View Full Version : New member, new haunt...

03-31-2008, 12:58 PM
Hi all, and thanks for all the great information in previous posts!

I teach theatre technology and design at a university and will be running a haunt for the first time this Fall. The theatre department was recently were given a gymnasium and I plan on using 1220 sq. ft. of it for a small maze-style haunt. It will be produced as part of a theatre class (TA 407: Haunt) so that there should be a dedicated core of students involved in the project. I hope to use proceeds to endow a scholarship fund within three years or so. The first year I kinda hope to break even.

I have a small budget (less than 10k) but I also have access to a lot of good stuff; actors, a scene shop, costume shop, skilled workers, high-end projection equipment, large DMX controlled strobe lights, fog/haze machines, dimmers and controllers, and the like. I also have full access to State Surplus - the stuff that is available only to government agencies rather than the auctions that are open to the public - a true treasure-trove.

I've been reading the various forums, buying books, subscribing to magazines, and just came back from TransWorld. What I don't yet know about haunts I'm trying to smooth over with theatre skills....

I have two questions at this point.

1) With a small, approx. 6 room haunt, can I charge $5 per person without offending too many people? This should end up being a well-dressed, actor-heavy haunt that advertises itself as a scholarship fundraiser. It will be held on-campus in a small town that is (I believe) at least 1.5 hours away from the nearest large, pro haunt.

2) Can I cover the maze with some sort of ceiling, at least in part? We have a good relationship with the fire marshal, but I want to be better educated before I present the plan. The gym has sprinklers and I know that this is an issue, as well as smoke venting. I've looked at flame-retardant muslin as one option. It is affordable and comes in a variety of pre-dyed colors. I also looked at a product called SmokeOut, a flame-resistant fabric designed for expo booth ceilings, that has seams that open up to let smoke out when they get hot. It is very expensive however, about $60 a yard. I see that 13th Gate has solid ceilings with openings that could allow smoke to exit - might this work with fabric?


03-31-2008, 01:18 PM
Hi, I don't think anyone will be mad about $5.00, with the things you already have to work with without spending a dime yet I think you could even go higher. It all is about how good a show it is. Six rooms, how about $6.00 as for putting on a cover, I'm not sure about this. I have seen some covered haunts but the cover was here and there with holes in it, not a roof. Someone here should be able to answer this one for you. Good Luck!

03-31-2008, 01:38 PM
Most fire marshalls will not let you create a ceiling with anything solid. I'm permitted to use camo netting and wood lattice. Anything that will block the water flow from the sprinklers is not allowed.

You'll need to check with your local fire authority.

03-31-2008, 02:14 PM
Every state and municipality is different in regards to what the fire marshal will allow. The best thing to do would be to ask for him to come by so you can explain what you want to do. If he objects, be ready with alternatives and see what he says about them. Lots of actors will probably help you in many ways. Animatronics are great but have limits on what they can do so having lots of actors should really help your haunt. I think $10,000 should be more than enough. Be sure to save some of it for promotion (never to be underestimated). With lots of people to help, something you might try is something I haven't seen discussed much but would probably be called semi-animatronic. A big expense in these types of props is the sensors and rest mechanisms. You could build some that are activated by someone hidden behind the scene, saving a lot of time and money on some nice props your first year. Hope this helps.


03-31-2008, 02:36 PM
Kudos to you! It sounds like you definitely have your work cut out for you, but that you have a lot of rich resources! I think you could probably charge a little more than $5.00 and people would understand. We're an outdoor haunt (in a cornfield in the middle of nowhere) so I don't know about the roof, your fire safety inspector should come out and see what you have in mind and be able to advise you what your limits are. On the otherhand, a haunted gymnasium sounds like a lot of fun -- I'm thinking of the way sound will travel in there! Very cool. I work at a private university in Texas, but if our Theatre dept. offered a "Haunt 101" I'd sign up in a heart beat. You say the closest pro haunt is 1.5 hrs away, but what is the population base of your area? If marketed correctly, with a good show, I think you'll be surprised at how quickly you can draw a crowd! Sounds like fun! Good luck!

