Since October is DEAM we have chosen a few jobseekers to hear from their perspective what it means to have found their DEAM job. In doing this we wanted to make sure all aspects of people lives are given a platform in order to showcase the complexity of each of us.
Adrian’s love of puzzles and acting came together in a unique way through his role as a Games Room Host for Smarty Pantz, which he began working at in 2015. Meet Adrian.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What was your employment experience like before you came to Gateway for support?
A few good jobs and a lot of bad jobs. It’s been tricky trying to find a place I fit in and communicate well with the other people.
What led you to reach out to Gateway for support?
I decided to reach out to Gateway after I quit my last job in sort of a sudden way, I got fed up, and quit my job without much of a plan. I was suddenly unemployed without much savings. I was running out of money, and someone suggested to me that I maybe try this Gateway thing. They heard that Gateway can help people find jobs where…, I can’t remember how they phrased it, but finding a job where I can fit in better and be myself more. It is tough having a mental difference where it is hard to explain things to people.
I went in, at that point I was kind of at a point where I would try anything, I don’t think I fully understood what Gateway was. I met with Ashleigh, my rep, we talked, she gave me some suggestions and asked me what my skills were and so forth and set me up with SmartyPantz. Which was amazing, and I never would have thought to work at a place like this, which is perfect in hindsight. But the big help was not even finding the job but helping me to communicate to the management helping them to understand what made me so hard to deal with sometimes and so forth.
What was the process at Gateway like, from first contact to securing employment, and the maintenance piece. What has that looked like for you?
I recall first going into Gateway and meeting people from the employment team there. First there were some interviews talking about my skills and abilities and my personal challenges, and what I was looking for and hoping for in a job. Then there was looking at different jobs and interviews, although they found a good fit for me shockingly quickly. Before that they helped me update my resume and all of that. Then when it came to SmartyPantz she helped me prepare for the job interview and then I got the job, exciting. She then worked with the then manager of SmartyPantz to help him understand me and my challenges, and then from then on, we would check in once or twice a month. She would say “how are things going? How are you feeling about work?”. Sometimes things were going good and sometimes not so well. When I wasn’t feeling good she could help council me on how to deal with that and if need be she could intercede on my behalf and talk to management and better voice my concerns. It went well enough that eventually I ended up in charge.
Can you tell us about the journey from employee to manager to owner at SmartyPantz?
When I was first hired I was a host, one of the actor’s slash one of the game running people here. I worked hard I fell in love with the job. More and more I was taking on additional responsibility and making suggestions on business levels, and at one point I was basically feeling like I was the assistant manager in all but name. That is kind of an awkward position to be in because I had to go to my boss and say, “I think you need to be paying me more”, but Ashleigh, my gateway rep, helped talk me through that. When I did eventually need to have that awkward conversation it went fairly well, they promoted me. I spent a couple of years as the assistant manager did very well, and an opportunity came up to acquire the Edmonton location as an independent business owner. It was very scary, but I loved working here, so I pushed for the opportunity, and I looked around got some money together and made a go at it, and I did, and I am, and it is still scary, but I am excited!
What was the application and interview process like at SmartyPantz?
The application process was pretty smooth and easy, I didn’t even apply myself. I think Ashleigh said she found this job that she thought it might be perfect for me, and I said yes. I got a call back for the interview we prepped for that, and then I went for the interview. Job interviews here are a bit unconventional. It is part interview and part audition. You have to prepare a character and do some acting. It went well enough that they hired me.
What does a typical day look like at SmartyPantz?
We get here, we do a bit of set up in the morning, but mostly we try to have everything done the night before, so that it is just turning on the lights. Once customers get here we greet them and help them get settled. Someone downstairs will give them the rules speech meanwhile the host is upstairs getting into costume and character and getting ready. After the rules speech the host will come and pick them up downstairs in character and the story begins in the lobby. They will take them to the room where they will do some more story while also explaining the goal of their particular escape room, what they are there to accomplish. Their actor will then leave the customers in the room for 45 minutes, but they will have a walkie talkie that they can use to contact the host at any time to get clues and to help, and the host will maintain character through all of those interactions. And then they will either complete their goal within 45 minutes and they are winners, or they will run out of time and they will be the other thing… At which point the host will return and finish off the story, and then everyone goes home, happy!
What has it meant for you to have gone so far with a single company?
Working so much for a single company and coming along so far has been rewarding and quite a different experience. I have had several jobs before, but I was hired for the job, did the job, and then I stopped doing the job. This is the first time I have been in a more career arc position. Where I have been working my way up the company, and contributing ideas, where I have a sense of ownership before having literal ownership. A sense of pride within the job and the establishment, it has been an amazing feeling to grow the business and change the business while also growing and changing myself.
What plans do you have now that you are the owner of the business?
The owners of the broader chain have agreed to allow us to use the SmartyPantz name for the time being. Though I do want to rebrand and get my own identity going forward, and that will happen as we develop new rooms. I am really excited to push the boundaries of what escape rooms are, and what they can be. The thing that really sets us apart in the city are the live actors, the theatrical component, and I want to kind of push that more, and expand on that idea. Have more actor interaction and bring them into the story, get people to do a little more role play to get them to feel like they are in the story rather than just solving puzzles. We want to experiment with exciting new puzzles themselves, which will require people to think and act in interesting ways and get people to really question the rules of the game and start thinking outside the box.
