Rex B. Hamilton reports on the 2011 TransWorld convention
March 22, 2011
Greetings, Fellow Haunters:
The 2011 edition of TransWorld’s Halloween and Attractions Show was in St. Louis the weekend before last. I was there from Wednesday afternoon until Sunday afternoon. This was my 15th consecutive visit to our show of shows.
The biggest overall change to the convention this year was that vendors of costumes and party supplies were re-invited to take part. Those vendors had had their own separate TransWorld convention for the past two years after the Halloween and Attractions Show moved from Chicago to Las Vegas in 2008 and then to St. Louis in 2009.
For many years in Chicago, the combined TransWorld convention had been a really big item. During the 90s and 00s there were 3 or 4 times as many costume and party vendor booths as there were from the haunt industry. Here in 2011 the overall number of vendor booths appeared to be evenly split between the two camps.
Since 2009 many of the costume and party vendors have been lured away to the new Halloween and Party Expo in Houston, produced by a company other than TransWorld. Now that TransWorld has decided to focus all its energy into a single Halloween-themed convention, it will be interesting to see which vendors come back from the wilderness. Could a return to Chicago be far behind?
The drive during the day on Wednesday was through steady rain most of the 550-mile trip from Cleveland. My Scab 5 comrade Jeff “Samhain” Glatzer and I once again had a room in the Renaissance Grand Hotel from which we could look down upon the convention center’s front doors. We didn’t get unpacked and settled in until after the dinner hour. The evening was spent hanging out in the bar at the Renaissance with old friends and new acquaintances.
Walking onto the convention floor as it opened to the public on Thursday at 9:30 AM was just like all the years before. All the noisy, clanging, whooshing items jolt my senses into shouting at me “Yes, it looks like winter is just about over, mister big-shot actor, and you had better get a move on with your changes, plans and new items for the upcoming haunted season.” What an invigorating slap in the face.
I attended the Brainstorming Event that the Haunted Attraction Association put on in the late afternoon. The affair was hosted and ramrodded by Ben Armstrong, one of the co-producers of Netherworld in Atlanta. The good-sized crowd of haunters were not very vocal so Ben had to call on people to liven up the conversation. He was nice enough to call on me a few times for thoughts and observations from an actor’s point of view.
Next on my Thursday schedule was the TransWorld Opening Night Industry Party at a large saloon called the Flamingo Bowl. I got there about an hour late and by then the whole place was packed - no room to sit. This is the second year that insurance maven Ken Donat has sponsored a big opening-night blowout with drinks and food for everyone who wears a convention badge.
Much later that night I quietly crashed the Insane Shane Kick-Off Party just in time to take photographs of the costume contest. This fancy party was held in the Crystal Ballroom on the Renaissance’s 20th floor. I didn’t eat or drink anything - I was there for the photos, and there were plenty of contestants and guests for me to shoot.
Friday the 11th was the easiest day on my TransWorld schedule. Just like Thursday, I snuck into the seminars for just a minute or two and snapped a few photos of each presenter. Otherwise, I cruised the convention floor and gawked at everything around me.
Just before Noon, I took a deep breath and signed up to become a member of the Haunted Attraction Association (HAA). This is a new industry group, formed from what was the International Association of Haunted Attractions (IAHA) and the Haunted House Association (HHA). Since I am not now a haunt owner, I was not privy to the negotiations that brought the two groups together. I only learned of the merger/new group about a month before TransWorld.
As far as I know, I’m the only actor in the HAA. This isn’t anything new for me. I was a charter member (March 13, 199 and former director of the IAHA, and for most of those years I was the only performer in that organization, too.
My reasons for being a member of the haunt industry’s trade association haven’t changed since the IAHA was formed 13 years ago: I consider myself to be a leader in the haunt industry and I want to associate myself with haunters who take this business seriously, too. Very seriously.
The only commitment on my Friday schedule was the Haunted Attraction Association’s auction, held in the late afternoon. The large meeting room was Standing Room Only, with bidders spilling out the doors into the hallways. Auctioneer Trey Cottle kept up a steady stream of bid calling while his smart-aleck ringman, Rich Hanf, spotted bids and threw in the occasional cornpone joke.
I was an auction item once again. I gave away the final weekend in October to the highest bidder, who just happened to be Bill Criscione of Ghostly Manor in Sandusky, Ohio. I’ve worked at Ghostly Manor several times. The show is modest in size but it’s surprisingly intense, actor- friendly and nicely decorated. Two summers ago haunt artist Dan Faupel was hired to install a very nice facade on the building, which also houses a skating rink and a Family Entertainment Center.
There was a small twist to this auction; shortly after the event began Haunted Attraction Association president Pat Konopelski sidled up to me and asked if I would take photographs for the association. Perhaps you’ll see some of these photos in the next few weeks.
Saturday the 12th was my big day at TransWorld. At 7:30 that morning Jeff Glatzer began applying his latest make-up creation to my face. The piece incorporates 14 different prosthetics, a bald cap, a latex-and-raw-cotton buildup and 40 acres of highlight and shadow. At 10 AM we took some photographs of the finished opus and then got the costume all straightened out. When I hit the show floor at 10:30 AM the place was swarming with customers and the air was thick with noise and artificial fog.
One of the fun parts about being really, really ugly on the TransWorld show floor is that many people want their picture taken with you. Of course there were plenty of fun props, costumes, animatronics, bodies and masks all around us and in every direction, competing for the attendees’ attention. But it is the performers in a haunted house, their bizarre looks and quirky mannerisms that make the greatest impression upon the paying public.
In the early afternoon I worked for a time at the Midwest Haunters Convention booth. This year’s MHC takes place on the weekend of June 3-5 in Columbus, Ohio and I will be there. Then I strolled down the aisle a bit and helped out the at Haunted Attraction Association booth for a spell. I am not sure what the HAA will bring to the haunt industry that the IAHA and the HHA did not, but I don’t care. I challenge them one and all to surprise me with something new.
I took a lot of photographs and was gawked at by hundreds and hundreds of people that Saturday. The show floor was a very busy place and I hope all the vendors fared well. I got so caught up in all the whirligig of talking to gobs of people non-stop that I didn’t visit the seminar speakers and snap a photo or two of them as I had faithfully done on Thursday and Friday.
My main Saturday event was the Haunted Attraction Association Awards Banquet in the Grand Ballroom of the Holiday Inn Select that evening. As far as I could tell, the banquet room was well filled up and many seemed to enjoy the buffet dinner that was served.
The awards ceremony itself was a small, private triumph for me. To wit: For years I’ve been telling anyone and everyone who would listen how talented and inventive Dwayne Sanburn and his associates from Carnevil and The 13th Gate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana really are. And for the past few years I’ve preached to my fellow monsters and monsteresses in Ohio that they cannot miss working for an evening or three at The Factory of Terror in Canton, Ohio. Both haunts rightfully won special awards that evening.
There was another small twist to this event: moments before the award ceremony began Haunted Attraction Association president Pat Konopelski quietly asked me to take some photographs of the proceedings. Perhaps you’ll see some of these shots soon.
By the time I got back to my hotel room at around 10 PM, my head had been encased by Jeff’s piece for more than 14 hours. The answer to the trick question “what is the largest human organ?” is “the skin.” The skin on my face was so very, very happy when that appliance came off.