03-31-2008, 04:25 PM
Thanks for the info - you folks are speedy! As for the local market; first off, we're on a state university campus with about 5000 students. Other than that, we're a very small town surrounded by other very small towns and a lot of livestock. Salem, the state capital, is 25 minutes away, but we generally don't consider it a source for audience - Salem folks can drive to Portland (where the big haunts and theatres are) in little more time that it takes to get to us. On the other hand, with no other cost than a few posters, we can get 1600 people into the theatre to see a stage play over the course of a few performances. If I could get 2000 people through the door my first year over 5 nights, I'd be pretty happy. It would be manageable enough that we could learn something about the arts of crowd control and throughput, and would allow the haunt to break even the first year. Anything above that would be gravy!


03-31-2008, 05:17 PM
You may find that you will get a lot of people from those small towns. With nothing to do they might just come out of the wood work to go to your haunt. I live in Melrose Florida and am 12 miles down a two line road going through the woods. We had over 1000 people show up over two nights.

03-31-2008, 05:57 PM
Most of the time there isn't a lot to do and the residents will jump at the opportunity to be entertained, or just have the yell scared out of them. That's an important distinction right there, and entertainment is something you might want to consider since you will have so many actors. There are some haunts where the whole thing is set up more as a show than a walk-through event. In the meantime, do a search on here using the term actor and look at what some of the people who work in haunts have come up with. There are lots of people who can easily outscare a $20,000 animatronic and be more entertaining while they are doing it.

P.S.: That was supposed to say "sensors and reset mechanisms" in my first post.

03-31-2008, 07:15 PM
Just throwing this out here: I went to a small haunted house at a state college a couple of years back--like you, less than ten rooms, and they only charged $5-6.

Despite its small scale, it was one of the better haunts I went to that year because it was clear they put a lot of time and effort into making all the little details count. The sets were rich in amusement park-quality design and detailing. Everything was totally thought out, and there was so much to see that it still took a good 10-15 minutes to stroll leisurely through and take everything in. (In their case, what I believe they had going for them was the fact that their haunt was built more around illusions and atmosphere than adrenaline-pumping scares that would have had people rushing through the whole thing in a minute and a half.)

The bottom line is, people will be satisfied if they feel they got their money's worth, and the only way to ensure that is by sincerely doing your best to put on a good show.

Dr. Haunt Chamber of Fear
03-31-2008, 07:45 PM
The general rule is you charge $1 for every minute they are inside your attraction. If your haunt takes 10 minutes to go through charge $10. After you build your haunt - have someone unrelated to the project walk through with actors scaring until you can know the normal customer pace. To help off set a charge to high for our poor college kids give them a student ID discount or distribute coupons.

With a theater department you could also do some neat outside attraction for a 5 minute horror skit every 1/2 hour to give the customers more time at your event and more money in your pocket.

Greg Chrise
03-31-2008, 08:21 PM
Covering the top is entirely up to your firemarshal and what kind of fire department services your event. To have a covered top, generally everyone feels more comfortable with fire trucks and personel on site during the even seconds from being able to hook up and enter a building to evacuate people. Not down the street with a 20 minute responce time. This may be no problem as a campus might have their own?

The justification for a covered top is that it keeps the fog and haze contained that once out of the structure there is no visibility issues to exit. But, a fire marshal may just say no because of the availability of a sprinkler system. In some cases we can't even put a decorative half roof on a facade as it might cover 32 SF of the sprinkler systems function.

Other things you can do to make up for it are not hard, is have an exit, even an actor entry every 50 lineal feet through the maze. Have fire extinguishers in each room and more out on the behind the scenes. The patrons don't necessarily know these all lead to the outside corridor around the whole haunt but all the actors do.

