Features / Talking Passions

Talking Passions: The Brystal Maze

By bristol247, Thursday Apr 28, 2016

Started by local journalist Adam Chisman, and with links to various Collectives in the city including Liquifyah, The Coconut Collective, as well as Irish online magazine Ceol Caint, Talking Passions comes in two weekly parts. Brand new written interviews on talkingpassions.com and Bristol 24/7, and audio interviews on BCFM’s The Bristol Music Show and Souncloud. 

Started eight years ago as a birthday pub crawl treasure hunt for Jessica Ellis and her friends, the Brystal Maze soon grew in popularity and complexity into the colourful version that you may have seen yearly on Bristol’s streets. Loosely based on the 90’s TV show and originally featuring just 30 contestants, no challenges or fancy dress, the Maze now boasts 400 excited participants ready to pit their wits against each other and take on the challenges of the Maze! Though very hard at work putting the finishing touches to the Maze, I managed to catch up with four of the seven founders (Davey Ball, Chris Cooper & Ross Keen Haudin were unable to make the interview unfortunately) to talk about their passion for glitter and adventure…

Adam Chisman (TP): “As a young one, what did you want to be when you grew up and how did you get to where you are now?”

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Jessica Ellis (JE): “So I actually wanted to be a pediatric neurosurgeon, but that didn’t happen! And then I went into marketing, business and art college. But always had a passion for events. And so how I came to Brystal Maze was just wanting to do something outside of a corporate job, having to do it in my spare time, and having something else that wasn’t to do with work. so that’s how it came into incarnation for me.”

Sam Tiberius (S): “I sort of went to a party, then refused to leave until they let me help organize it.”

Karen Davis (K): “For me, I went to art school. I’ve always wanted to be involved in creative, immersive events, and this is just perfect. It’s something I’ve always wanted to be doing.”

Julian Preece (JP): “I just wanted to have fun, and this revolves around fun, with some fun friends so yeah, fun fun fun.”

JE: “Also, Julian has known me for a long time and so has kind of had to get involved haven’t you.”

TP: “Roped in against your will eh. So the Brystal Maze obviously has parallels with the Crystal Maze show with the legend Richard O’Brien and as well as making new friends, a big part of the experience are the challenges. Where do you look for inspiration when planning the challenges, and where do the ideas come from?”

JE: “It’s an interesting one, because I suppose we’re all pretty creative people and have got wild imaginations. And then we also involve wardens, who over the years evolved, and we put a lot of the challenge questions out to them, so that they can decide their own. We have these raucous meetings where everyone’s shouting over each other, and all sorts of stuff comes out. It’s like ‘No that’s not even sensible, we cannot do that!’ But it comes from a creative process, where we put it out to everyone, almost like crowd sourcing, and allsorts comes in and we filter through what works, and what doesn’t work.”

JP: “It kind of goes off from the years before, where you have ideas of what’s worked and what’s not worked, and you can implement different ideas into new games and new challenges.”

K: “Yeah, and watch TV shows where there are ridiculous, obscure games. You get inspiration from that.”

S: “And always speak to the team captains, and other people who’ve played it. And someone will say, ‘Oh the mystery challenge was amazing’ or something like that. So you learn what kind of games people enjoy, and try and use more of that style of game each time you do it. Each time you lose the games that people weren’t so excited about, and get more and more of the games people enjoyed. And use the imagination of everybody involved. Because when you’ve got twenty wardens, among them are gonna be some great ideas.”

JP: “Feedback from all the people who’ve played the game before.”

TP: “Well another big part of the experience is the fancy dress element, and it often feels like a day festival around the city on maze day with the most elaborate costumes. Can you tell me some of your favourite costumes so far?”

K: “I think my funniest ever was actually the year that I was playing, before I became part of the production team. My team were the ‘Camel-Lions’, as it was a hybrid animal theme. And a member of my team Louie, either through a joke or misunderstanding, came dressed not as a Camel-Lion but as a chameleon, which is a funny juxtaposition, a pride of Camel-Lions walking across a field with a chameleon in tow.”

