Coulrophobia and You

killer-clownsOctober represents the 4th year I have been in charge of designing and running the haunted house at Vintage Parkway Elementary in Oakley, where my son is in his final year. Over the years the teachers, administration and students have been very supportive when it comes to my endeavors in creating an integral part to the school’s harvest carnival. Prior to stepping up to take responsibility, another couple managed the haunt where guests could have a “scary” or “no scary” tour through. Needless to say, I got rid of that shit real quick. Why? A haunt is a haunt, part of the fun is to get and be scared, right? So non-scary made no sense to me. Sure it’s an elementary school, but my goal is to have every kid exiting the haunt crying. That tells me, I accomplished my job and the kids had a good time.

The last few years I began searching for a theme to unify the haunt. I wasn’t happy with a mish-mash of crap that may or may not scare kids. Originally, my idea began as a carnival or “carn-evil” theme to keep it in line with the harvest carnival the PTA puts on with booths, games, food and a trunk-or-treat. If I would have realized the need for a theme during the first year I believe I would be further along today, than where I am now. But that’s not why I am blogging today. My unifying theme was clowns or coulrophobia, the fear of clowns.

Social media has taken these otherwise innocuous reports and sent then viral, which the news media picks up and suddenly we have a revolution on our hands as Halloween rolls around. My first interaction with the clown phenomena was watching Dm Pranks Productions on You Tube. Absolutely sick and twisted, but hilarious to watch, the reaction of people running scared, away from what they just experienced.

Now I was realistic, knowing I would not be able to pull off a haunt full of pranks such as Dm Pranks, but the idea was genius! You can thank Stephen King, ‘IT’ and Pennywise in the 90’s for the term coulrophobia. While there are no hard facts and numbers of this phobia, estimates show from 12-15% of the American popular suffer from this. Chances are those numbers might be a bit outdated, thanks in part to social media and the news media blow many stories out of proportion, when individuals just want to have fun. But I am not here to debate the “fun” aspect over luring kids into a forest or van.

My enjoyment of clowns come from seeing the responses I get when others see me in the haunt. Startled, scared, maybe they begin to cry. It’s that satisfaction that tells me, “job well done.” Again, we are in a controlled environment, where none of the actors are going to touch or harass any guest. It’s purely ENTERTAINMENT VALUE! Unfortunately not everyone agrees.

To date, there has only been one incident in the haunt the past 4 years that involved closing it down a bit earlier than anticipated due to older middle or high school kids ruining the fun for the elementary school kids. Administration got involved, which was a good thing. Aside from that one incident, I have never been directed on what to create for the haunt when October rolls around. The administration and teachers have been very supportive of the time and effort I have put in to make the event enjoyable for the students and their parents.

Unfortunately you always seem to have that one parent who speaks out on behalf of the others than won’t saying, “…it’s completely inappropriate with everything going on.” Please, explain that to me. No child in our haunt has been touch, groped or fondled in the 4 years I have been in charge nor in the prior 2 years I was inside the haunt. So explain how dressing up as a clown is inappropriate? Would you prefer a flesh eating zombie? I mean, God forbid we have a zombie apocalypse in the near future, will you prevent your kid from seeing that as well?

“With everything going on…hoax or not this situation should be treated with caution when it comes to our children.” I could not agree more with you. Your child will be safe when they enter my haunt, no harm will come to them, but they might leave teary-eyed. If that’s wrong, then I suggest you and your child stay the hell away from the haunt. It’s scary…for some…but it’s done with best intentions. I am sure you have no idea how much money harvest carnival (which the haunt is part of) brings in for the school? The total amount collected (minus the budget to host the carnival) all goes to the teachers, which in turns goes to each student. Take this event away, both teachers and students lose out.

“I shouldn’t have to keep my son from doing school activities.” Uh, you aren’t. Come enjoy what the harvest carnival has to offer from games and food to trunk-or-treat! The PTA puts on an awesome harvest carnival! The haunt is just one aspect, if you find it inappropriate for you child, then by all means avoid it. No one is forcing to you face your fear of clowns, which has been reported by your local news and gone viral thanks in part to social media.

“This is unbelievable, you guys are worrying about the money you’ll be losing. What about children’s safety?” Above everything else a child’s safety is the most important factor when they enter the haunt. It’s my responsibility to make sure the haunt is built so walls don’t break or props don’t fall down potentially injuring a child. That would be absolutely terrible, something that no amount of apologizing could remedy. If I feel something is unsafe, then I look for another way to do it. When the haunt opens, child safety is still the utmost importance, as long as guests follow the posted rules, which include no running or touching of the props or actors, then everyone will get along and your child will exit. If they become scared and start to panic, we personally escort them out of the haunt.

