Returning to our ever popular meet the team series, we delve into the world of another team member – Sam Merry. A self-proclaimed oddball with a penchant for a book or ten, Sam may be one of our more diverse hosts but he’s a bit of an enigma. He also enjoys a good larp and some say he’s a bit of a wizard. A man of many personalities, it’s time to unravel the enigma and see where Sam ends and our hosts begin.
First off, tell us who you are in your own words…
I am the answer to the question no-one asked. I am a self-trained actor and production designer who’s always been considered a bit… odd. Though that has become less of a hindrance and more of a useful tool as I’ve grown up. I first became interested in production design after watching Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, and the subsequent behind the scenes documentary, Inside the Labyrinth. I found it fascinating to see how all the sets, props and costumes were made, and it’s been a passion since then.
Nowadays I often find myself doing all the things I saw there – prosthetics, set design, lighting, scents, props… I love designing things for people to interact with, either physically or mentally.
When did you get involved with Handmade Mysteries, and what have been your biggest highlights?
I was the third Gabriel to be brought in, and you know what they say, third time’s the charm… I jest of course. The biggest highlights have to include two marriage proposals orchestrated to happen during games I’ve hosted – both said yes, which was fortunate! Another highlight was a Wedding Showcase we did, where I was in character throughout the day and just generally interacting with people as that character, offering puzzles and clues, and generally helping control how their experience went.
I love enhancing people’s experiences wherever possible. The most recent highlight has been mini-game of my own design that we ran at ScareCON 2019, this year’s annual conference for the scare industry. Six characters from the Handmade Mysteriverse roaming the conference, each with a challenge for the delegates.
You seem to dabble in all the game host characters, but let’s start with Gabriel for Lady Chastity’s Reserve. How do you get into character and would you say there are parts of you in there?
I think the harder part is to not be Gabriel, if I’m honest! He’s far too easy a character to slip into, and many of the staff at the various Lady Chastity venues have never heard me speak in anything other than his sinuously dulcet tones! There’s definitely a lot of me in there – I often say Gabriel is simply me with the veneer of civility and sanity stripped away.
If you got to meet the real Gabriel in a time machine, would you get on?
Oh, definitely. I could easily see the two of us standing and watching the world go by, passing judgement on all those who walk by and lamenting the loss of intellect and verisimilitude in the world as we sipped on whatever local poison was the fancy of the day.
If you could pick anyone famous to host an escape game, who would it be? and why?
Tom Baker. The man is a legend, and very much one of the people I draw inspiration from for some of my more… unusual characters. His stint as Doctor Who really showed off the manic energy he has, and I think that would play extremely well as a host. My Gabriel (known internally to the company as The Raggedy Man) is a mix of him, Richard O’Brian (of Crystal Maze fame) and the master of horror himself, Vincent Price.
What can players expect from city adventure game, Operation Mindfall?
Operation Mindfall is a great game, blending the puzzles of the escape room with the technology of Augmented Reality and the classic roaming elements of a scavenger hunt. Players have to explore whatever area of the city they are in to find clues, solve riddles, and ultimately help WISE (the World Intelligence SErvice) save the world from the evil forces of Spider-Tech.
For me, it’s a great step forward in merging various aspects of different styles of gameplay into one experience, and I can see it becoming very popular now that the weather has warmed up a bit – not everyone is as inured to the cold as I am, being Yorkshire-born). I’m sure we’ll be seeing more soon.
What can people expect from the new street game Magic Portal?
Magic Portal is a blend of traditional sword and sorcery fantasy, augmented reality puzzles, tricky and salacious interactions, and of course Handmade Mysteries’ signature humour with our live action hosts. It is a tale of magic and mystery, where players get to see what lies alongside our own world,
separated only by the thinnest layers of reality. All of it expertly watched over by the Portal Wizard, Morgan.
How do you like being a wizard?
I enjoy being a wizard very much, so it’s very fortuitous that our latest game needs a wizard to oversee it! People say this one is the role I was born for, and I have to agree. I’ve always been very into fantasy; in fact I have a degree in Science & Science Fiction and studied the interplay between Fantasy, Science Fiction, Science Fantasy and the evolution of real world technology. It joins up very well with my own hobbies, so it may well be the ultimate blend of work and play for me.
Word is you are a busy bee behind the scenes, what else do you do for Handmade Mysteries aside from hosting – any highlights?
That’s very true. Aside from hosting, I am in charge of organising the rest of the hosting team, from the Senior Hosts in charge of individual venues down to the front-line of the games, the hosts themselves. That means sorting out which of our nearly 30 strong team is needed where, and when. It also means being in charge of the venues overall, and making sure they stay up to the high standards we expect.
Besides that, I am also the ERIL (Escape Room Industry Liaison) for HmM, which means going out to various industry events like ScareCON and ERIC to both represent HmM and to liaise with the other great ER guys & girls from across the UK and beyond.
I am also heavily involved with the creative side of Handmade Mysteries, working on both the theming and narrative of upcoming experiences, and the upkeep and evolution of our current ones. Add to that then a blend of speaking to players about their needs, regular inspections of the venues, posting bits to our Social Media…. yes, busy bee indeed!
When you are not scaring the bejesus out of players or organising the team, what do you do with your time?
Wait, there’s time other than working? Why did no-one tell me!
Actually, what free-time I have usually continues in a very similar vein to my work time. I design props, narratives etc. only this time it’s for role-playing games, both table top and Live-Action Role-Playing (LARP). So, I once again find myself playing various characters, complete with costume. These times I’m the one in the game, making the choices and solving the puzzles. Nice to see it from the other side. I also read voraciously – my partner despairs at how much space my library takes up!
What advice would you give to yourself 20 years ago?
Embrace the weird. Also, stay in touch with that girl from drama class, she’ll be Doctor Who one day!
Does this mean you went to school with Jodie Whittaker? Tell us more!
It does indeed. We’re from the same West Yorkshire village, Skelmanthorpe, and wet to the same schools until we finished A levels. We didn’t exactly run in the same circles (mainly as I didn’t really have a circle) but we had the same Drama teachers, and both ‘starred’ (and I use that loosely in my case) in our school’s production of Bugsy Malone – she as the leading lady Blousey Brown, me in a much smaller role as the rather dim-witted police officer, O’Dreary.
Ready to get locked in a room or roam the city with Sam?
There you have it. Yet another peek into the wonderfully bizarre world of one of our escape game hosts. Want more? You can read more from the meet the team series or just book yourself a game to get to know our talented games hosts up close, not too close mind.