In a year where nothing is going right, it’s hard to find a silver lining to 2020. With dozens of theme parks shut down and even the entertainment behemoths like Universal and Disney struggling, everything seems to be in freefall. As we move closer and closer to October, us at Gilderfluke started wondering, what is the world of Haunt going to look like this year? How are they doing it? Unlike many other theme parks and attractions, the Haunt industry only has about a month and a half to entertain the public- it’s all or nothing. We made it our mission to do a series of blog articles focusing on the world of Haunt and how they plan to weather the 2020 storm (you can find our other articles throughout the month on our blog). This article is a special edition for Themed Attraction.com and we hope it’ll shine a positive light on this passionate subsect of the themed entertainment community.
Last week, I was lucky enough to interview Spencer Terry, Haunt Master at Fear Factory in Salt Lake City, UT. We discussed his changes made this year and how it compares with a normal year. The plans are creative and proactive. The people of Utah have a great Halloween season on their hands! Their key changes revolve around going above and beyond state, and local guidelines, extensive actor and employee training, using increased show control/automation and establishing regular contact with his local health department and council people.
The first adjustments made were to get Fear Factory in compliance with local and state regulations for health and safety. In normal season they’re open 40 days, this year will be around 30. Spencer sees 3,500-4,000 people a night with a 300 person staff, 170 employees working at any given time in a six-building facility. Flow-wise, they usually would do groups of 8-10. All of this will be changed to provide a healthy and safe experience for guests. Fear Factory expects guest numbers to be closer to 2,500-3,000 as a result of smaller groups moving through the Haunt. They have employees dedicated to sanitizing/bleaching water coolers and areas frequented by guests every 5 minutes, including sanitizing bathrooms every 10-15 minutes. Staff has easy access to hand sanitizers across the property. For guest use, they have creatively placed hand sanitizer pumps inside the chest cavity of skeletons all around the Haunt. They have also enacted a minimum of 8-16’ distancing between groups throughout the Haunt, which is another fantastic example of Fear Factory going above and beyond in order to ensure safety for their guests. Another unique route Fear Factory took for 2020 was getting in contact with their local SLC health department and city council members. As a former city councilman, Spencer has the luck of the ins and outs of contacting those in local government. This has allowed Fear Factory to open on time under Salt Lake City guidelines.
Actor and employee training have also been crucial for keeping guests and employees safe throughout the Halloween season. Spencer’s team has retrained actors on how to scare people safely and from a distance while still keeping things scary. Masks are required in their county and signage is everywhere reminding guests to keep masks over their mouths and nose. Beyond this, they have tons of signage informing guests that if they take their masks off within the Haunted House, they will simply be allowed to walk through the Haunt. Neither the actors nor employees will approach them or scare them. Spencer made the excellent point- “We tell them, and have signage everywhere stating ‘thanks for your donation, but we will not scare you.’ If there’s someone who takes their mask off in the Haunt, I’d rather everyone stay away from that person than send 3 or 4 people in to try and get them to put their mask on.”
One of the biggest things they’ve done this year, when they realized around April that things were not going to be normal this year, was put a show control contingency plan into place. In the past, the decoy has been the animated object and they were scared by the actor- this has been reversed this year. So, you have an actor in a hallway doing a quick pop-out. Then, the scare comes from something automated (like a blow of air, flash of light, visuals, etc.), this still provides that one-two punch while keeping things physically distanced. Projections have been a big addition as well, providing a visual distraction while an actor or other automated scare pops out from behind.
Lastly, another major change was made regionally in Utah. They moved to unify all the Haunts throughout Utah to keep everyone on the same page and despite their friendly correspondence of one-upmanship, they wanted to come together to ensure everyone’s survival through 2020. As Spencer mentioned, “There is truth that there are power in numbers… become a member of HAA, of all years this is the year to do it. They have cool exclusives and seminars for the industry like makeup tutorials, sexual harassment training and various contingency plans [for opening during COVID.]” If you’re a Haunter, check out the Haunted Attractions Association.
Despite Fear Factory’s plans to scare Salt Lake City, not everyone is so lucky this year. With so many different state regulations, some Haunts can open with restrictions and others can’t open at all. Those that are closed this year are gearing up for battle in 2021 with increased budgets, upgrades focusing intently on innovation and creativity. “2021 is going to be lit, I’m really excited for what the Haunt community is gearing up to do for next year”, said Spencer. At least there’s a silver lining.
Like so many others around the county, Fear Factory’s creative proactivity is a fantastic representation of how the industry can roll with the punches. Despite how crazy and disheartening things may seem right now, enterprising teamwork can get you through it. If you’re in the Salt Lake City area, be sure to check out Fear Factory SLC! They just had a huge building added onto their structure, so it’s better than ever and safer than ever!
We here at Gilderfluke wish Spencer Terry and all Haunters the best of luck this Halloween season! We also wish everyone at Themed Attractions a Happy Halloween- and remember- Halloween is the best holiday and can be celebrated safely! Check us out next week on the GilderBlog for more Haunt articles!