As for losing money, you get your ass we would lose a lot of money for the teachers! This is one of the biggest and best fund-raisers of the year to close it down or worse, not have the harvest carnival would be devastating to the staff, administration and students of Vintage Parkway. While it wouldn’t be the end of the world, there would be a void in the school year at the end of October when fall rolls around and there is no harvest carnival, no haunt. Just a locked up, darkened school on a Friday night.

As for the clowns, this is my final year at Vintage Parkway. Please feel free to contact me and possibly volunteer your time and money to put on the haunt. To date, no one has stepped forward to take responsibility for next year. If you don’t like the theme, then make a difference, get involved and put together your own theme because this year isn’t changing. It’s coulrophobia and claustrophobia! Enjoy the haunt!

6th Floor Haunted House: Tonight

enter_if_you_dareAfter nearly 3 weeks of construction and countless hours of work, the Vintage Parkway 6th Floor Haunt is ready to open doors. The haunted house has been in development for nearly a year, unfortunately some of the ideas I had hoped to include this year fell by the wayside, as I ran out of time, money or just made the decision not to include it this year. Tackling on this project last year, we failed to develop a theme in which to build around, so buying assorted props and adding more “sutff” to the haunt was how we approached this project.

This year, in the months leading up to the haunt I decided a carnival/fun house theme would work very well with the overall Harvest Carnival theme that the school does to support this PTA sponsored event. By the time I got going, it was too late to implement this theme in conjunction with the Harvest Carnival, but we were able to include a few.

Mark Greer and I spent many hours, between shuttling kids to practice and other events, as well as work and other priorities to put together the 2014 version of the haunt that will debut (and end) tonight beginning at 6pm. While it’s tiresome work and at time expensive we had a great time being together the resources to make this haunt happen. Vintage Parkway is going to have a great set of resources when Mark and I no longer have kids in the elementary school, it’s my hope VOLUNTEERS can keep it going.

After walking out of the stage last night, I felt good that we had accomplished something this year. Unlike last year, there were areas that felt incomplete and we were rushing to throw things together in order to open up on time. Problems plagued us before the doors opened and we had to settle for how the haunt looked. This year, we were better organized and many of the resources were already in our possession. We had most of the material for the layout, minus the wood we needed for our 16′ hallway we built.

Unfortunately, I probably spent more than the PTA President wanted me to (sorry Amy), but as we were developing and putting together the haunt, we have been trashing many old props that are damaged and old, which wouldn’t be used in ANY haunt. I know re-purposing older props does happen, but some of these were not worth making that effort. We did however add many new props, most clown related to be included in our haunt the next 2-3 years. We picked up numerous masks, a few costumes and other hanging items that we have strategically placed this year.

It’s funny, but I am already thinking “next year we will…” and we have not even opened the doors for the 2 hour Harvest Carnival this year. We will have to see just how organized it is. We request more help than we have asked for in years past. We will have 5 actors (responsible teens or adults) in the haunt, not only participating, but as chaperones, in order to monitor kids (usually middle school and high schoolers) who seem to think it’s fun to f*ck around and piss off Mark and myself. In addition to the actors we are including 4-5 fifth graders, who participate as  a “scarer” or “guide” for a 20 minute period of time. While I was hoping for a list of 90 students to round out the matrix I created, we did get 57 students to help out, some I am sure will stick around for more than their allotted 20 minutes.

I have been looking back to last year and some of the problems we had. The biggest problem, people purchasing tickets to use at the Harvest Carnival. That piece was our of our hands, but many people were let through without providing tickets, which on some level was fine. We also failed to have enough flashlights for the guides to us, so it seemed the line was never ending and groups of people were not being processed at a good rate.

This year I am hoping for a total of 800 people to go through in 2 hours. Those might be some loft goals, but I think we could achieve that number. We know kids love to go through more than once. Parents will usually go through with younger kids and friends of kids who go to Vintage Parkway usually end up showing up. So while I am not dwelling on the number of people or the amount of money the haunt makes, I will be curious to see how well we do in 2 hours.

With the time and effort we put in, it would be great if the school district and PTA could run the haunt for the Harvest Carnival on Friday and then for a few hours on Saturday. Not sure if there would be any added cost to have some staff on hand, as well as a janitor and PTA folks to manage the haunt. Might be an opportunity to make the teachers even more money, which in turn is spent on the kids.

