- we didn’t get a good ending in 2016- we looked at a story and we chose the “interesting” ending and we got it. It will be “interesting” for the next four years. It wasn’t everybody’s fault- not everybody chose that ending but that’s what happened- and I think that’s what happens with most endings. I think that’s the real power of games- the real power of interactive stories. You only get the happy ending when you make the happy ending happen. 

And I think it’s okay to be upset about the bad ending. In fact, I kindof hope you are. I certainly am and I think I have every right to be- it was TERRIBLE. I think it’s okay to be upset when things suck. I don’t have to be cheerful when people choose to shoot my hero. I didn’t even get to bow for my family- but to me, I didn’t control it. That’s how the story happened and I felt like I needed to honor it. We have to fight hard for our good endings, all of us, and we have to make the best of it when they don’t inevitably happen. The most shocking thing was what a light, cheerful evening it was. If you weren’t playing, I don’t think you knew what was at stake. And to me- that’s 1939. It was an incredible year for entertainment: The Women, Gone With The Wind, The Wizard of Oz. The year a lot of the Holllywood “code” sensors were lifted- often stated as the most glamorous year of all times for fashion. It looked like a bright, cheerful year of big bands and lindy hop— all except for that part where under the surface some of the most massive social and political changes of the modern age were moving- and there are a lot of ways they could have gone. 

So I stand by my grim, terrible ending. And I stand by wishing it hadn’t happened that way, but that’s the risk of building worlds that people can affect- that’s probably why nobody ever does this. I’m so glad that people came and I’m SO GLAD that they played. I’m so glad people dressed up and were willing to give this a chance! And I’m so glad that some people came and just existed in the world there and drank and danced and had a good time- because I do feel like that’s how a real-life Casablanca would unravel: some people would drink and dance some people would try to actively affect the ending and yeah- as in life- it’s really really hard to do both! Also- some people had no idea that there was even an ending to be affected and somehow that sort of works for me, too. To me it was all terrible and flawed and perfect. I couldn’t have hoped for better. 

Absolutely there are a million things that could change and will change if we ever do something like this again. It was crowded and hard to move (that was a surprise.) The line at Drosselmeyer was mostly managed by night 2 but it was still hard sometimes to get an audience with NPC’s. There were plot holes and it was possible to be just bounced back and forth in a loop between NPC’s. It seemed to be a high barrier to entry- I tried to draw people in with the intro letter and three characters whose job was just to pull people in but even that wasn’t enough. We learned so much and it was a grand experiment. Thank you to everybody (especially my brave, brave cast and crew) for trusting me enough to go with me for this crazy project!! We got a good ending. We got a bad ending. And who else knows what else could have happened in a living, breathing world like Club Drosselmeyer! 

ALSO… if you went, please please give us your feedback! We’d love to hear what you liked and didn’t like so we can learn more about what we could do better if we were ever to do this again (but please be nice, we do read these) 

Until next time, 

Kit Hollingsworth


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