In a darkened labyrinth, mad scientists lurk around their twisted contraptions, a mechanical horse monster entices you to games of chess, and spectral girls hover, whispering secrets and fears. Those are some of the creepy encounters you’ll find at the Steampunk Haunted House, produced by Third Rail Projects. Located at the Abrons Arts Center in NYC, the popular immersive Halloween experience has engaged visitors since 2009 with its combination of traditional Gothic horror and art-house sensibilities. Last Friday, I had an opportunity to preview this year’s gorgeous haunted attraction and speak with creative co-director/choreographer Zach Morris about the dreams and nightmares found on the other side of the looking glass.
You won’t find the usual peeled-grape eyeballs or people with bloody axes here. “We are interested in creating a haunted house filled with contemporary installations,” Morris said, “where you can make a really satisfying experience that isn’t your standard blood and gore.” To accomplish this feat, he worked with a talented creative staff, including co-directors Tom Pearson and Jennine Willett, to create a fully-realized exploration down to the last detail cobweb and teacup. Unlike other haunted houses, participants are separated by the performers into ones or twos to make individuals feel as if they are Alice entering into a new world.
Each installation is packed full of fanciful vintage and Victoriana, creating a forgotten but sinister atmosphere. The performances given by the haunters, which include trained professional dancers and children from Abron’s Urban Youth acting program, add a level of intricacy on top of scare tactics. The result is an experience that will send chills down your spine and lasting impressions of terrible beauty.
Morris and his team also view the haunted house as a creative platform that can introduce performance art to people who don’t normally show up to see traditional theater. He’s also proud of the array of the artists involved in this yearly venture: “It really is a collaborative effort to make this an exciting opportunity to work with world-class artists on a project that is exciting, fun and ultimately accessible.” Other people associated with this project include costume designers Karen Young and Julianne Kroboth, set/interaction designer Christopher Cummings, lighting design by Kryssy Wright and original music from Sean Hagerty.
And why Wonderland this year? The theme “Through the Looking Glass” is part of a larger year-long project Third Rail Projects is focusing on involving the works of Lewis Carroll. “This is a collective nightmare that perhaps both Alice and Lewis are dreaming,” Morris explained about this particular event. Indeed, along with multiple versions of Alice (as the fictive character and the historical Alice Liddell who inspired her), Carroll also makes an appearance.
This won’t be the last time we’ll be seeing these characters. In the spring of 2012, Third Rail Projects plans an evening-length event that will expand upon the installations found in this year’s House. So if you enjoy what you’ve seen this Halloween, make sure to save the date for a return to Wonderland soon.
Check out more pictures from the preview below, provided by IDAP Photography (thanks Geoff!) and at Tor.com Steampunk on Facebook. The Steampunk Haunted House runs from now until Oct 31st. More info can be found at http://steampunkhauntedhouse.com/.