S: “My favourite has gotta be the Doctor Who team from the space year, because they had the cast of doctor who and an army of Cyber-men. It was like Cyber-men were chasing Doctor who around the whole Maze, because they had Doctor Who at the front, and his assistant, and then Cyber-men chasing them everywhere. And it just looked like something out of a comedy sketch.”

JE: “They had the phone box too.”

S: “Yeah, they’d put so much effort in. I wish we could have rewarded them more for looking so great.”

K: “And the man dressed up as Billie Piper, in a jumpsuit with balloons as breasts, was hilarious.”

JE: “The Doctor Who was incredible, but I’ll just go on the tip of the hybrid themes that we put together, that always create these crazy crazy things. Our theme this year (Musical Myths & Lyrical Legends) has followed that suite, but I can’t really pick one out. Doctor Who would have been it.”

S: “An honorable mention has got to go to the Flamingo American Football team.”

JE: “Yeah, and the Basketball Bumble Bees. They were really good.”

JP: “One of my favourite costumes, and it wasn’t even a team, was Chris Coops Total Recall outfit with the three boobs.”

JE: “He actually came round to my house, to this very living room, and was like, ‘Jess, can I just show you my breasts?’ And he got them out, and we tried to stick them to his hairy chest and they wouldn’t stick, so we had to find other ways to accommodate that.”

K: “Yeah, Chris and Ross’ zones are always top notch for weirdness and costumes. Always a zone to watch out for, for extreme ‘Mighty Boosh-esque’ randomness every year!”

TP: “Amazing. Well talking about zones, and challenges. As a contestant I only ever see the finished result, the glitter and the Brystals. But I know there’s a lot of hard work and planning involved behind the scenes. Can you tell me a bit about the hard work that goes into the creation of the Maze?”

JE: “It begins in January. January for May, and when it was in November it begins in August. And we get together. And it’s gotten more and more like a well oiled machine over the years, because we kind of know what we’ve gotta do. But in years gone by we used to invite all the wardens to the meetings, so there’d be twenty people sitting in a room screaming at each other with ideas. We’ve honed it back down now to just the production team.”

K: “It’s still three hours of people screaming at each other even though it’s just seven of us. There’s a lot of very creative people with a lot of ideas.”

JE: “Obviously there’s a huge amount of management that goes on through Facebook. I shouldn’t really give them a plug, but if it wasn’t for that platform it wouldn’t happen you know. Putting teams together, making people link together and building these groups of people. Lots of them don’t know each other within the teams, so there’s a huge amount of communication that goes on between us as organizers, along with the team leaders, who are intrinsic, and the wardens. We rely heavily on the participation of team leaders and wardens to make it all happen, as well as all the ideas that we bring together when we sit here and argue. Sometimes they’re hilarious meetings, sometimes they’re fraught with angst. Sometimes there’s strops you know, all the usual stuff.”

K: “But in every meeting there’s just a moment of brilliance, where somebody says something, and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, that’s the best thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life! We definitely have to do that!’ It’s surprising how exciting and hilarious it is.”

JE: “I feel I need to mention the forming of the clue for the Hatchet last year. We were trying to work out a clue for the Hatchet, and Davey (Ball), one of the team members not here, just sat there and was like, ‘I’ve got it! What do you do when you sit on an egg?’”

S: “From an organizers point of view, we’ve gotta make the mechanics of the game work, which is really complicated, because you’ve got teams dispersing to different corners of the city. Half of them are moving clock-wise, the other half anti clock-wise, and they never know that all of that is going on behind the scenes. But in terms of organizing the teams themselves, we could never do that. So we devolve it down. The team leaders are what make it work. As soon as we’ve picked them and they start getting their teams together.. We could never organize twenty teams with twenty people, they do that for us. It’s actually because the people involved make it work which is really great.”

