Is Two Bit Circus The Future Of Teambuilding?

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Is Two Bit Circus The Future Of Teambuilding?
August 23, 2018
Photo: Claire Hoffman/BizBash

 

LOS ANGELES “You were born knowing how to have fun. You got busy and might have forgotten. We’re here to help you remember.”

 

That’s point five on Two Bit Circus's nine-point manifesto. Other than “fun,” it’s hard to describe exactly what the upcoming venue in Los Angeles is. Is it a technology-driven arcade? Is it a series of immersive escape rooms and virtual-reality experiences? Is it a bar, restaurant, and event space?

 

The answer: It’s all of the above—and most of all, it’s a place designed to bring people together through the idea of play, a nostalgic concept that’s becoming increasingly popular in the world of live gatherings. 

 

Opening September 7 in a 38,000-square-foot warehouse in the Arts District downtown, the eclectic venue is the brainchild of C.E.O. Brent Bushnell and C.T.O. Eric Gradman, two former clowns who built a popular Los Angeles-based experiential entertainment company (also named Two Bit Circus). The pair eventually came up with the idea for a standalone venue—or indoor “micro-amusement park”—that focuses entirely on entertainment-, technology-, and community-driven experiences. 

 

“We were really obsessed with using new kinds of technology to get people together, live and in public,” explained Bushnell during a press tour earlier this month. “But what we found is, we’d set up a bunch of stuff at Comic-Con for five days, [for example,] but then Comic-Con is over. Where does that stuff go? Most of the time, in the trash.”

 

The idea for a permanent venue was born, and the duo raised $15 million in early 2017 to make it a reality. The rustic warehouse now houses carnival games with a tech-inspired twist, escape room-type spaces, multiplayer virtual reality, immersive theater experiences, and spaces for food and drinks. 

 

“Right as immersive theater and escape rooms were getting really awesome, we felt like there was an opportunity for a new kind of theater,” said Bushnell, who noted that as recently as 2013, Los Angeles did not have a single escape room—but the city now has over 100. People are craving these real-life experiences that force them to work together to solve a common goal, and to have fun doing it. 

 

“Fun increases exponentially when shared with others.”

 

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Two Bit Circus has a variety of unique options for corporate and social events and teambuilding. In fact, on weekdays the entire park will be solely dedicated to groups, whether that’s STEM-focused school groups or corporate groups looking for an unconventional teambuilding idea. Overall, the venue holds as many as 800 people for full buyouts. 

 

At night and on weekends, when the park is open to the public, groups can still rent a variety of smaller spaces, such as a 1,200-square-foot event room that holds 100 people and has full audiovisual capabilities, or a second-story lounge that has plush couches, old-fashioned board games, and TV screens. For smaller groups of six to eight people, karaoke-style private rooms offer all kinds of VR experiences alongside bottle service.

 

The escape room-type spaces, which founders call “story rooms,” are also a place for group bonding. Groups as large as seven can go hunting for treasure in a secret temple, work together on a space mission, or use multiplayer VR to fight supernatural creatures. 

 

Perhaps the main draw for groups, though, is the Club 01 room. The 96-seat theater is modeled after a game-show set, with a stage, a host, and 46 tables. Each person gets their own touch screen where they answer trivia questions and see real-time progress on a large screen. Designated lights can automatically break the room into teams, creating friendly competition. 

 

Another fun option for Club 01 is wine tasting—or “wine tasting with a leaderboard” as Gradman calls it. Groups can sample wine and answer questions about what ingredients they think are in it. The leaderboard displays the most common guesses.

 

Even the arcade—which has 27 different games, all with content that can be switched out—is designed to promote face-to-face bonding, with certain games requiring as many as six players. “People show up to events and places like this in pairs, in threes, but nobody shows up in sixes,” said Gradman. “So you’re almost guaranteed to be standing across from someone you don’t know.

 

“And one thing we’ve discovered running games like this,” he continued, “is that people who play together, stay together, and keep wandering around the park together. You make new friends around games like this.”

