Not in a mood to dress up in a costume? Want to have some hair-raising fun without breaking the bank? The School of Theatre has something in store for you this Halloween: Dead State. The Pavilion Theatre will turn into the “scariest” haunted house on campus.
The scenic designers, Nick Prowse and Elliot Gardner, and the technical director Dana Landis, sat down with Valley to give us a sneak peek of their upcoming spook-tacle. The haunted attraction will open doors to visitors on Wednesday, October 30 at 8pm and runs through Friday, November 1 at 11pm.
Valley: What is Dead State about?
Nick Prowse: Dead State is a haunted attraction that the School of Theatre puts on once every two years. This is the third time we’re doing it. Pretty much what it is the School of Theatre gets together with our Show Control class and we put on an attraction which has a different theme every year.
Dana Landis: The first time was four years ago, in 2009.
V: Who is it for?
NP: This is pretty much something that we do for the community. I think a lot of our shows, the audience is more…adults, and older people are giving us money. But I think this is something that we do for the campus community, for the students.
Elliot Gardner: I know this really is more appealing to teenagers. There aren’t a lot of plays that appeal to a younger audience. So this is our way of reaching out to them and getting them interested in the arts. Even though this is, you know, not as traditional a show, as we usually put on, it’s still theatre-related and something we’d like the younger crowd to be involved in.
V: Can you tell me more about it?
NP: It’s Penn State-themed. We are pretty much taking some of the legends that have been around for many years and some of the legends that we created, and pretty much…making them real, which is something that doesn’t happen often. You may hear about some ghosts that haunt certain buildings and stuff like that or something – something you might witness or experience while you are outdoors.
EG: The building [Pavilion Theatre] itself is rather eerie because back when Penn State was still just an agricultural university, this used to be the cattle observation building. And, in addition to observing the cattle they would also slaughter cows in the basement. So even though cow ghosts kind of sound Corny, there is a presence here. There is a lot of energy here. Our sound designer Curtis who runs the show control class actually isn’t comfortable staying here at night even without the haunted house.
V: You stay here at night?
NP: We work pretty late. Last night we didn’t out of here until, what? 11:30 [pm] or 12 o’clock or so. Late nights can get a little… intense.
V: Do visitors get to go to the basement?
NP & EG: YES.
NP: This building has three floors and a basement and we utilize all four floors with different effects. So you’ll go in through elevators upstairs and all sorts of different levels.
V: What’s special about Dead State?
NP: What sets the show apart from all other shows is that we do all other shows on a stage [where] you are looking at it from one angle for two and a half hours. For this, you walk through hallways that aren’t meant to be seen by our regular audience. Different levels…the basement is our rehearsal studio which is obviously something not a lot of people see. And that’s actually when the building was being used for what it was, that was a slaughterhouse for animals.
EG: What’s funny about this is that we put you everywhere you usually don’t go. Literally, the typical path for patrons is what we are using as our behind-the-scenes. All the seats, that’s where our control area is. The aisles, that’s all for us. Basically, the patrons are going to go everywhere they usually don’t. It is pretty much reversed.
V: What were some of the challenges you’ve encountered along the way? Highlights?
DL: This has been a challenge because of just the way we go about this in comparison to a normal show. This isn’t a normal show. You have to think where is all of our safety factors that we go into the building? The set… to make sure it’s structural, making sure people can handle it, things like that. And for actors, now we have a whole new level [of challenges]. We don’t have people who are used to be on stage like this. So that was a big factor in coming up with all this. For one, I have to hide everything. Hiding is usually relatively easy on a stage, and when the patrons are coming through part of the technology all of a sudden, you have a whole new challenge. How am I going to hide this and still make it look fantastic?
NP: And one of things we were discussing yesterday was with a regular show, it’s the same show every night for the same 200 or 400 people, depending on how many there are in the audience. But for this, we are sending groups of four or five down the elevator at a time, maybe once every five minutes. Every time a group goes through, it’s a totally different show. They may be walking faster or slower. The actors might engage them differently.
Photo courtesy of Elliot Gardner