JP: “From your point of view, you’re a captain this year (I absolutely love the Brytal Maze and this will be my second). You’ve obviously put a lot of work in speaking to these different people, bringing them all together, having meetings and putting the team together. Getting them excited, a bit of banter.it’s all part of the fun.”

TP: Yeah, and that’s a wicked element of it, bringing together new people and making new friends.”

JE: “Yeah, you don’t just buy a ticket to an event and turn up. It’s a very different event.”

K: “Every new person that I meet, that’s doing it for the first time, I  just say to them, ‘Just you wait!’ And they get involved. And it’s such a passion, and you get so excited that you want to bring more to it and be so involved every year.”

S: “And the first time I played I only knew Jules on my team. And it was smaller then, there were only ten people on a team, but some of those people are some of my best friends now. And that was all because you go through that thing together and you bond as a team.”

TP: “You go through an experience together.”

S: “That’s it, it’s a shared experience!”

TP: “Can you tell me some of your absolute stand-out moments?”

JP: “I’ll tell you my favourite game ever. Karen actually designed this game. So on the waterfront, and you’ve got the steps, there was a traffic cone right at the bottom, and in the bottom was a crystal.”

JE: “A Brystal!”

JP: “A Brystal sorry. And all you had to do was fill the water up to get the Brystal up to the top so you could grab it with your hand. And you had all these different sized drainpipes, and you had to, all the team, hold all these different pipes to get the right length so you could fill it up. It was brilliant! It was one of my favourite ones of all time.”

JE: “Repeatedly having my best friend Amy Gettings win the game and she does it by sheer tenacity, but I have been accused of cheating, and not doing the right thing all the time. But actually she wins! It makes me laugh because every year someone’s like, ‘Jess, you haven’t done the scoring properly, she’s won again!’ But I’ve also heard from other people that she enters the game in a different way to other people. There’s no stopping, you’ll get through this game and do you drink and let’s go.”

S: “One of my favourite moments, though it wasn’t enjoyable at the time, was when, during the space maze, team Neptune took losing our challenge so badly, that they attacked me and Julian. We had to physically remove them, luckily they were exclusively female and quite small, but we did actually have to pick them up individually and remove them from the club.”

JP: “This lasted for about ten minutes while they tried to beat us.”

S: “And at the time it was appalling, but afterwards it was hilarious!”

JE: “Also when we’ve completely lost teams, and we’re like, ‘Where are they?!’ Everyone else has finished, and we’re like, ‘Has anybody seen that team that were last seen four zones in?’ And they’ve gone to completely the wrong end of the city because they’ve got a clue so wrong. And they’ve just been like, ‘Yeah we’ve definitely got it!’ And just gone in the wrong direction, and we all laugh and are like, actually you’ve just gotta give up now and come back and have a good party!”

TP: “Fantastic! Now even though the Maze has a drinking element to it, people always treat it more like an adventure than a pub crawl, plus I know you take safety very seriously, reminding team-leaders to look after their team and posting wardens at each venue to ensure no one gets hurt and everyone makes the after-party. Can you tell me why safety is so important to you?”

JE: “Because we’re doing something that nobody else really does. We’re taking people from all over the city, and we have a responsibility of the four hundred people that we’re putting into these positions. It’s a completely unique event, in the fact that we’ve got so much interaction with everyone that’s participating in it. It’s important to us that we’re taking care of them as much as possible. You are all responsible for yourselves at the end of the day but at the same time we have to be safe.”

K: “We’re kind of encouraging them to race around, to be excited, to be energetic. People in the throws of the game may take risks. A lot of the games are quite physical or demanding, or a potential safety risk. So we want to make sure that, although we are putting these activities in front of people, we remind them that the real-world rules still do apply. Cars still exist, there are still members of the public, they’re not in a fantasy world, they can still fall over and hurt themselves, over drinking will still cause accidents. Trying to make sure that people are enjoying it because at the end of the day, if people hurt themselves or upset members of the public, it’s not gonna be fun for them and everyone else.”

