We are Mark and Aris, a married couple living in Austin, Texas. We have always carried a deep appreciation for art, but during a museum visit three years ago, we were disconcerted by the passivity of the experience. Around the museum there were constant reminders that we were prohibited from touching or interacting with the art in any way. It left us wanting more. With such welcoming and joyful art, why do traditional museums make everything feel so forbidden?
Although breaking through the museum’s institutional barriers proved elusive, we had recently been exploring Austin, enjoying murals, sculpture parks and other art. Soon after, we had an epiphany that we could design a more hands-on, collaborative art-focused activity that would engage an active, curious audience. With vibrant public art practically everywhere, the entire City of Austin would become our museum, each neighborhood its own exhibit.
"We had an epiphany that we could design a more hands-on, collaborative art-focused activity that would engage an active, curious audience."
We realized that if we wanted this dream to happen in the way we imagined, we would have to build it ourselves. Using our extensive background in interactive design, facilitation, and play, we began designing Escape the Box. This deliberately analog experience combined several things we love: meaningfully connecting people, Austin’s public art, escape games, puzzles, and storytelling. We incorporated exquisite graphic design and thoughtful, hilarious writing to help participants explore Austin in a unique, novel way. Vintage items like telegrams, newspapers, postcards, decryption devices, and, of course, a powerful map would be contained within a light, portable kit that made adventuring easy.
But when it came time to officially form our company, Wishing Horse Productions, in the spring of 2020, COVID forced everyone away from each other. In-person events seemed like a distant dream. This loss of connection with other people created within us a fierce motivation to make our eventual reconnection even more meaningful than ever before. So we dug deep, stayed busy and worked hard, believing that someday we would gather again.
"This deliberately analog experience combined several things we love: meaningfully connecting people, Austin’s public art, escape games, puzzles, and storytelling."
In March 2021, just as the world started opening back up, we hosted our first Escape the Box event for families and friends. It was immediately clear that the escape room-style challenges in an outdoor context were the perfect recipe for people just beginning to reconnect. Since then, thousands of teams have played Escape the Box, creating lasting bonds with their group.
We are most proud of the level of participation we bring out of our players. By immersing everyone into a magical story, we allow them to have a willing suspension of disbelief and experience the narrative as characters within it. The buy-in and energy that they’ve exhibited has been palpable and is evidenced by the exhilaration in their bodies and true joy on their faces. We’ve helped create and build friendships, strengthened bonds, and helped people appreciate others’ abilities. We are so fortunate to have the opportunity to share this service with the community.