 

Two Bit Circus also offers plenty of food and drinks, including what organizers call “farm to circus cuisine”—fresh, organic twists on traditional circus food. Signature drinks are also designed to be an experience, incorporating elements like fire and liquid nitrogen. At one bar, a robot creates and serves drinks.

 

The founders note that due to all the different types of changing VR and computer technology, as well as the different options for immersive theater, groups can come back 100 times and have 100 different experiences. “We really want to reward the curious,” explained Bushnell. 

 

Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that the first point on the Two Bit Circus manifesto embraces that quirky, community-minded vibe: “Fun increases exponentially when shared with others. So bring a friend, make a friend, or assemble a friend using spare parts from the bin in back.” 

Photo: Claire Hoffman/BizBash

 

Housed in a 30-year-old warehouse downtown, the venue's decor is designed to be imperfect and nostalgia-inspiring, with irregular detailing, mismatched wood textures, and simple string lights. At one end of the space, a shipping container serves what organizers call “farm to circus cuisine”—fresh, organic twists on traditional circus food. Signature drinks are also designed to be an experience, incorporating elements like fire and liquid nitrogen.

Photo: Claire Hoffman/BizBash

 

In one area, a robot bartender creates and serves drinks. (Don't worry, a human bartender is on hand to interact with the robot and make sure nothing goes wrong.)

Photo: Claire Hoffman/BizBash

 

In addition to a 100-person event room, a second-story lounge area can be rented for events, and has couches, TVs, and old-fashioned board games. When it's not being rented, visitors are encouraged to grab a drink and sit there as long as they’d like.

 

“We wanted to create this environment where people could just come and play,” said Two Bit Circus president Kim Schaefer.

Photo: Claire Hoffman/BizBash

 

Club 01 is specifically designed for groups, with a stage and seating for 100 people. Guests sit at tables with touch screens, and can be broken into groups for trivia games. The space also hosts wine tastings that use the technology to teach about different ingredients.

Photo: Claire Hoffman/BizBash

 

Roughly 20 percent of the venue is made of up virtual-reality experiences. While some are solitary experiences, organizers really wanted to focus on the group capabilities of VR. In the Hologate, for example, four people can team up to fight robots. Karaoke-style private rooms that offer VR can also be rented for groups as large as eight people. 

Photo: Claire Hoffman/BizBash

 

A main draw for the public is the arcade area, which has 27 different games. While many of them resemble typical arcade games, most are infused with updated technology that allows the content to be switched out as needed. Many of the games also require some level of physical exertion, such as the Twister-inspired Button Wall, which gets the heart rate going and encourages interaction.

Photo: Claire Hoffman/BizBash

 

Some arcade games require as many as six players—which organizers say was intentional to promote face-to-face bonding. “People show up to events and places like this in pairs, in threes, but nobody shows up in sixes,” explained co-founder Eric Gradman. “So you’re almost guaranteed to be standing across from someone you don’t know. And one thing we’ve discovered running games like this is that people who play together, stay together, and keep wandering around the park together. You make new friends around games like this.”

Photo: Claire Hoffman/BizBash

 

The Midway is a carnival-inspired area that fuses technology with old-school games, such as one where guests swing a physical wrecking ball at a virtual skyscraper, trying to break it down.

Photo: Claire Hoffman/BizBash

 

Certain aspects of the space just make a good photo op, like the Media Pollution room in the Midway. Guests sit in chairs and see their faces appear on TV screens.

Photo: Claire Hoffman/BizBash

 

Four distinct "story rooms" encourage small groups to work together in an immersive experience. “We think of escape rooms as a subset of a much bigger category we call story rooms,” said co-founder Brent Bushnell. “What happens if the story is not about escaping the room, and you want to float down a haunted bayou, or pilot a spaceship, or explore a maze?” (Note: These are all options available at Two Bit Circus.

Photo: Claire Hoffman/BizBash

 

In addition to the formal games, Two Bit Circus also has a series of “meta games,” according to Bushnell. Guests can get a ball from a machine that will send them on small adventures leading to secret closets and rooms. “We really want to reward the curious,” he said.

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