Fall is finally here at UVA Wise. Students are crunching leaves on sidewalks as the scholars make their way to a mathematics lesson or a philosophy lecture. Students enrolled in the College’s first Haunted House course rush to class each Tuesday and Thursday because October is nearly here and Halloween is in the air.
Wait…what? Haunted House class?
The Department of Theatre is offering the course in Haunted House design this semester. Students are preparing a spooky attraction at the Virginia-Kentucky District Fairgrounds in Wise for a fundraiser. The CARNEVIL haunted house attraction has grown in popularity for several years. Theatre faculty and students volunteered to help last October, and now organizers have asked them to lead the attraction this year.
The course, which includes the same high tech skills in lighting, set design, sound, and ground plan development that mirror an on stage production, gives the students an opportunity to stretch their talents to create an attraction that will include learning ways to move people naturally through a scary attraction, set up scenes for a theatrical wow factor, and develop a vital communication plan that allows each member of the scare team to run the event as a unit.
Professor Ben Mays, who attended a week long workshop in St. Louis on haunted house curriculum taught by professionals in the spooky attraction business, thought his students would go old school with design work, but he forgot to take the College’s innoVAte2elevate iPad program into account.
“They have to design their own layout for the communication plan, and they literally came up with the idea to use their new iPads,” Mays said. “They are doing almost everything on the iPads. They share information, design sheets, and they show all of this on our Apple TVs. I am learning a lot.”
The students use the software to create storyboards to illustrate what they want to feature in the rooms that each student is designing. They are making props in the scene shop in the Gilliam Center for the Arts, and they are studying the factors, such as textures, sounds, smells, to create a spooky atmosphere.
The attraction, which is designed as a haunted asylum, requires a number of people to work each room. The plan the students are creating will help them prioritize their needs for the attraction.
“What I love about this is each student has had various experience,” Mays said. “They bring things to life. I am enjoying working together on this project. Everything we teach in this class totally relates to what I teach in all my theatre classes.”
Autumn Bolling, a Pound resident, is working on a Demented Birthing Wing for her room, which will include ghostly women and demented nurses. Kayle Balthis, also from Pound, is working on a Common Room in the asylum where patients play games with a spooky twist.
Mo Lees of Virginia Beach is working closely with Audrey Miller of Charlottesville on a Human Experimentation Room. Miller is the special effects makeup artist and Lees is crafting a maze of scary bodies that she hopes will also help with crowd control.
Morgan Lancaster from Windsor, Virginia is designing the Waiting Room that will house visitors as they await the tour of the asylum. Jonathon Burroughs of King George County, Virginia is developing a room that will highlight the horrors patients endure when they get the wrong roommate in the asylum. Brittany Crewe of Coeburn is having fun creating the morgue filled with body parts and bodies on the autopsy table.
Basically, Mays is taking the students’ room plans and will develop a way to connect each room to form the asylum. The students who were volunteers last year noticed the visitors at that haunted house were reluctant to move toward the center of the rooms and were hugging the walls. The students are designing their rooms to make it more interactive and to create props and obstacles to lead people to all parts of the spooky rooms.
The theatre department is also working with more than two dozen community volunteers on the fundraising project. Mays believes the partnership creates a stronger relationship between campus and the local community. Many volunteers look forward to being “Scare Actors” to give visitors a good performance.
“We will work on lighting and sound, and we have to figure out how to make it all happen,” Mays said. “We will work together to get the effect we want and to work with the resources we have to make it all happen.”
CARNEVIL will be open to the public each weekend in October. Details about times and ticket prices will be announced soon.