JE: “And everybody gets that, and that’s why it’s amazing! Over the years, if I look at seven or eight years of doing this, as it grew bigger and bigger, we realized the responsibility on us was growing and growing. There were these periods about five years ago where we were like, right, there’s a hundred people doing this, or a hundred and fifty people doing this and we are responsible for this. We’re designing this game for them to be immersive and we’ve gotta be careful here. Over time what’s become really apparent is the fact that, everybody knows what Brystal Maze is, even if they’re new to it. And I think the way that we communicate it, and the way that we set up the website, and the way that you book a ticket. There’s a lot to read when you book a ticket, it’s not a simple ‘Hey! Buy a ticket for this!’, and it’s an anonymous thing. You’ve gotta tick lots of boxes, and read through certain things to make sure that everyone understands it. And I think that having certain disclaimers in place, and having all the meetings running up to it, so that everybody’s engaged. We put rules together for team leaders, and wardens, and everybody involved. And we spend a lot of time working those out to make sure that they’re right for everyone and everyone’s enjoying themselves.”

S: “And we can’t watch everybody all the way round. So we trust that the leaders, and the other players all know that we want them to have fun, do it safely and make it to the end, and everything to go well. So we have to put the trust into all the wardens, and all the team leaders, that you have to look out for each other. And if everybody does that everybody gets round safely. And so far.. I’m not even gonna say it, let’s just touch wood.”

K: “And everyone needs to know that they’re representing the Brystal Maze, and we don’t want the Brystal Maze to be something that people associate with something annoying or upsetting you know. It’s about fun and friendship, and enjoying and community. We want people to think it’s a good thing..”

TP: “Because it is!”

JE: “Well when we’re doing it, at the start point, there’s that many people congregated. People just stand and watch and take photos. Tourists are like, ‘What is this, is this what Bristol people do?!’”

S: “One of the best experiences of the game is when you see all the teams amalgamating and coming together at the start point. And people are taking photos. And everyone who doesn’t know what’s going on is seeing it form. And you can see the looks on their faces like, ‘What is this? Where have these people come from? And what are they doing?’ The wonder on their faces is so fun to see. And we’ve had it before when we’re going to the center to start everything, and we’re in costume. And as we go there people have stopped us and said ‘Where are you going? What’s going on?!’ We just go, ‘We can’t explain right now but there’s a thing, and it’s happening right now!’”

JE: “In the past we’ve had challenges in between where you’ve had to find a random person and bring them back to the party. During the space theme we gave them a pot of green paint in their challenge pack, and they had to paint somebody green. So at the after party we had twenty (little) green bodypainted men or women, that had been collected off the street and gone, ‘You guys are so much fun, we’re coming with you!’ How that’s even possible I still don’t understand?!”

TP: “It’s the magnetic effect of the Maze! Finally, in your own words, what can we expect from the 2016 Brystal Maze?”

JE: “I’m afraid we can’t tell you anything because you know it’s a surprise! Laughs. It is always better. We can’t say it’s bigger, because I don’t think we can accommodate any more than the four hundred we’ve got without doubling the entire game if there’s gonna be more people in the future. We thought we could tell you one tiny thing about the after party and what the theme might be, which is ‘Lion-el Ritchie & The Wardrobe!’ You should have had it as your team theme but we got it!”

TP: “You just blew my mindbox!”

S: “I also think the Jon Bon Jovi team’s gonna suffer really badly and lose. A lot of people are saying the Bon Jovi team* are going down.”

*That’s actually my team funnily enough!

TP: “Well I made my bed.”

K: “Challenges great, wardens great, locations great, clues equally hard.. an awesome day out to be had by everyone!”

JE: “A lot of new people as well so it’s very exciting!”


The Brystal Maze 2016 is taking place on Saturday 30th April so keep your eyes peeled if you’re out and about in Bristol, and If you’d like to get in touch with the Brystal Maze about future events you can find them on Facebook, Twitter or via the website at www.brystalmaze.com


Words: Adam Chisman (Talking Passions)

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