Remember when Halloween used to be about little kids trick-or-treating, scary movies and the crazy Boo Radley type down the block? Now it’s about greeting cards, drunken teenagers and drug stores having enough tchotchkes to fill the aisles between Labor Day and Christmas. But in recent years, the holiday has also sparked the creation of interactive theater-meets-amusement-park experiences. Theater producers have taken note that families who wouldn’t be caught dead at Dial M for Murder flock to see the same thrills reenacted outside the confines of a stage.
No surprise then that Long Island has its own version of the haunted experience, courtesy of 64-year-old Gateway Playhouse in Bellport. “In the fall, we love getting involved with haunted-house craziness… We have five acres of an estate here, including a theater, a barn and a big yard, so we can go inside, outside, vertical, horizontal—you lose track of where you are on the property. Plus, we use professional actors and designers to up the ante from the run-of-the-mill,” said development director Scot Allan.
One way Gateway distinguishes its annual Halloweening is through themes. Last year, the concepts were contagion and quarantining. “This year,” said Allan, “it’s Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” Allan also noted that unlike some scare productions, Gateways welcomes all ages, “though on weekends, we have a special children’s theater more tailored to those under age 12.” Younger kids would be advised to steer clear any other time.
Director Michael Baker, whose background is mainly in drama, takes his greatest pride in the theatrical underpinnings of this year’s haunt. “It’s not just a chainsaw guy, a scarecrow guy, a clown guy,” he said. “Some of the actors have stayed with us every year, so we can make character and makeup choices based on their personalities. Maybe they’re tumblers, or street performers, or they can eat fire or have multiple piercings.
Also, there’s an intro, a beginning and an end, with everything tying together through some great haunted-house catharsis the patrons have… We want people to think and talk about it after they leave. Not just, ‘I screamed the whole time’ but ‘that character freaked me out.’”
Allan and Baker’s enthusiasm is borne out by many attendees of last year’s production who responded with rave comments on the website, LIHauntedHouses.com, and the dedicated visitors returning year after year. “The haunted house fan is all over the spectrum,” Allan noted. “They come back and come back. They bring friends, family… I don’t like the word ‘cult,’ but it becomes something of a cult classic. And we make sure you see something different every time you go through.”
This year’s Haunted Playhouse runs thru November 2. Gateway is located at 215 South Country Rd in Bellport and gatewayplayhouse.com.