A maze can be pulled off with 60 single sided walls costing $30 new painted. So, $2,000 there, everything else in the begining years, you try to get donated in exchange for free note of being a sponsor such as the fire extinguishers provided by ABC fire supply. Same for electrical harness and sound equipment where you may be lacking. $1250 to $2500 event insurance (unless the campus policy already covers this)

In any advertising and announcements, I would refrain from glorifying that this scary event benefits a theatrical endevor, even though it does. It should be on the fine print at the site but not the reason for the season. You will only end up with half as many show up if it is prejudged as some venue they normally would not attend like a play. In other words, you are entering an opportunity to introduce the mass public to theater and attending your plays but, they came to see a haunted house if you get my drift.

I know a bunch of theatrical types are going to say this isn't so, but, it is. There is nothing wrong with a haunted theatrical offering but, advertising as such can be a turn off to the non academic and that is who a majority of the customers are that will come from miles away for something to do.

60 and 80 miles from here I have just such a scenario. A haunt that is 20,000 SF that has everything going for it and been doing it for more than 20 years but their public service announcement says it benefits a theater organization. They see 2800 per year. The other is in a rural setting and hardly advertises and sees 8,000 patrons per year having only been there 8 years. Then a highly theatrical scene driven haunt I know sees 25,000 and it only has the name of a haunt and a story of a haunt. In fact is is a long standing boy scout organization. Many of these are in towns census wise less than 500 proper.

In a way, saying it is for a charity or a greater good in todays consumer world means it isn't great because all the money goes to the charity. The would be patron wants to pay for a good experience, not 20 percent of an experience being offered and 80 percent absconded with. Or at least this is the perception. Only a 50 year old might understand the donation part. So no reason to confuse them, just get them there and they will like it.

Jim Warfield
03-31-2008, 09:18 PM
People are strange.
After a couple paid for their group's rental of my house for a Murder/Mystery the wife said in a mean tone of voice,"I SUPPOSE THAT YOU WILL JUST USE THAT MONEY WE PAID YOU TO PAY A LIGHT BILL OR A WATER BILL?"
What do you say to this? The tone I mean? Of course I will be using this money to pay a bill, this is how I make my living.
Maybe I was supposed to tell her I was going to use "their" $120 to raise Dracula from the dead? Finance the next Mars probe? Start an eventual multi-billion dollar company selling waxed toilet paper?

If I charged people a dollar for each minute they were in my tour, admission would be $90. Of course they may back-charge me for the gas to drive three hours from Chicago and with hold money for having to stand in line for 45 minutes, but then, the very inexpensive booze they have at Charlie's next door all makes everything "peachy". (Too "Peachy" and they won't get in my door, though...)

Greg Chrise
04-01-2008, 07:22 PM
That, what she said sounds judgemental like that's why you just sold some hubcaps.

The proper responce should be wait 90 minutes and then guess what your money will be used for. There IS going to be a quizz.

What she said proves she is very un community minded, somewhat greedy and of lower income. But, venting it on others somehow makes her frustration okay. Plus I'm guessing prejudging in the first room or before even entering.

I would give (if I could remember) the full tour as if nothing had insulted me, then on the walk back to the cars. Okay, what do you think I'm going to do with the money.

A) Save it and then next 20 tours money combined to pay some bill
B) Make sure the lights stay on so others can have a good time here
C) Pay a therapist so I can forget how rude you were 90 minutes ago?
D) Buy a wheel barrow full of fish food.

Your answer? and then sing the jepardy song. Goodnight! then go ninja.

Greg Chrise
04-01-2008, 07:40 PM
A big ninja puff of smoke at the Hudson trunk. Jim's gone, no questions answered. Something to ponder a very long time. To worry if the lights are going to stay on at the nursing home.

Greg Chrise
04-01-2008, 07:58 PM
Have you ever sent anyone head first down the bad dream bed? There can be extra special shows!

Jim Warfield
04-01-2008, 11:11 PM
They walk into my first room, the hand comes up, "I have a question."
"$5.00 a question." "Do you have a rest room?"
"Yes, and I will sell you a map to it for only $5.00 more, it's printed on toilet paper so you don't give it to your friends."