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Undead & Unfed
Interactive experience pits group’s skills against a hungry zombie.
Funster Rick Broida gets credit for bringing the fearsome creatures to Detroit.
Broida, 46, is executive producer of the interactive experience, Trapped in a Room with a Zombie (TIARWAZ). Participants at the performance are challenged to put their smarts together to figure out a series of clever riddles that allows them to exit the room within 60 minutes. All the while, they’re trying to avoid the touch of an increasingly aggressive zombie on a chain.
Whether the group is successful or not, the show is a complete blast. So said a recent party of 11, primarily members of the Birmingham Temple in Farmington Hills. I participated, too, and we narrowly joined the ranks of now 327 groups recorded as “eaten” on a scoreboard kept since Broida opened in early December in Detroit’s historic Penobscot Building. Just 98 groups have managed to escape.
The zombie impresario is actually, and mostly, a technology writer for Wired magazine and the Cnet website. His family in Commerce Township includes wife, Shawna, and their children, Sarah, 15, and Ethan, 13, who became a bar mitzvah in August at the Birmingham Temple in Farmington Hills.
Father and daughter first experienced the zombie show in Chicago.
“We came out grinning from ear to ear,” Broida said. “We couldn’t stop talking about it. I said to myself, ‘I have to have this in Detroit.’”
Despite having no background in theater or any entertainment business, Broida, “completely on a lark,” emailed the Chicago owner of TIARWAZ about bringing the show to Detroit.
Broida was contacted almost immediately to produce TIARWAZ himself and was in business five months later.
His first turn as a zombie came unexpectedly, prior to the Detroit opening. Back in Chicago to consult with the show’s producer, she brought news: “Our actor canceled.” She pressed Broida into service.
“She slapped some makeup on me while my heart was beating out of my chest,” he said.
That show was “one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done,” he recalled. “You’re yelling and pulling on the chain. The experience reinforced my feeling that I’ve got to do this — make it part of my lifestyle.”
Broida, a graduate of North Farmington High School, majored in English at Michigan State University. He parlayed his longtime interest in computers and technology into a home-based writing career.
Being a freelancer gives Broida the flexibility to make his own schedule, including the addition of zombies to his life.
“Operating TIARWAZ is so far out of my wheelhouse, it’s almost ridiculous,” he said. “The show is so much fun. I have a group of 10 actors that work the show. It kind of takes care of itself by now.”
Every performance requires a genial yet authoritative host to present the game’s ground rules and a zombie for scaring people. Broida’s crew is prepared to play either part.
Most of the paid actors are theater students between the ages of 18 and 24. Half attend Wayne State University in Detroit and two are from Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn. Broida is looking to hire additional players, too — women as well as men.
“We’re equal opportunity undead,” he said.
Businesses represent 50 percent of bookings at TIARWAZ. Quicken Loans, Microsoft, Google, Blue Cross Blue Shield, along with smaller companies, bring groups to participate as a team-building activity.
Family members, friends and dating couples often register together for the zombie experience, but “we also combine people who don’t necessarily know each other, like with my daughter and me in Chicago,” Broida said. “By the end of the show, you know each other pretty well.”
Besides the hour trapped with a zombie, participants come early for registration and signing waivers, and stay afterward for a brief wrap-up with the host.
A show can run with as few as four guests, but the maximum of 12 is ideal.
“The more people, the more fun it is,” Broida said. “Everybody is working toward the same goal — not to end up as the zombie’s dinner.”
The participants observed recently at TIARWAZ were completely engaged, responding to the unrelenting pressure of the ticking clock in the room. Some emerged as leaders in interpreting possible clues for escape.
Meanwhile, the zombie’s chain was released another foot every five minutes when a buzzer sounded. One woman fearlessly called for the zombie, jeopardizing her safety, to protect associates working out key puzzles.
Unlike a haunted house, TIARWAZ is “not meant to be scary,” said Broida, that night’s Transylvanian host. “The zombie is menacing, but more in a comical way.”
Dan Schechter of Birmingham said he didn’t know what to expect at TIARWAZ, but found he liked “figuring out the puzzles and being part of the group.”
Lysa Postula-Stein of Huntington Woods, one of the game’s activists, remarked, “I had a crazy good time. It felt good on my brain.”
For more information, visit www.escapeplansmichigan.com or call (248) 960-1675
By Esther Allweiss Ingber, Contributing Writer