Lost Spirits of the Bayou: How We Approach a New Theme

Well, Halloween 2017 is long over, and we’re just getting around to writing about it. Overall, we’re happy with the way it turned out, but we already have some changes in mind for next year. In thinking about last year’s haunt, we thought we’d write a bit about what it takes (for us, anyway) to execute a new haunt theme.

 

The first year of a new theme is always the most difficult. We spend at least half the year coming up with new ideas and then the next half arguing over how to execute them. The first step is to decide on our theme. This happened sometime in the middle of 2016. We knew we wanted to do something with the “bayou,” but we didn’t want it to be about hillbillies or crazy carnivores. What’s worked well for us, themewise, is to get inspiration by thinking about a specific location and time period. In this case, we came up with New Orleans in the 1920s, specifically prohibition. What would Mardi Gras be like if booze was outlawed? Well, there’d be moonshine, of course. And what’s the Halloween spin on that? Well, the moonshine is obviously cursed, filtered through the bones of the dead, so if you drink it….well, just ask the skeletons in the night club scene.

To get more ideas, we look at historical photos online, listen to music from the time period, and watch related movies. We also need to reuse props and sets from previous years in order to keep things cost-effective, so that affects the layout and scenes quite a bit. We simply don’t have the time or money to build everything new from scratch. So this year, we recycled the town scene from ScabTree Hollow into “swamp shacks” that we placed in the front yard. This was one of those things where we had no idea how they’d work, but when they were all up, it was awesome. It really made the haunt look bigger, and it gave us several places for brand-new scares.

We also shook things up this year by reversing the flow. We’re really limited in the path available through the yard, so there’s really no way to change things other than going in reverse. This worked out pretty well for people who’d been coming to our haunt for years.

We also have a bit of the devil in this theme. Did you see the guy dressed all in white? Yeah, that’s the devil. Tempting you to try the cursed moonshine. The rest of our cast was made up of psychotic flappers, rabid temperance supporters, and yes, even a hillbilly or two. We struggled a bit pulling the theme together. For us, the first year of a new theme is almost a “rough draft” of what we eventually want it to be. We find it hard to completely visualize how the haunt will work until we actually get all the scenes up and running. After the 2017 haunt, we noticed some holes in our backstory that we hope to fill in 2018. Some of the characters might change. The swamp shacks will also be getting additional theming to add a bit more life (or “death”?) to the scenes. We may even completely discard the old drop panels, which are a pain to maintain and are totally predictable scares for anyone who’s been through the haunt already.

Our blacklight area continues to be a favorite with our guests. It’s definitely one of the most fun parts to construct, and it almost always looks great, no matter how hokey we’re afraid it will be. Look for additional creatures to show up in the swamp in 2018.

We typically take a break from even thinking much about the haunt until April or May, but the time is approaching soon. We’re going to try to be better about updating this blog with the process and behind-the-scenes construction. We’re also looking for additional actors this year. One of our very best actors, Emily Rhea, is departing to join the US Army. (We’re so proud of her, but what the hell are we gonna do without her??) If you’re reading this and would like to be a part of our rag-tag haunt team, get in touch with us, here or on Facebook.

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