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how to stage a haunted houseHaunted Houses are amazing.

Not real Haunted Houses (though they may be) but the kind which spring up all over America in late October every year. I thought I might do my first technical post about the moxie behind these spontaneous fright show attractions.

My first Haunted House ended in the burning of my garage. The bigger kids around the block wanted to have a Haunted House and I happened to have a space available. This garage was my first workshop. It was a big partially empty space where I worked on various projects throughout my childhood. One of these was this Haunted House. During construction, a light was left on in a draped exhibit and we went off to have lunch. Next thing I know I am calling the fire department. Scary, and even though the light was not left on by me I learned that safety is everyone’s responsibility all of the time. (yes, I realize I am a hypocrite.)

how to stage a haunted house :: child man Halloween character

I applied this lesson in my next Haunted House. This one was put on as a fundraiser for the independent theatre company I was working with. I took the public safety aspect of this endeavor very seriously. Darkness + Moving People = incredible accident potential. The then 110 year old schoolhouse where I live was the site of the production. I call it a production because all Haunted Houses are productions. It is one thing they all have in common.

scary Halloween puppet and man

Masks and a six foot gargoyle, to adorn the front of the house, were constructed using wooden frames, chicken wire and Paper Mache. Record players and blade-less fans were employed to be the drive train of moving exhibits and I got the opportunity to create an illusion which involved building a throne with a sword laid across the arms. The audience sees a disembodied head balanced on the sword blade. The trick is accomplished by way of mirrors and a false back on the throne. Our disembodied head was singing an operatic duet with a bottom lit face behind a scrim in a picture frame on the wall. The singing was prerecorded. In fact, the whole journey through the house was accompanied by a soundtrack we had recorded which wove from jokey funny to creepy eerie and back several times during its twelve minute duration. There was a pirate room long before the Caribbean climbed out of the theme park and onto the silver screen. There was a woman who never looked up, washing blood from the floor that was dripping from a cast iron grate above her.

how to stage a haunted house :: red room

Examples aside this thing was one big construction site and I loved every minute of it. The transformation of rooms led to one great problem solving adventure after another.

The next year we did a Haunted Woods with a similar structure. Outside it was possible to use scale and lighting much differently than we had previously.A graveyard was fashioned from tombstones of ½ inch drywall, with the face paper removed. Silly and straight faced remembrances were carved into the front of them and they overall had a wonderful old and crumbling effect. The path wove through an abandoned carnival midway where the Acorn Girls were on display. They were baby dolls disassembled and re-assembled as puppets. At the end of their routine, which consisted of a child’s nursery rhyme, the girls heads would ascend to the ceiling disappearing behind a large sign which read have you seen me?

how to stage a haunted house :: artistic Halloween scene in the shadows pirate

Haunted Houses are folk art and thus able to explore the nature of fear in highly personal ways. The hosts are limited only by their imagination and skill levels. Amazing effort goes into them for a very limited run. Every year, around this time, people overcome their fears and invite new ones by walking through their doors. … And I hope this helped if you are searching for how to stage a haunted house of your own.

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As I searched through the theatre companies archives for photos to accompany this piece I came across a film that one of our members had posted on You Tube of the 1994 haunted schoolhouse build. At nearly ten minutes, and not knowing any of the participants, this may not be for the feint of heart but it does exemplify the amount of work and fun that go into the phenomenon known as the “Haunted House”.