The other idea we will look to implement next year, adding a photo booth in the haunt. Just like the roller coaster rides at Disneyland, I checked with the gal who does much of our photography at events and it’s definitely affordable. Just like selling ticket for food, drink and the attractions at the Harvest Carnival, we would sell tickets for a photo and provide the individuals with a numbered receipt in order to claim their picture. Add a $2 or $3 charge and it’s more money donated to Vintage Parkway.

Regardless of the number of people who walk the haunt or the amount of money we make, being safe, scary the kids and having fun are the priorities for this evening. We look forward to having a great time “clowning around” the 6th Floor Haunt. As a reminder, the Harvest Carnival begins at 6pm at Vintage Parkway Elementary School in Oakley. 

Haunted House: Update

scaredHaunted house update, as it’s just under a week until the doors open for the 6th Floor Haunt at Vintage Parkway Elementary School. This is the second year Mark Greer and I have been in charge and have update last year’s layout to hopefully bring forth another successful haunted house, as the centerpiece for the school’s Harvest Carnival. Back in July I thought I was well ahead of the game, I had the layout nearly complete, we had many props already to go and should have been able to come in what I spent last year (just over $1000, which was reimbursed by the school PTA. Thanks a lot!) Unfortunately, as life goes you get busy and work for a project in October gets pushed to the back burner until you MUST get going in order to complete the project.

I hit that point last week, as I probably overdid it when it comes to what I spent in order to get the haunt done. But it’s materials and props that are needed if the school wants to continue making money (for the teachers accounts) during this carnival. Thankfully there are so many other attractions going on during these event, but the draw is the haunted house. Take nothing away from the ladies who have spent countless hours prepping, making signs, coming up with games for the kids to play and deciding on what food and drink will be served. It all takes time and volunteers in order to be successful.

As for the haunt, we were about 9 days later getting started. School let out on the last Friday of August for 2 weeks, which allowed us (last year) to get started building the haunt on the school stage. This year, we were delayed because the janitor had to wax the floors in the auditorium, which put on hold. We got access to the stage Wednesday of last week and started erecting PVC pipe and 16 feet of walls we were going to use. Actually, as Mark and I talked about, it might have been a blessing in disguise, as it gave us time to hang out and build the 16 feet of walls we were going to use. We made use of this time and didn’t sit back doing nothing.

Even with long hours and constant work, we are still behind. Maybe that is common or maybe it just appears that way. The entire layout took parts of 2 days to get build. The layout did go up much faster this year, thanks in part to the advanced planning and the fact most all of the PVC pipe was cut and I had laid it out in July and bundled it together by sections. Much like last year, we ran out of room as we approached the last section of the haunt. As the saying goes, measure twice, cut once. I know I measured and remeasured, yet we still had to make some changes on the fly. Thankfully I had accounted for potential changes to the layout and we were able to fit the entire layout in, almost as it was drawn up.

One thing we failed to decide upon early was a theme for our haunt, which is key to anyone wanting to tackle this challenge. Last year, being my first year it was a matter of just filling each room and making it fun for everyone. This year, the theme came to me too late and I was not able to order enough props and have another project half completed, as I await the resources to finish it. Next year (and we still haven’t had the harvest carnival this year) we will be moving to a fun house/carnival theme centered around evil clowns.

It’s amazing to hear and see the reactions of people when the word, “clowns” are mentioned. Something seems to strike a chord with individuals that evil clowns are not something they want to be associated with. Mark and I on the other hand saw this video:

…and we knew we had a theme we could bring to our haunt. While it’s only the first year with clowns, we know this will be a continuing theme for the next 2 years until my son is done with elementary school. We have also added a new scare to the haunt, but I won’t go into until after the haunt, as it’s the centerpiece of our haunt this year. With any luck I will have some video to upload after the haunt to show the reactions we got.

We are bringing back the dot room, which was very successful last year. I know many kids will expect this and know there will be someone in this room, hopefully with an upgrade in the black spandex costume (that’s me) with the dots painted on it will improve how I blend in to the walls.

clownsMark will be our king clown this year, I had intended to give him a nice large area to run around in scaring kids. With the changes to the layout his realm is not as large as I would have liked, but should still prove to be a good scare. We are also bringing back the hall of faces, which didn’t work well last year because I waited too long to buy white faced masks and paint them fluorescent colors to be lit up under a black light.

While there is still confuse and questions to be answered about the haunt, things are coming together. My hope is we won’t be running around on Friday, hours before the haunt putting finishing touches on decoration. Hopefully we can have all of that done by Thursday and relax a bit before the lights go off and the frights begin.