MEET YOUR MERCHANT
Cassandra Hustedt of Brainstorm Escapes
Located in Midtown at 61 E University Avenue, Brainstorm Escapes is live action gaming entertainment in which participants must solve a series of clues, puzzles and riddles to escape a themed room, all within 60 minutes.
When did Brainstorm Escapes Open?
It opened officially December 1st of 2015.
How did you come into Brainstorm Escapes?
I got hired on about three months before that. I was initially brought in as the Creative Director. So, since the very beginning I have led the design team for all of the rooms here at Brainstorm Escapes. About 6 to 8 months after started, the original manager left, and I took over all business operations.
Brainstorm Escapes is such a unique business here in Midtown – could you tell me what makes your job interesting and what any given day looks like for you?
I think day-to-day would be very difficult to describe because it’s always different. I’m always working on a variety of activities, from community events, making new escape rooms, and navigating the usual challenges of managing the business. If something breaks or there’s a puzzle that’s too long I might have to take a look at it and reevaluate to see what we can do to make the room flow a little better. Right now we are having an outreach event at the county fairs doing a remote escape room over there. This past week we partnered with Next Chapter Student Living as well. So there’s always something going on, which is good for me. I like having something a little different every day.
Can you tell me a little bit about what goes into making an escape room?
Yeah, I think that at its heart - it’s a story. I’ve been involved with theater my entire life, I love stories and also studied media, so I enjoy building a story with these rooms. What makes the story of the escape rooms so unique is that it’s not like a traditional story in that it has a clear beginning, middle, and end. Instead, you’re really taking one scene from a story, one clip, and then trying to provide enough clues so that people can live the remainder of the story out in real-time. So a lot of my job goes into picking out what kind of items would help reveal components of the story, and what would feel natural in the narrative we’re building. We’ll develop the story, choose the items and sketch the space, create a flow-chart of how the story might play out with real people and then we get to build it – which is always fun.
What's your favorite escape room that you’ve ever made?
My favorite escape room is probably Rise of the Zombie Pets. It’s different from a lot of other escape rooms because it’s not just one group staying together the entire time – eventually the group splits up into two different spaces. Instead of developing one story in one space, you’re making more interesting editing choices with your scenes, by cutting between the two groups (or narratives) and seeing how they can come together. It’s a really unique experience for the participants but it also was interesting and challenging to create and it’s turned out really awesome.
What would you like people to know about Brainstorm Escapes?
I think my favorite part of Brainstorm is the community engagement part that has been built into the foundation from the very beginning. When I first started it was really a goal of ours to be part of the community, so being involved with local schools and working with community events and being a part of Champaign Center Partnership has been a really important part of engaging with folks in different ways and also getting people to be involved through these fun tasks and puzzles. I think that’s the beauty of escape rooms – it’s creating stories that engage people in unique way because they are immersive and fun. No matter who you are, whether you’re an alpha or a beta type person, you still can have fun and participate in these puzzles. So that’s what I love about Brainstorm is the community experience that’s so unique to our product. I’ve worked with University High School to create some programs for them, 4-H, a bunch of different non-profits in the area, and I’ve loved getting to know and interact with the community through Brainstorm. Getting to be a part of what happens when people tackle challenges in fun and interesting ways has been incredibly rewarding for me and I think people get something they couldn’t get without having that experience.