One of West Michigan’s most iconic haunted attractions, The Haunt, returns this year with a new location, new owners and new standards.
Ethan Turon is the new creative director and general manager for The Haunt, under the new owner, Doug Sheldon.
Turon said the haunted house process starts right at the end of the prior season. So, in January, Turon made the move from Pittsburgh to Grand Rapids to start preparing for September’s opening.
The planning starts with drawing out what the area will look like — each room, entrance, lighting, sound and much more.
“Once all that’s put together, it’s going in and seeing what kind of material we’re going to use for the sets, where the scares are going to come from,” Turon said. “Once that’s all determined, it’s talking about costumes, makeup, how the characters are going to interact with the sets, if there’s going to be animatronics in the set, how we’re going to light the sets.”
Turon said a lot of people ask him what he does after he’s done working on the haunted house. Little do they know, this is a year-round full-time job.
“October is the easy time of the year; it’s the fun time,” he said. “This is where we get to see the people scream and interact with our creation. The rest of the year is the hard work, the build out, the staging of everything, getting everything together, the prep work.”
Additionally, Turon is bringing his own new style into The Haunt.
“I’m just really excited to open this show because it’s so different than the show has been in the past,” Turon said. “We moved in a new direction with the show and I’m very excited to share that with the community and see how people take our new take on our Halloween tradition that we want to create with them.”
The primary difference is the step up in quality, Turon said.
“We’re a lot more intense,” he said. “The sets are much more refined. They’re Hollywood quality. And we are much more aggressive in our show than the old show.”
Matt Ablan, community actor in Grand Rapids, is the new theme and costume director for The Haunt. He’s responsible for the 68 actors and 200 costume pieces this season. He also worked under the old ownership, and has seen the changes first-hand.
“The attention to detail is much stronger now, so when you walk through the kitchen, for example, it looks lived in,” Ablan said.
Ablan sees the production of The Haunt the same as a theater show.
“The actors all have specific call times,” he said. “We’ve staggered it because there’s different levels of difficulty for the makeup and costumes. When people get bored, their minds wander and I’d rather have them focus on the show. Once we get the call times, I walk through just like a stage manager does.”
Actors say this production of The Haunt is more professional than in the past, and the audition process is more intense. Ablan focuses on three aspects during the audition: voice (sounding scary), physicality (moving creepily) and dedication to character (being able to stay scary for a long amount of time and without laughing).
“I want to make sure they can maintain that character all night, through 1,000 scares a night,” Ablan said. “On a busy night, you’re going to be doing it every 30 seconds when a new group’s walking through.”
Actors get a lot of freedom in the rehearsal process, where they get to adlib their own lines onto their assigned character.
Alicia Mullens has been working for The Haunt for six years. She said her favorite part is working with everyone and becoming like a family with the rest of the cast, and scaring people.
“Scaring people is fun,” Mullens said, laughing.
She said this year is different with Turon and Ablan at the helm of actor training. This year, she’s playing the Psycho Friend Security Officer in Deranged, the Vox Sanitarium.
“Here, they put you in a role and they make sure you know what you’re doing and that’s your character,” she said.
This year, the acting is much more focused, Mullens noted.
Turon hopes to see the community show up to the new production of West Michigan’s The Haunt, and continue to come each year.
“This is a show, obviously to scare people, but to bring in that Halloween tradition,” he said. “This is a high-caliber, high-scare, run-for-your-life-scream-bloody-murder show. This isn’t just a kid’s show.”
1256 28th St. SW, Grand Rapids
Sept. 15-Nov. 3,
various dates, $25