The Institute of Visionary History and the Archives of the Deep Now, Episode One

Harriet Tubman is a glorious enigma.  In her trips to free slaves via the Underground Railroad she says, “she never lost a single soul.” Thus crowning her the 100% success rate toted at this Institute’s opening ceremony.  Suspend disbelief, imagine time travel is real, and sit back while I regale you with a tale of woe and wonder.

Submersive Productions is known for their interactive walk throughs at the historical Peale Museum in Baltimore.  In this outing, known from here on out as Episode One, because that title is a mouthful, you have to believe that time travel is real.  That the Peale Museum has become a “thin space” where time portals have opened and people can communicate with the souls of the deceased, even if only for a few moments.  The Visionary History began a series of investigations and questions and went looking for historical figures that might shed light on the current conundrums.  The first question posed is: “How does one avoid catastrophe?”  And after a short list of historical figures, Harriet Tubman is chosen to respond (see stats above).

Your first mission, if you chose to accept it, is your screening.  You are taken to a warm and stuffy room on the second floor of the Peale, and escorted to a small table.  There are creepy others in the room, hanging in the shadows, some with clipboards, they don’t speak, just silently watch and judge.  If they took more notes I might hire them to work for us!  At the table, a perfectly poised member of the staff places on white gloves, opens a briefcase, and begins extracting artifacts while a voice over guides us through the information recanted above. What is this magical society that mysteriously disappeared in 1997?  The only known thing is that “their experiments combined scientific inquiry and visionary sight to uncover histories heretofore untold.” I am still a bit confused, but I have got to focus!  I am an investigator tonight and this group needs me.

After a brief overview, and a warning about the “thin place,” that includes putting booties over your shoes, you are escorted to the third floor, the room where communication is possible.  One person on your team was given a code, and you are told to find the box containing that code and open it.  There is a wall of boxes, and many other strange artifacts.  My group took in the room before opening the box.  This is where I won’t divulge all the secrets of the Institute (I was sworn to secrecy).  But this evening is half theater and half escape room.  The room has nooks and crannies, and low and behold from behind a curtain, Harriet Tubman appears.  My time slot was on the half hour, so I was delighted to have Rachel Reckling as my Harriet.  If you have an on the hour time slot, you might also see Tina Canady.  I suspect like their past imaginings, each visit would conjure a slightly different experience based on who you are with, what your group does, and the time constraints on keeping Harriet in the future (she can’t last forever you know).

Rachel is darling in her outfit and both poised and anxious in the same breath.  She does a superb job of guiding my hand over items in a curio cabinet until selecting one of meaning that I am to bring to the table.  At one point, she is looking for a sign, and all that will come through are slews of empty spools.  At several junctures Harriet poses questions to us, and then says, “wait, don’t answer that.”  She doesn’t understand the mission either, and cannot attest to her own success rate.  The real Harriet Tubman had a head injury and thought that she was doing God’s will her whole life.  I am not sure this conjuring of her understands fully how prolific her figure has become.  The night is intriguing and strange, and historic and submersive; but I don’t think I got an answer to the question posed.

When Harriet is summoned back to the past, a figure thanks you for your participation and you are taken back downstairs to the front room and asked to complete a survey.  Materials are given to you to handle- including a fifteen or twenty-page biography of Harriet that I am sure you all are going to make a cup of coffee and read in detail.  The room itself is interesting with coffee and tea service in the corner and a variety of books scattered throughout. I should have, in hindsight, written down the questions posed so I could recount them here.  But you are asked if you found the answers you seek and what you thought of your time travel portal, feel free to answer honestly.  I would love to be invited to see the feedback!

Apparently this is just Episode One, and Episodes Two through Six open in October.  I don’t have insider information of what they will bring to the table, but I suspect a myriad of interesting characters, more boxes, and a highly stylized trip through space, time, and rational thought.

SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?  If you love Submersive productions, escape rooms, historical fiction, or amazing creative theater- what are you waiting for?  This proves once again that Glenn and Ursula might be the most fascinating minds inhabiting Baltimore.  This journey through space and time will have you working, questioning, answering, and thinking.  Leave your skepticism behind and join Harriet Tubman on a short journey through her psyche and yours. And maybe, if you are lucky, divine intervention will find you as well. (I)

Running through Sunday September 30th at the Peale Museum.  Running time about forty-five minutes.

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