Maybe you’ve been to a haunted house in Sidney, NE. Or you’ve gone to the Golden Spike Tower corn maze in North Platte for a couple of years at Halloween. You probably think that all haunted attractions are like these. People who’ve been to haunted houses in Denver would know better, but for folks who’ve lived their whole lives in Nebraska, it might be hard to understand the popularity of haunted attractions in the United States.
Indeed, even city-folks who religiously visit the Denver haunted attractions begin to believe they’ve seen it all after a few years. In Nebraska, haunted attractions are often an afterthought. A Nebraska haunt owner may throw a couple masks at their scare actors and tell them to jump out and yell “BOO!” at the patrons. In the city, haunts tend to be so overrun with patrons that the experience can actually be dulled by the hordes of other people following them through the haunt corridors. Despite the excellent acting, great make-up effects, and detailed sets, the presence of fifteen other people makes things decidedly less creepy.
School District 13 is different. Its location at the Colorado-Nebraska border in a tiny town along I-80 makes our haunt super-accessible, but still relatively isolated from the hordes. The whole city of Brule, Nebraska is haunted so even when there are crowds of people, there’s still room for everyone to have their own experience. The haunts are less detailed than the ones you’d find in Denver, but patrons don’t notice because of the use of psychological tricks to hijack patron’s brains when they’re inside the haunts. Theatrics and sets are important at School District 13 too, particularly on the streets of Brule, but there’s been more time spent studying the research on brain-wave technologies than how to sculpt Styrofoam into something that looks like bricks.
At School District 13, the patron experience is important but the experience that our volunteers have working in Brule is equally as important. John and Jennifer Shipp make an effort to give each volunteer an unforgettable experience through the Halloween festival. Ideally, all the volunteers learn something new about themselves through their time at School District 13.
Volunteers put on their costumes early in the day for their shift at School District 13 and then another group of volunteers work to apply prosthetics, ready the fake teeth, and put on the make-up and do the hair for each scare actor. Most of the volunteers don’t know where they’ll be placed for the night, so there’s a lot of suspense in the room and the energy level is usually pretty high. As the sun sets, John takes the scare actors into the haunts in groups to give them guidance and direction. Each scare actor gets direction and instruction on how to make the most out of their specific position.
Crises happen. Some of our volunteers feel overwhelmed. They doubt themselves. The house lights go out and the special effects are turned on. Suddenly, a group of people who may or may not have been friendly before they started working together are collaborating in surprising ways. Volunteers who thought they were shy find that they have a crazy, outgoing side. Volunteers who are normally abrasive or confrontative in day-to-day life, find that the character that works best for them is a giggler. Strange things happen inside the haunts for our volunteers at School District 13.
At the end of the night, our volunteers go home tired, but exhilarated. And then they come back and do it again 24 hours later.