Once, we dressed a scare actor in a gorilla suit and he passed out from heat exhaustion and low blood sugar in our corn maze. We’d warned him to eat something and to take breaks often, but this young man was enthusiastic about scaring and he forgot to bring a snack with him to the maze. When we finally found him, we brought him in and fed him some peanut butter.
At the beginning of the haunt season, when it’s time for Lydian and Jennifer Shipp to start working on the costuming and make-up, we never know who will who at School District 13. Because we rely exclusively on volunteers for our haunt crew, we can’t plan ahead on our costuming and make-up. Rather, Lydi and Jennifer “study” the costumes, the prosthetics, the fake-teeth, the white-out contact lenses. They memorize what’s in the costume and make-up room before the Pre-Scare, which is usually scheduled the weekend before our opening night at School District 13.
At the Pre-Scare, John, Lydi, and Jennifer educate the volunteers about things like hot gorilla suits and the importance of snacks. They take the volunteers on a tour of the town and the haunts to see the infrastructure of the whole festival. They play video tutorials and discuss scenarios. If there’s time, they do a costume and make-up trial run. Often, they put the volunteers into situations that are “socially ambiguous” just to see what they do. It’s these situations that help Jennifer decide how to cast volunteers on their first night at the festival.
Most people go through their entire lives with little variation in their routine from day-to-day. This even includes teenagers who, by the time they get to School District 13, have spent most of their days in a public school environment. When the Shipps put a rigidly routine-oriented person into a socially ambiguous situation, they often gets some interesting results. These are used, by Jennifer, to determine who is given what costume/character and where each volunteer is placed.
The week prior to the School District 13 opening each October is high-powered with last minute details put into place, marketing, volunteer recruitment efforts, and staffing as major concerns. Unlike most haunted houses in Nebraska, School District 13 is more than just an indoor haunt or two. The whole town is haunted, particularly along the paths where patrons walk and linger (zombies and vampires are naturally drawn to the still-incarnate beings, of course).
Volunteers are sometimes surprised by the characters we expect for them to play at our Halloween festival. Inevitably, they’re nervous when we put them in position in the haunts, on the streets, in the bus, or at the ticket booth. Would you wear the gorilla suit, a Giant Corn Cob costume or be Rudolph the Red (pronounced Woo-doph dah Wed…cousin to Gandalph the Grey)? It takes special people to don these outfits and make them work on the street or in the haunts. It takes courage and conviction. Jennifer looks for those qualities at the Pre-Scare and then John and Jennifer watch for special talents to emerge as the volunteers do their work throughout the haunt season.
Our costumes and make-up are film-quality, top-of-the-line because we’re the best haunted attraction in Nebraska! When our patrons interact with our scare actors, it’s hard to believe they’re really human. School District 13 is not just a haunted attraction, it’s interactive theater. Though many adults may not have the guts or the ambition to wear glue that sticks to their faces for three days, or let gelatin seep from their mouths like drool for eight straight nights, the School District 13 volunteers are incredibly open-minded. They get to do something radically different from the day-to-day grind and School District 13 is much the better for it! That’s why people come to Nebraska for Halloween…it’s not just because we grow big pumpkins, but because we have gutsy actors who’re willing to try new things for the sake of great entertainment.