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A conversation with escape artist David Doyle

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Some might say David Doyle's day job is escape enough: He's a game developer for Carnegie Mellon University, currently working on a game that teaches 8-to-10-year-olds how to be safe on the Internet. But for several years now, the 27-year-old Swissvale native has also been escaping from straightjackets, shackles and ropes.

What tricks are your specialty?

Doing straightjacket on stilts is fun. I do a 100-foot rope escape, where I usually get two people to tie me up with a hundred feet of rope any way they want. And then I'll usually get myself out of the rope in less time than it took them to put me in it. ... I do a couple more gimmicky escapes -- there's one with a handkerchief and a rope, where it seems like the rope itself goes seamlessly through the handkerchief.

You pulled a memorable stunt at the Squirrel Hill Café this past St. Patrick's Day. Were you drunk?

Uh, I wasn't too drunk by that point -- I was sobered up from the last bar, and just starting to drink at the next bar. My buddy Tim said, "Hey, bring your stuff in and I'll buy you beers for the rest of the night after you do it." I was like, "All right, I'll do it first and then start drinking again." So I did straightjacket, leg shackles on stilts. I put my stilts on first, then my leg shackles over top of them, and then I put the straightjacket on and performed the escape.

Are any of your tricks physically dangerous?

The stilts really are the most dangerous part I guess, from falling over. I haven't done any bigger escapes yet: I haven't done any suspended-20-feet-in-the-air escapes yet, or any underwater escapes. I was building up to do an underwater escape, but that fell through 'cause we couldn't get the tank and everything we needed for it.

What's a typical gig for you?

I recently performed at the Western Pennsylvania School of the Deaf. It was a benefit to raise money to send deaf kids to Space Camp. This is the Renaissance festival season for me, so I'm doing a lot of fairs right now. Friends of mine recently contacted me saying, "Hey, it would be really cool if you could do some of your escape-artist stuff with our band." They do electronic death metal, and I thought, "Hey, death metal and escape-artist stuff -- that just sounds like it goes together."

This weekend I was at the Great Lakes Medieval Fair, over in Cleveland area, and out there, I sell goods (I make chain mail) and I also was doing my escape-artist stuff. I was walking around the entire fairgrounds on stilts in a straightjacket, trying to get people to come over to our area, and then do the escape once I got to the area with them.

How'd you get started? Is there a school for escape artists?

People hire magicians -- people don't hire an escape artist. So you're pretty much on your own to research: either reading, watching videos, [or] talking to other people in the field. I've been pretty much self-taught, or video-taught.

Do you have your own style?

I've noticed a lot of people are very serious -- they do lots of dramatic things. I'm more about the comedy aspect. I recently wrote a show called "Five Simple Ways to Escape Any Relationship," where I would compare relationship binds to physical binds, and then come up with a comical way of escaping the situation, then I would physically escape the bind. Another one I'm working on in the future is going to be more action-packed -- it's not going to be serious, it's still going to be comedy-based, but it's going to have some stage combat involved as well.

Is there anything in your own life you'd like to escape?

I've been playing video games since I was a kid -- I had an Intellivision, I had an Atari, all the basic systems ever since they existed -- and a lot of people think that video games are an escape from the real world as well. And I do different things where I'm playing a different character. When I do escape artistry, most of the time I don't go out there as "David Doyle"; I go out there as some character. When I work at the Renaissance festival, I'm out there as a court jester, so I can get away with tons of things in modern-day society that I couldn't get away with otherwise.

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