Fifty five children lurked in the twists and turns of the long, dark hallways. Some were bruised, some bound, chained, gagged, or a combination. Groans, pleas for help, and screams could be heard throughout the labyrinth. All were there for one reason.
These amazing youth designed their own costumes and their Childhood Nightmares themed rooms, from paint and set to lights and sounds. They wrote their own scripts, including not only an experience in their own room, but a transition to the next as well. Epoch Arts Haunted House consumed these young people for several Sunday afternoons, hours at home and at Epoch Arts in East Hampton, CT tweaking costumes and adding things to their rooms, as well as two tech days and four astounding nights of fright.
Not only did the youth, under the guidance of some fabulously creative adults, put together an astonishing Haunted House, but they provided baked goods and other confections for sale in the Cafe each night as well.
Freakish zombies attacked the hayride and several scary girls rode the hayride or wandered around Epoch Arts. A troll-like figure emerged, ready to snatch overly rude or inappropriate guests from the Haunted House and escort them out of the building, as well as fixing myriad lights, curtains, and other objects that faltered throughout the evening.
There were ticket sellers, food peddlers, a popcorn popper, and the Ones with The Most Dangerous Job of All, at least according to one smallish guest. You see, there were several brave souls who wended their way through Haunted with pitchers of water and funnels - it was there job to water the creatures that lurked within. This, according to the child, was a job she most definitely would not want, it being especially dangerous and scary.
And then there was me. Living forty minutes away from Epoch Arts and unwilling to drive back and forth twice a night with Princess Peach Gone Wrong, I decided to be available for whatever was needed of me during the Haunted House. I did my daughter's make-up and helped others with theirs. I found myself assigned to laying down the ground rules and slightly freaking people out before they entered the first room - as well as timing entries to maximize the number of people who were able to experience the creepiest of creeps each night.
My spiel, which started out with a simple welcome - no photography - the actors won't touch you so please don't touch them - evolved to something like this...
Welcome! Before you enter our Haunted House, I need to lay down some ground rules. No photography, please. Also, please don't use your cell phone or any other device to illuminate our Haunted House - we like it dark in there. Our actors won't touch you - please do not touch them. Please treat our actors respectfully - some of them are quite small, quite scary, but quite small - we wouldn't want to have to send our resident troll after you to drag you out for inappropriate behavior. Please stick together. Several times during your fifteen minute journey through our Haunted House you will be asked if your group is all together in the room. If, by that time, you have lost the power of speech, simply nod your head to indicate when all the members of your group are present. We wouldn't want to lose anyone .... again. Good luck!
We had a few accidental injuries, a lost contact lens leaving a child near-blind (but he carried on), lots of actors needing to sneak out to the bathroom (one more than the rest of the actors combined, it seemed), and several rude guests who were, indeed, extracted from the Haunted House and escorted from the premises. But all in all, Childhood Nightmares was a roaring success.
I feel blessed to have been a part of it. To observe my children - all the children - thoroughly enjoying themselves despite, and perhaps because of, the hard work and long hours they put in was heartwarming.
Most breathtaking to witness was the community of tweens and teens who gathered enthusiastically (most of the time) to put this all together. Room leaders and staff stayed late and arrived early. Staff and parents brought in or made food to ensure that everyone was well fed before they got to work. The young adults looked out for each other, getting help immediately when a "guest" was inappropriate with the female members of the cast so he could be swiftly removed, or when someone needed anything from an ice pack to a snack. Everyone took good care of each other.
Before the last night of Haunted ended, plans were already in the works for next year, by both the children and the adults. That, in itself, speaks volumes.