Can you think back to a time where you have used your own unique skills to solve a problem at work?
Coming into this job as a person who lives with Autism who thinks kind of differently does mean that I certainly have challenges, but I can bring some interesting new perspective to the role. I have a mindset that lends itself really well to game design. I have come up with some clever new puzzle ideas, and at the same time there is also the acting component. I don’t know if it has made me a better actor, but it is in large part my mental challenges that drew me to acting. There are a lot of people on the Autism spectrum within the acting community, we have spent our whole lives trying to figure out how to act like everyone around us, so it is just the next natural step. And then, when it comes to the management side of things it presents challenges, to try to keep track of what people are thinking and feeling. But I think it can also be an asset, because I can step back and look at things a bit more objectively than some and might curb the emotions. Of course, business wise I have been able to come up with neat ideas to bring in new customers that other people might not have thought of. Just because I think a little different. They are not necessarily better ideas, but they’re different, I can come up with something a little unique.
Where do you want to be in the next five years?
In many ways I want to be right here, I want to be running SmartyPantz, but I want SmartyPantz to be bigger and better and more unique than ever. Coming up with new ideas and pushing the boundaries of escape rooms, and just focus on expanding on the business. And if not expanding than improving, perfecting and experimenting with the business. It is a really cool thing to be working on.
What has been your favourite part of your job so far?
I really like developing new characters for new or existing rooms. I like developing how they walk, how they talk, that idea. The little quirks and writing new jokes for them to say, it is all improv but you come up with new jokes for them. That’s always really fun trying to experiment with a different person finding a new voice, often a very silly voice. We actors play around with lot of character work and motivation. Figuring out what makes a person tick. But in many ways, it doesn’t go nearly as far as finding a funny voice for the character. This is what customers respond to.
What would you change about the employment process?
Finding a job, getting that job, and keeping a job is a frustrating and stressful process. The hardest part for me has always been keeping the job long term, I tend to overtime, become frustrated with some parts of the job, but also feel frustrated with my ability or inability to change them. I would like to see an improvement in relationship between employers and employees. Obviously, this varies from business to business and some businesses are amazing, but broadly I think there is a sense that employees are not in the position to challenge their employers when it comes to working conditions, but also aspects of the business itself. I have seen things that are inefficient and could be run better, but if I am not a manager it is not my place to say. I think it would help business in general but also help employees with those frustrations if we were more welcoming of that kind of feedback, because often people on the ground floor have a perspective that the management doesn’t and that should be listened to.
What are some of your passions outside of work?
A lot of it loops back to what we do here. This is the perfect job that Gateway found for me, because it does fit in with what I love to do. I love games. I play a lot of analog stuff, board games card games, that sort of stuff. Dungeons and dragons; we have a group that meets every couple of weeks, so that’s good. I like to cook, I have a nice little kitchen set up at home now. I try whenever I get the opportunity to experiment with food and new recipes and so forth. In the summer I get the most of my exercise from biking and in the winter I do cross country skiing. Those are some of my sporty hobbies I guess.
How would you define community?
These are types of questions that really trip up someone who lives with Autism, haha. Take things very literally. Should I look it up in a dictionary? How do I define it and to whom, who needs this definition?
I think the most important part of community is that kind of focus on mutual benefit, that if we help each other out we help ourselves. You can get ahead a little bit by pushing other people down, but it is always going to be to the detriment of everyone eventually, and I think we should always try to remember that.
Have you felt a sense of belonging? In the Edmonton area or the places that you worked?
I think I have spent a lot of my life feeling apart from the people around me. Understanding them, why they acted the way they did and what they were thinking. That was always frustrating. But as I have gotten older I have become better at finding a place in the community, certainly been my experience here at SmartyPantz. It has been the first job where I feel at home being myself, which has been a really wonderful experience. At the same time, I have been getting better at fitting in more outside of work. Making friends, getting hobbies, going out more, experiencing things in Edmonton. I still feel different and confused sometimes, a lot of the time, but so does everyone occasionally. Community is always a work in progress and it is always changing as are we, and it is something to work on.
Do you have any aspirations outside of work?
Let me think. When it comes to broader non-work aspiration I am always trying to work towards being a better version of myself, my particular challenges, I like to see as challenges rather than inevitabilities I can’t overcome. I struggle to make new friends, but I am working to get out there. I have trouble with a lot of stuff outside of my little world of my apartment. So, I am trying to get out more and understand other people’s experiences.
What is your favorite part about Edmonton?
To take the questions very literally my favorite part is the river valley. I grew up in a small town in the middle of the forest out in the middle of nowhere, so despite being in the big city it is nice that Edmonton has a pretty substantial chunk of forest right in the middle.
In the less literal sense my favorite part of Edmonton is the sense that we are all in this together. I have lived in other cities, and people seem to not care about each other very much. I don’t know if Edmonton is special, or I have just been here long enough to notice it, but there is this sense under it all that you should help each other out, and that’s the really nice thing that I think is the version of the city that we should try to focus on.