Strike The Tent

Haunted House sign

Dumping rain when we built the house.
60mph winds when we went to take it down.
Not a drop of rain or weather problem while the house was open other than a couple of near-freezing nights.

With all the rain we got when we put up the façade (and in previous years), we built some roof panels and placed them throughout the maze for protection from the elements for both our customers and our volunteers.  They doubled as structural support, adding strength and tying walls together in areas where we couldn’t use the anchors.  It’s always nice to be prepared for emergencies that don’t occur (rather than the opposite), but yesterday when we went to take it all down, a windstorm blew in – once the roof panels were off, the rest of maze was ready to take flight!  Luckily, the crew was able to work quickly and get it all down and packed away with minimal damage.

building a roof

roof panels

Maze runners our first year were zombies, rednecks, and ghouls – your basic group of scaries.  We only had ONE guy that could even be remotely compared to a clown, but found from customers that he was the one that freaked them out the most.

The next year, we built The Freak Show into the maze, locking customers into a strobe-lit shipping container with volunteers dressed in black body suits who would throw back their hoods to suddenly “appear” in front of customers and chase them around the dark confines.  Panicked as they were, it was nothing compared to the hysteria that kicked in when we introduced a few clowns into the mix.  Again, feedback from customers ranked this as one of our scariest “exhibits”.

And last year, we had clowns above the maze, throwing things down on people and chasing/taunting them throughout the maze.

But not until this year did we really build the maze around the circus theme.

Big Top Daytime view Big Top Nighttime

The Big Top is the final room in the maze before customers exit, so it’s also the first thing they see when they walk in to buy their tickets.  The sight of that circus Big Top, rising above the maze with the screaming laughter of clowns and chainsaws coming from within, was enough to make many a customer pause at the façade, debating whether or not they really wanted to come inside.

pole Dancing setting up the Big Top under the Big Top

Instead of lions or tigers or bears (“Oh my!”), clowns caged within two circus animal cars “greet” customers as they make their way into the Big Top.  Within seconds, the clowns fire up their chainsaws and “break out”, chasing customers out the exit.

maze runners

maze runners

We dressed all our maze runners as clowns this year, with full access to the thruways to get in front of and around crowds in the maze, and popping their heads through the various wall openings and doorways, so by the time you got to the final Big Top room, you knew there would be chainsaws somewhere nearby.  One of our clowns carried a simple bike horn which turned out to be one of the scariest sound effects in the maze.  He didn’t even run through the maze – just walked slowly around corners, occasionally sounding his bike horn and sending groups into running panic.

drop panel drop panel

drop panel drop panel

We created a number of “drop panels” throughout the house – openings in walls and panels that could be covered by lifting a sliding panel into place, only to drop it with a loud “BANG!”, exposing whatever was hiding behind it.  Lots of fun and very effective!

grim reaper camoflague clown camouflage clown

We continued last year’s idea of full head-to-toe costumes for some characters so customers didn’t know if they were real or not, mixing them among props that weren’t people.  Our grim reaper caught lots of people by surprise.

three heads

dead head

Three heads on a table, and one of them is real.  This only worked so well because the fake heads were REALLY high quality and lifelike.  I don’t believe the scare on this one would have been as effective if the other heads didn’t look so real.

packing up the haunted house

Overall, the house had a great “feel” to it this year, and I was really happy with the maze – lots of switchbacks creating blind corners and very few long views or open spaces.  Dressing our maze runners as clowns and building around the circus theme did a great job of freaking people out!  It seems a LOT of people don’t like clowns… who knew.  The train turned out as good as I had hoped and scared so many people (thank you Zookeeper!)!  I’d really like to figure out the webcam so we can catch photos of people when they’re scared that they can link to on social media or pass on to friends via the internet.  The plastic clad panels worked out much better than expected, so we will probably use that idea again.  We’ll have to see how well they store.  145 total panels for the maze this year: 33 of them clad in plastic and 10 completely rebuilt with the heavier ply since we still need some structural strength and support throughout.  That means we lost over 50 panels from last year to rot and deterioration.  Part of that is that we need to figure out a better way to store them, but from the start, we didn’t really build them to last, so the fact that we still have so many originals is surprising.  Final customer count surpassed every previous year, so we must be doing something right!

fluorescent walls skeleton cemetery zombie graveyard zombies

ghouls ghoul dance party witches clown Car

scared waiting Capt America greeters

American Beauty clowning around zombies scared

kid friendly night kid friendly night

Glad it’s over for another year.
I need some sleep…

Your idea is your currency; what you’re buying is a few seconds of the [customer’s] time, in which you must gain their trust, entertain or inform them, convince them of your message, and possibly get them to act on it.  But it also has to be currency for the user; it has to be funny, informative, or somehow valuable for them to pass on to someone else.
~ Matt Mason