Take Two #54: The Haunted House
Alas, the season of ghouls and ghosties is officially over. Halloween has passed. The Day of the Dead is now over too. All the masks are returning to their storage bins, and the haunted houses are efficiently dismantled. Pumpkins are replaced with turkeys, and lots of us are left with way too much candy – either collected or leftovers from the trick or treat candy bowl. In fact, economists are reporting that Halloween is effectively recession proof. Sales this year were better than ever, and based on these numbers no one would ever know we had a national unemployment rate of 7.9% (and that's better than it has been in a while).
According to Fox news, Halloween is actually a $6+ billion industry – second in holiday spending booms only to Christmas. Between the costumes, the candy, the parties and haunted everything amusements I definitely believe it. I even had the pleasure this Halloween season to be part of a haunted house and not just a customer. As always happens, being on the other side of the tape, so to speak, puts a whole new spin on my perceptions.
A friend decided to turn their Port Townsend bed and breakfast (The Old Consulate Inn) into a Haunted Bordello for one weekend only. They sent out a mass email calling in their favors and in general rounding up their costume, makeup, stunt and theatrically inclined friends and associates. No, we weren't paid, but we were accommodated with food and board and good times. And good times were certainly had.
Instead of running this like your average haunted house, Nathan and Cindy (the owners and friends I aforementioned) wanted to slow things down and class things up. Their bed and breakfast has a distinctly luxurious Victorian feel to it, and they decided to carry that over into their haunted attraction. We didn't have the super tight maze-like quarters, the air blowers or the animatronics. And it wasn't a series of unrelated 'jumpers' that do admittedly get the heart rate quite high. No, instead Nathan and Cindy went a step further and turned this event into a fake 'historical tour' of the old house full with tour guide and brief history lesson. We were more about suspense, creepiness, some jumpers, a bit of humor and overall sexy entertainment than outright terror. And based on the feedback from our clientele, it worked beautifully.
Each section of the house and individual room had a slightly different theme all having something to do with the house's 'bordello past' and the insane men and women who lived and died in its walls. Think of it as a series of very short interactive, disturbing one act plays.
Night one was admittedly a little rough. We were still working the kinks out of our lighting effects and scripts and basically everything. The heavy rains had kept most potential customers away. And it was freezing. I had actually resorted to wrapping myself up in the 'bloody' sheet I was supposed to be alluringly sprawled across. Sexy, I know. Or at least I was wrapped up until I heard the cue lines from the room before mine in the tour. Then it was rapidly throw the sheet back into place like a flasher, pose and get ready to pretend I'd been that way all along. Assuming and keeping a straight face became an art form, let me tell you. Especially on night two but for different reasons.
Night number two just plain rocked. We knew what we were doing – changed some things, even added a couple acts – and were busy the entire evening. A couple improv moments on the part of the guides even caught me off guard, and it was all I could do to hold in my laughter until after the door was closed. What a trip, seriously!
So what did I learn from being on the other side of the bloody curtain? The same thing that every performer ever can probably tell you: everything is more fun with a good audience. As one of my best friends who was also part of the show put it, she had never let herself be taken in by haunted houses before. She liked to be the stoic type who would hold in her screams and notice all the fake-looking flaws. But it was rapidly apparent to all of us that those groups that were there to be swept away and have a good time both actually did enjoy themselves more and made the whole round more fun for all of us performers.
The way I look at it, if you're going to a haunted attraction you aren't looking for real danger but the illusion of it. You know the actors aren't actually going to take a swing at you with those bloody knives so what does being tough prove? You aren't afraid of the fake danger that you paid to put yourself in? Congratulations? Just chill and enjoy the ride. That's what it's all about anyway: having a good time. Leave the ego at the door. Like luggage, you can pick it back up on your way out.
I hope you all had a wonderful Halloween. Until next time!