The pandemic has hit theater professionals especially hard, and not just due to lack of a paycheck, Todd Zimmerman, a Toledo native and owner of Orlando-based Odd-o-Ts’ Entertainment, explained. “It really is about the applause and the connection with the audience. That’s what feeds our soul. So it was bad enough not getting a paycheck, but not having that outlet was rough as well. So we decided to take that passion for creating something immersive and for keeping our performers employed, and came up with The Secret Library.”
The Secret Library, a virtual mystery experience, has audience members log onto a digital show where they can interact with live performers and try to solve a series of puzzles, all without ever leaving their homes. “You’re coming in to open the ‘secret library,’ which is a mystical place that houses all of humankind’s stories. It has been closed off to you, and through a series of puzzles and working with our performers, who we call hosts in the game, you can discover the gateway to the secret library.”
Zimmerman said that his company has wanted to get into interactive, immersive programming for a while now. “When the pandemic hit, the dream was still there, but actually afforded us a creative opportunity, because doing something that’s highly immersive really is all about the space.”
Theater has been a part of Todd Zimmerman’s life since he was a baby, literally. “My mother and father used to be involved in the Village Players, the Toledo Rep, the Bedford Community Players. I was onstage beginning when I was nine-and-a-half months old with them. (The love of theater) hit me at an early age,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman left the city in 1994, almost literally running away to join the circus. After years working with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey, Zimmerman and his wife settled in Orlando, founding Odd-o-Ts’. They have been producing shows for theme parks since 2004.
Out the window
Creating a project like The Secret Library has been a lot of trial and error. “We had a pretty tightly structured script that we turned around and threw out the window,” Zimmerman said with a laugh. “We thought we had a handle on it, and then we got into this new virtual space and found out that it’s not as easy as regular theater, where you have to walk onstage when you’re ready to talk, but rather you have to rely on turning on the camera at the right time.”
In an effort to make the experience distinct from a typical Zoom call, Zimmerman’s team found a platform they can customize to create a “virtual mansion.” This allows players to move around in the space, engaging with different characters and making the game an amalgamation of a murder mystery and escape room. “The audience can drive the direction their game is played by being able to move around and to click on things and discover things on their own,” Zimmerman said.
Making a connection
The Secret Library has already begun to expand with new games available, including one based in Atlantis. What audiences really seem to love, though, is the chance to play and forge a bond with people through the process of playing.
“We got some feedback from an audience member who said, ‘I forgot how much I just wanted to connect with people.’ Because of the puzzles and the characters that you’re talking to, it allows people to really become immersed, to really forget that they’re sitting in front of a camera and to make a real human connection.”
For more information or to book an experience, visit secretlibrary.io.