A New Kind of Story
By Lorna Oppedisano | Photography by Alexis Emm
“I’ve done a lot of strange things with my life,” Jono Naito, Museum of Intrigue developer/lead designer said. “I’ve studied chemistry. I’ve worked in the [American] Museum of Natural History in New York City. I was in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I was in a circus. I’ve breathed fire.”
Come early September, Jono can add “museum creator” to that list. Well, sort of.
Earlier this year, the team behind Escape the Estate, LLC — creators of the Escape the Estate presents The Hotel Whitmore escape room in ShoppingTown Mall and Escape the Estate at Frightmare Farms, the nationally-renowned haunted house in Palermo — was looking for their next venture. Jono, who’d started working for Escape the Estate after moving to Syracuse for graduate school, had an idea: what if they were to present their customers an interactive story experience?
“When he first came up with the concept, I had goosebumps going over it with him,” Escape the Estate, LLC, co-owner/Museum of Intrigue set designer Andrew DeRuiter said.
The basic concept of the game is elegantly simple. When a player or group of players enters the attraction, they approach the front desk, and see a row of books in front of them.
They’re asked, “Do you want to play a story today?”
Depending on how many people are playing and what sort of game they’re interested in — some focus more on puzzles, while others emphasize plot and characters — they’re given a scenario and the first clue. And then, the game is in their hands.
“So you get to enjoy the museum for as long as you want,” Jono explained. “Once you get past the front desk, the whole museum is an immersive environment.”
As guests work their way through the story and museum, they encounter a number of characters, actors hired by the team to help people along on their visits. One time, the “Dorian Grayesque, never-aging” researcher might lend a hand, Jono explained. On your next visit, you might get a clue from the “quirky” security guard.
While most games allude to a collective plot, they’re designed so the different storylines don’t overlap.
“All of the puzzles and games are designed very specifically so that almost nothing is given away,” Jono said. “I can see you being excited about something, but I won’t know its context or what you did. All I’ll know is I saw something very strange happen over by the Viking exhibit, and that maybe I’ll want to come play that next time.”
The team expects to present six to eight separate games for Museum of Intrigue’s September opening, and plan to add more as time progresses.
After finding an ideal location at Destiny USA, the team dove into work, creating the set and games for the museum. Being a local business, they have the advantage of control over every aspect of their creation. Most things the visitors will touch or even walk on have been built from scratch by Andrew, based on Jono’s ideas. They’re even repurposing some of the leftover materials from the space’s last tenant, OptiGolf.
“We’re not getting something shipped to us that we’re putting up,” Jono said, “which means every single prop, every puzzle, has been designed here [and] built here. And it lends a level of authenticity that is very noticeable.”
The practice of developing everything themselves isn’t new to the group. It’s part of what sets them ahead in the industry. And it’s paid off; in terms of their new venture, the team is certain no one in the entertainment industry has created an experience like this before.
“There is this gut and this fire that comes with the thrill of these ideas,” Nicole Ginsburg, creator and co-owner of Escape the Estate, LLC, explained.
They’re testing the waters for the new idea at Destiny USA, she said. The fanbase from their other ventures is excited to see what unfolds with Museum of Intrigue. But in terms of Nicole’s role in the company, she’s always keeping an eye open for the next opportunity to provide new spaces and opportunities for artists and actors.
“My ultimate goal is to end in entertainment, in the capacity of basically what we’re doing with Escape and with Frightmare: that ability to give brilliant minds tools, space and the funds to create things that they’re passionate about,” Nicole said. “It’s really amazing.” SWM
Museum of Intrigue is slated to open in early September at Destiny USA, located by 9090 Destiny USA Drive in Syracuse. Stay tuned online for more specific details. Visit museumofintrigue.com or facebook.com/MuseumOfIntrigue.