presented by Bridges Alumni and Friends
In this section we share some hard-won lessons for would-be Haunted House creators. Our first productions were rougher and more wild; our procedures and rules evolved as we learned and as the kids grew. The public Notice and The Rules (text below) were posted at the entrance to the Haunted House.
You are welcome to copy and use our materials!*
In order to have a truly scary (fun!) and safe Haunted House, we have a few basic rules, for players and audience: Enter at your own risk.
Be careful in the dark. You WILL be freaked!
No kids under age six admitted, even if accompanied by parent, and no one with a heart condition. Believe it -- this is a real Haunted House! We want to scare you witless, not cause permanent damage. No horseplay. Because a lot of work goes into sets and costumes, and because there is electricity and breakable, expensive equipment, we cannot allow complete craziness to break out in the Haunted House. If you need to freak out, go to the park -- thank you! Two times through is your limit. We've found that familiarity breeds rowdiness. No food or drink in the Haunted House. Don't touch the monsters and they won't touch you. Top of page
This Haunted House is Theater, not reality. It is not Politically Correct. There is lots of pretending here, although none of it to moral rigor. Do not attempt these activities in real life -- doing so will imperil at least your body, and likely also your mind, your soul and your social standing. If you are offended by the bizarre, if you dislike body parts unconnected to bodies, if Youthful Flights of Fantasy make you nervous, we advise you avoid this place.
However, if you like that stuff....
Come On In ! Top of page
Sometimes the simplest things are the most powerful. The Hanging was one scene that usually got the biggest reaction because the Victim was a real, twitching person, not just a mannequin. The kids wouldn't have it any other way. With a carefully rigged construction harness it was also one of our safest and least expensive effects. Inadvertently however, it also deeply affected our approach to selecting and presenting scenes.
Typically, the Hangman and the Victim would trade places every fifteen minutes or so -- being hanged is physically demanding, but is by far the most fun, so everybody has to have a turn. During one evening's performance, the actors had grown tired of wearing their hot masks and removed them. Some audience members noticed that the Victim was a child of color and complained. The roles had been reversed a few minutes earlier, but the people who were offentded hadn't seen that version of the performance. Our group of kids has always been ethinically diverse and it hadn't occured to us that this kind of depiction could have real, unintended power.
The outcome was a basic principle that shaped all future productions. The kids agreed that the community's perception of a scene was important, but we weren't about to restrict who could play which role. After all, Halloween is intrinically about pain and death of all kinds (and the fear of death), which is a deeply human experience that cuts across all racial and cultural lines. So, after a lengthy group discussion, we resolved that from now on our performances would not depict violence of the human-to-human variety. And because the children had participated actively in the decision-making, they became the guardians and enforcers of the new policy.
Practically, that meant making some thematic adjustments as well as some sacrifices, in that sometimes uncomfortable masks had to be worn, by someone at least, at all times. So for example, either the victim in The Cult scene couldn't be a Virgin, but instead had to be a ghoul, or else The Cult must all be ghouls. . And the Evil Tooth Fairy with a giant bloody pliers looming over a sleeping child must be masked or otherwise identifiable as a non-human. On the other hand, accidental death or mayhem -- e.g. the sweet Christmas tableau with a child decorating the tree who falls off the stepladder only to be hanged by a string of lights -- was just fine.
We quickly discovered that we were able to present a Haunted House which was genuinely frightening, even to many adults. We also discovered that parents and children aren't always aware that very young children cannot seperate this kind of fantasy from reality. So we instituted the rule that children six and under were not to enter.
However, not all parents wished to accept our recommendation -- despite the advice of our Greeters at the entrance -- and from time to time we would have young children in the audience who would become very afraid and upset. When this occured, our actors and PeaceKeepers were coached to remove their masks, step out of character and interact with the child in a gentle manner as 'normal' people, telling the child that "this is all just pretend". The parents were then coached in turn to respect their child's fears and all were guided back through the Haunted House the way they entered.
Anyone who has produced a Haunted House knows that crowd control must be taken seriously. It is easy for rambunctious children and teens to mistake the energy of the production as license for their own wild behavior. We also typically had far more kids interested in participating during performances than we had roles to play or physical space, a situation which wasn't inclusive, and could easily become disruptive. The PeaceKeepers were an innovative solution to both issues.
PeaceKeepers were a team of teens which Oma/Vic trained beforehand to manage and guide small audience groups. They carried Lightsaber-like flashlights, and were often costumed. As they led their group through the dark, they provided a more structured and safer experience for the audience. They were coached to be alert for trouble or danger, and to be respectful but assertive.
Our actors quickly discovered and exploited another benefit however: the PeaceKeepers could help them control their timing. The sophistication of the scenes immediately increased beyond simple screaming or other repetitive (and quckly boring) 'scary' activities. With the PeaceKeepers pacing the groups, the actors had the ability to hone short skits -- with an opening, a set-up and a scary pay-off -- and then have time to get back into position before the next group arrived. So the PeaceKeepers raised the level of theater we could achieve, and they became part of the performance after all.
Invitation (typically sent to parents and kids in late summer)We'd like to extend a special invitation to you and your family to join us at the Sixth Annual Downing Street Haunted House! This year some 50 or 60 kids, aged 9 to 18 are working weekends and evenings, to plan and construct two nights of fun and frights! All kids are invited to participate. Parents, send food! It'll be weirder and better than ever, so if you've experienced it before, there's even more scares this time around!
Check it out!
Workdays: Thursday & Friday, October 26th and 27th, 10am to 4pm and later. There's no school these days-it's potluck-ish. Bring food!
Haunted House Performance Days:
Friday & Saturday, October 27th and 28th, 7:00 to 9:00pm
For all participants: Come early to get into your costume.
There will be a spaghetti dinner right after the Haunted House!
Cleanup Party: Sunday October 29th, 11am to 5pm. Putting on a Haunted House is a lot of work and we make clean-up a party. Please come on Sunday to help "strike the show". Warm homemade cinnamon rolls will be served.
* The animated skull GIF is from the website of Mesa View Junior High School in Farmington, New Mexico