HAUNTS FIGHT COVID
by Pat Regan - President of the National Haunters Association
Columbus, OH-- Trying to operate a haunt under normal circumstances is hard enough. The list of challenges is daunting. Add in the problems of a pandemic and constantly changing local health requirements, and it can appear scarier than your worst nightmare!!
Outdoor haunts face the variability of weather. Haunt actors face the challenges of balancing the close scare with a jump scare or touching vs props. Make-up artists have to nail the look on constantly changing ‘canvases’ under immense time pressures. Security faces the challenges of unruly guests. Production faces the challenge of making all those phenomenal ideas realistic. And owners face ALL these challenges with so many more the list would take up this whole article! Indoor Haunts (or sections) only magnify the problems. Yet, Actors and Production and MUA’s and Owners and Security come back with such passion year after year. Add in this stinking pandemic in, and it’s easy to see how hard it’s going to be to pull it off one more time!
My hope with this forum is to be a place for those still desiring to keep their haunt delivering frights to customers and not infections. With that said, there are two ‘classes’ of challenges I’m hearing – those faced by Indoor Haunts vs Outdoor Haunts. (I know many haunts have both types of sections, but they present different opportunities.) There have been almost universal considerations, so I will present those first.
GROUP SIZE/CROWD CONTROL – the most common plan to handle this is for spaced Queue lines (a security monitoring situation) and Timed ticketing. Owners will have to balance the amount of time between groups so as to allow the full experiences and avoid back-ups – a situation that will certainly cut into profitability!
COMPLIANCE WITH LOCALITIES – This one is also on the Owners, to keep in constant contact with local health authorities and make certain that any changing health requirements are handled efficiently and acceptably. In addition to the fire safety equipment and inspections, health inspections will be a key point of contact between Haunts and localities. Local officials are still feeling their way thru, and pre-emptive meetings with them might be helpful in building this critical relationship. Another pre-emptive
CUSTOMER REQUIREMENTS – (This is a serious concern for Haunts, as they are not under management’s “control”.) Visitors to haunts will be REQUIRED to wear masks, socially distance and submit to temperature checks before entry. Here, the most common thread I am hearing is to both require and APPEAL to customers to wear masks, offer hand sanitizer before and after attractions. This is protection not only for them, but for your haunt actors and all staff!
STAFF REQUIREMENTS – More within the realm of control of the Haunt, the same requirements for customers will apply here (Pre-Entry Temp checks, Masks, Social Distancing, & hand sanitization). While that sounds simple, SOOOO many challenges arise here. How does an MUA socially distance and still put awesome characters out there? (In record time…) What about shared make-up? (This is a HUGE challenge!) How does a Haunter who is skilled at a gentle touch scare adjust their character? Can’t have both social distancing AND touching….. How does the creative group make a ‘bloody scene’ realistic while keeping all fluids away from both customers AND actors? Can construction build an attraction that is socially distanced AND scary? (I’d have to think ‘claustrophobia’ walls are out – or is somebody going to disinfect between every visitor?) How do you make a hayride that is socially distanced but still generates enough revenue to justify fuel & staffing costs?
I could go on and on with these questions, and I’m sure every owner has lied awake at night thinking through these. Below I’ll give you the suggestions I’ve gotten in my feedback, and would LOVE to hear more so we can try to keep as many haunts open this Fall.
1) One owner is planning on eliminating all indoor sections – smaller scares pulled off at a distance, with absolutely no touching. This is a great suggestion for someone who has the space to keep the scares far enough apart to avoid conflicting/competing scares. But for some haunts, especially in more metro areas, this isn’t necessarily an option. The best example I can think of is Reapers Revenge in Scranton, PA. They are excellent at this method. Owner Paul Kotran and “Do-it-all, right-hand man” Michael Belardi use the side of a mountain to space out some of the best attractions in the industry. And NEVER do you get distracted or are aware of the next or prior attraction. It’s done in the Hayride portion, so that challenge of socially distancing on hayrides comes in…. If owners try to opt out of the hayride, you now have to control the quality of the trail and insure your visitor can handle such potentially challenging terrain.
2) Another owner told me she is planning on reducing both the number and size of the indoor scenes and limiting group sizes to 5 or less. The theory is more intense experiences for a group pulled off by less actors. One point she made was the new freedom to hold so many more themes than trying to tie in a larger section to one theme (ie – laboratory set for multiple zombie scares)
3) Chase Bellows of Superstition Haunted House, northwest of Washington DC (Only opened on October 31st!) is planning on incorporating UV Sterilizer lights on a timed basis used after a group goes thru a section of the haunt. (Chase was kind enough to give us the link, too: xsterilizerofficial.com) From what I looked at, I can see where this unit can be placed in a room somewhat out of site, and utilized to sterilize the rooms. Chase is not relying totally on this – it is an additional step to the masks, hand sanitizing and social distancing.
4) Evan Webb, who portrays ManniX, a character at Field of Screams, MD, is stepping up to the creative challenge by adjusting his character’s scare tactics. An ingenious method he is incorporating is snap pops – throw them near a visitor’s feet while staying socially distanced – a great way to bring the visitor deeper into the experience! Another suggestion from Evan was the use of a hand-held, retractable jack-in-the-box to get close to a visitor from far away. This kind of adjusted use of props can keep the intensity up in the haunt while keeping everyone as safe as possible. It’s this kind of creativity that makes haunting so much fun!
5) An idea I had, especially for indoor haunts, is the use of plastic window insulation coverings to build a physical barrier between actors and visitors but allow it to appear the actors are getting very close. The plastic would easily allow the transmission of sound, so actors can continue the dialogue and banter that enhances the scare. Many of these plastic coverings will appear clear if installed using a hair dryer to heat them. (Duck Brand or 3M, both readily available at home improvement stores and less expensive than Lucite sheets so commonly seen at registers.)
6) Finally, offering the potential for contact tracing to health departments might assist the haunts in helping their local health departments, making them more likely to approve the openings. In the words of Chuck Mound, owner of HauntHuntersApp, “The possibility of contact tracing is made easier if everyone is ordering on-line and with scheduled start times.” The information can be retained by the haunt, delivering information regarding any visitors who may have been around any positive cases in a certain time window.
The challenges are many - more than in other years - but the people I’ve met in this industry are some of the most resilient, most creative, and most passionate people I’ve met. It was only this past year, but the time I spent with Ernie Romegialli touring The Haunted Graveyard in Lake Compounce STILL energizes me and gets me excited to get back out there and wander nervously thru a darkened hallway towards the eerie screams…. C’mon, we gotta’ save Haunt Season!!