The work behind Hansee’s haunted house

Props that will be used in the Hansee hall haunted house await their placement as the Hansee hal council prepares for opening night. (Photo by Pong Somboon)

There are red leaves on the ground and pumpkins everywhere. You know what time of year it is: Halloween. For all college students unable to indulge in their favorite old TV-movies like “Hocus Pocus,” “Beetlejuice,” and “Scary Godmother,” they can at least indulge in this year’s Hansee haunted house.

Hansee, the oldest dorm on campus, has been around since the 1930s, but the haunted house tradition has been around for 20 years. 

Via The Daily

The details about the house weren’t officially recorded until 2005, however, so the historical specifics have yet to be unmasked.

“Each residence hall has their own thing, and this is our thing,” said Austin Dearborn, this year’s haunted house director. “I’m not entirely sure why it started, and I’ve asked the director before me and she didn’t really know.”

That director, he said, had been in charge of the event for three years. This is Dearborn’s first run at orchestrating a haunted house.

Despite new eyes, there are two traditions that have stood, and will continue to stand, the test of time: putting up “the dot room,” and making breakfast for dinner while volunteers clean up.

The dot room is essentially a room covered in black with neon-colored dots on every wall, glowing under a black light. But those walls may be more than they appear.

Dearborn is the head of the student crew putting together the haunted house. The crew is broken up into six categories: the director, room designers, construction workers, make-up artists, costume designers, and actors. 

The director is in charge of the overall flow, managing the budget, and working with the executive board. Room designers essentially create the space that people walk through (including decorations), and come up with the ideas for construction and design. The make-up team does the obvious, and the costume designers use either old costumes and alter them for their actors or buys new ones.

The actors, however, do their job opening day, playing the crucial role of scaring all those who enter. 

Despite the organizational structure, the crews still faced an unexpected obstacle this year.

Events at the UW used to be structured so that a fire marshal would come and check out the venue, and permits weren’t necessary. But as of January, events are required to obtain permits.

Hansee is short one such permit this year. That means the walls typically put up to create a maze within the haunted house have to be tossed out the window. The student team also can’t cover any preexisting walls with plastic or tarp, usually black, which is normally used to darken a room. 

Despite the drastic setback and being forced to rethink the entire floor plan, the crew remains optimistic.

“I think everyone is very supportive of each other, and we’re all working together to make it be the best thing it can be,” room design coordinator Alexandra Stuart-Lovell said. “It’s been a really good experience.”

For Stuart-Lovell, who is coordinating the rooms for the first time this year, the pressure is on because the changes mean last-minute alterations for room designs. 

“The hardest part is figuring out how to turn the entire first floor into something scary a week before the event,” she explained. “It was supposed to just be a small area in the lounges, which we already had built.”

By changing the walkway from being just Hansee’s lounges to its entire first floor, the regular residents at Hansee would have lost access to their rooms and the bathrooms for far too long. That is why much of the decorating will take place right before opening day, Stuart-Lovell said.

Despite the setbacks, the haunted house has already sold approximately 300 tickets, according to Dearborn. A ticket is only $1 and can be purchased at the front desk of any dorm. 

While the crew deals with a larger work area, they are still hoping to draw in more actors for the night of terrors. There are approximately 50 students working to put the whole thing together, and the crew is in search of more volunteers.

There’s more to the creation of Hansee’s haunted house than stress, however; there’s also passion.

Bay Loovis, one of the room designers, remains motivated and inspired to keep innovating.

“I feel like all of the rooms have to keep up to that scary standard in order for it to be good, because if one is really lame, and the rest are good, that ruins it,” Loovis said. “I want students to like it and I want them to enjoy themselves, that’s kind of why we’re doing it.”

The director had some past trauma that motivates his work this year: His mom forced him to go home for Halloween last year, and he had to miss the haunted house. 

Not this time.

“I love haunted houses,” Dearborn said. “I just like the scary factor of it.”

Hansee’s haunted house will open this Friday at 7 p.m.

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