I’m waiting on a street corner, watching two men in kitschy pumpkin-sack masks gallop towards me. They wear shirts that say “10” and “31,” respectively, and grip my arms tightly as we walk down the street towards our destination. I gather that we’re trick-or-treating together, but none of the houses we pass seems just “right.” That is, of course, until we reach the last one. The one with the fog gently billowing out the front drive. I see a small figure kneeling on the ground and I squint to make it out, just as I realize my guides have vanished and I’m now here alone. The figure is a child, her long dark hair over her face, a dress so white it seems to glow. She’s drawing something on a sheet of paper on the ground. I take a breath and crouch down in front of her. “My name’s Mischief, what’s yours?” I answer her and she opens her mouth in a dramatic, overdrawn cackle. It unnerves me. She stops as abruptly as she started, and continues to draw, humming to herself. “Halloween is coming,” she mumbles, her eyes dark and hollow, and I open my mouth to speak just as a set of gentle, firm hands grip me from behind and hoist me back to my feet.
Witches. Three of them, their faces hidden from view, they take turns whirling me to face them. One of them dabs at my wrist with a wick soaked in perfume oil. It smells damp and sweet, like Fall. She asks me if I know about “Spook Shows,” the old take on haunted houses that challenged guests to only the bravest of guests. But it was a lie, in a sense. Nothing really scary ever happened at spook shows. They were all just a gimmick to get people to have fun. Another witch gently touches my face with a gloved hand and turns me towards her, putting a cup of warm liquid in my hand: apple cider. It’s perfect.
She tells me that even though they weren’t truly frightening, Spook Shows were eventually outlawed due to a series of unfortunate accidents. It wasn’t until year later that a young man with fond memories of the Spook Shows of his youth decided to recreate the festive scares. He called it The Autumn Experiment. But then he met a man who claimed he wanted to invest in the idea and…well…something went very wrong.
The witches all begin to chant in unison, closing in on me. Something about immersive theatre’s latest and greatest, monsters coming to life, participants being carried off into the darkness. The chanting dies out as there’s a tug at my sleeve. I look down to see the Mischief again, her eyes now wide black pools. I lean down to her and she hands me a drawing. It’s The Halloween Cowboy, drawn in the loving way only a child could, but he looks very sad.
She thrusts the page into my hand. “We weren’t supposed to meet this way,” she says. She tells me he, whoever he is, just wanted to make things like they were, to bring back something people loved. But it’s ruined now. Broken. Now she doesn’t know what happens next. No one does.
She tilts her head back and lets out that braying laugh again, cracking the misty air. All at once she stops and shoots her arm out towards the street I arrived from, one long finger extended. “Warn them. Warn your friends. Halloween is coming. HALLOWEEN IS COMING!” She shrieks and I swim my way back out to the street through the growing fog.
I inhale the cool air once back on the pavement, that damp, sweet smell still lingering on my skin. If Halloween is coming, I think, glancing back over my shoulder, I’ll be the first to say hello.
Halloween 2019 came, and went, but Halloween is never over for The Autumn Experiment. The above was a recap of the first full Autumn Experiment experience, On With The Show. The show combined classic whimsy with a heavy dollop of the macabre, enough to make the overall essence of the performance ripe with nostalgia for October nights gone by. The Autumn Experiment hopes to bring back that warm and fuzzy and yes, a bit scary, feeling of Halloween’s past, one story at a time, and it’s a welcome addition to an immersive theatre landscape that can sometimes rely too often on a heavy dramatic hand.
The Autumn Experiment is the collaborative effort of Drew Rausch and Jocelyn Gajeway. Find the Autumn Experiment on Instagram and visit their website at www.theautumnexperiment.com to sign up for newsletter updates so this year round celebration of Halloween doesn’t pass you by.
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