Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes
(Wo)man at work: staff member Room Escape Maastricht
Michelle van Kleef/ 21/ third-year student of Fiscal Economics/ staff member Room Escape Maastricht, works varying shifts and hours/ earns on average 600 euros per month
“I hope to see you again within an hour!” Bam. It’s Tuesday afternoon and Michelle van Kleef closes the door to ‘the Pub’, one of the themed rooms in Room Escape Maastricht. The five participants now have no more than an hour to free themselves. How? By solving riddles, finding objects and cracking codes.
Escape rooms are shooting up like mushrooms, so much so that there are even ‘addicts’ who go to one after the other, trying to set records.
Meanwhile, Van Kleef has withdrawn to her office, behind a computer screen, where she monitors ‘her’ room via a camera. Her colleague, medical student Lenah Kampmeijer, will spend the next hour watching over a group in the Poker Room. “A mafia boss has had to flee during a poker night. But his loot is still there and their task is to find it”, she explains. This is all the participants know, for now at least. “They have to think logically and search everywhere. Then they’ll get closer and closer.” Or not. Because, the students say, only around 60 percent of groups make it to the end.
Van Kleef, who has worked at Room Escape Maastricht on the Lage Frontweg since last November, got the job through her sister. “She already worked here.” It’s a popular employer, with new colleagues not hard to find. What makes the work so much fun? “You’re always meeting enthusiastic people”, says Van Kleef, who previously worked in the hospitality industry and, in the distant past, also did a paper round. “And we can be flexible.” Workers indicate their availability before the start of the month, and last-minute shifts are distributed via the group app.
Van Kleef’s most memorable moment at work? “A proposal. When the key to the room finally fell from the hatch – the sign that all the riddles have been solved – there was a ring around it. Fortunately she said yes.”
Both Van Kleef and Kampmeijer have already ‘rotated around’ the different rooms countless times: they know the right codes and when it’s time to give a hint – the students can give clues that appear on the computer screen in the room.
“It’s going well in my room”, Van Kleef calls out after a while to her two colleagues. Opposite her is law student Christian Delescen. He is wearing headphones and looking alternately from his computer screen to the laminated A4 with instructions on running the game. “What’s the black light for?” he asks Van Kleef. He is one of the latest hires – which means he is still getting to know the rooms, familiarising himself with the checklist, learning what phase the game is in and getting a sense of timing, so as not to reveal key details too early.
Eighteen minutes to go. Van Kleef taps out a clue, but doesn’t send it yet. First she lets them sweat a little while longer, but then, a few minutes later, she hits send. This makes the participants happy, because it means they can move on.
“My hints aren’t being followed”, Kampmeijer calls from another corner. I’m writing: ‘Look in the cupboard. And they’re not looking.’” Most participants don’t want clues, Van Kleef knows, “but if they’re moving too slowly without getting anywhere I send one anyway.” On occasion, she even gives difficult codes away. “Not just like that though. In exchange I want to see them dance the Macarena”, she laughs.
The clock shows 53:47. “Yes, they’re out!” Van Kleef calls. The clean-up awaits them; readying the rooms for the next group. “That’s not much work”, Van Kleef says. But her new colleague, Delescen, has a different view. “It’ll happen that you forget something, so the next group is missing an important clue”, he grins.