Theater department shows ambitious vision with Clue production, escape rooms


Photo courtesy of Jennifer Hunter-Tindle

Emily Phuong Tran, Co-Feature Editor

Like many people, Jennifer Hunter-Tindle, head of the Theater department at Tualatin High School, was at a crossroads about returning to normalcy in her work. Distance learning limited a discipline in which the basis is interacting with other people and doing so in person. 

She decided to play it safe, not knowing how much participation she would get from the student body, picking the play Clue. The production would be based on the screenplay by Jonathan Lynn, adapted from the 1985 movie and the beloved murder-mystery board game. She thought about adding an escape room that tied into the theme of the play. Her colleagues at other schools saw a downturn in their numbers, and she was prepared to see the same situation at Tualatin High School. She had picked Clue because it is a medium-sized production. 

On audition day, 75 people showed up. 

“I knew we needed to do the escape room because I didn’t want to only give opportunities to 13 actors and then 20 crew members. The escape room was something we had talked about when we were in hybrid. It was like, ‘Oh, we absolutely need to do it,’ because of the interest level that came out,” she said. 

Though the decision to open escape rooms might have come out of necessity, the quality surely wasn’t overlooked. Hunter-Tindle emphasized that she and the crew had constructed the settings and the clues to follow the storyline of the production in a “nonlinear fashion.” Though she had been to over 60 escape rooms in over five years, the director could have never expected the planning to be so difficult. She said, laughing, that she stopped sleeping. 

Showtimes came right after escape room times, so Hunter-Tindle was managing two crews, fixing the lighting for the production while participants were off scavenging for clues in the room next door. 

“It feels like we’re running a real business at the moment that is part escape room entertainment and part theater entertainment,” she told me. 

Though perhaps her students didn’t know it, the escape rooms were a part of their education. 

“You’re not always going to be hired by a professional theater or a regional theater right after high school or right after your college situation, but you will be hired to work your local haunted house and make your money for that. Just because there’s so many opportunities to actually make money in the theatrical arts. I’m trying to draw interest for that,” Hunter-Tindle explained. 

It was a learning process for the on stage crew, too. 

Almost every character has a distinct accent. The maid, Yvette, played by senior Daphne Ischer, who is also president of the department, affirms in “oui.” Scarlett, played by McKenna Baker, dramatically lilts to show the coquettishness associated with her identity. For Wadsworth the butler, this meant that Logan Foster had to keep a British accent on top of the fast-talking, tongue-twisting nature of the dialogue. 

The work paid off, because Foster’s face lit up talking about audience reactions. 

“A lot of people just said they really enjoyed it. They had lots of fun. I was told that one night, after I revealed that I wasn’t actually the butler–spoiler alert– somebody in the audience gasped audibly really loud, which I loved to hear,” he said.

While keeping with the traditional role of the theater department, with a spring production already in the works, Hunter-Tindle is following up the escape rooms with a haunted house in January. She wants more students to come into her building. 

“Theater isn’t always everybody’s interest as far as everybody going to see things. They think that plays are something that old people do. They think that plays are too expensive for them to do. We try and create all of these opportunities as starter opportunities of, ‘This building has stuff that you will want to see.’ Come do the escape room, come to the haunted house, then hopefully they’ll want to go to the plays as well. Just come into this building, let us entertain you. Then keep coming back.”