Tis the season to get scared out of your socks, but with so many haunted houses and Halloween attractions sprouting up right now, finding a new angle to give people thrills and chills is difficult.
One attraction in Florence has managed to accomplish this feat by bringing together theater kids, seasoned Halloween haunts performers and veterans.
A haunted house and chain-link fence maze will be set up outside the San Tan Valley Veteran Center, 5764 E. Hunt Highway. There will also be a place for parents and wee ones too young or scared to go into the attraction and maze.
What has organizers excited is the theme of the haunted attraction: Psyops or psychological operations like those used in the military.
“It’s called Psyops, and it is a charity haunted attraction. We’re trying to raise money for the veterans center — that does so much for our soldiers and the community — on Hunt highway and a children’s theater group that uses the center to hold its classes and productions,” said Clifton Laderer, a veteran of the scare industry in the form of attractions and movies.
“Our haunt is going to be done by the Arizona Repertory Theater for Kids and crazy mix-up of veterans and volunteers,” Laderer said. “The kids are going to be scaring from 5-7:30 p.m. and then from 8-10 p.m. we’ll be having adults and seasoned actors scaring for the rest of the evening.”
The haunt will take place Thursday through Sunday on the last two weekends of the month.
Partnering with Laderer for the haunt was a no brainer for Rachel Evans, who runs the Arizona Repertory Theater for Kids and also is helping to organize the haunt.
“We just started planning this like, ‘Let's make the house and let's make it the best haunted house because we have cliff here and he's been doing it for like over 25 years,” Evans said. “He's been in the industry, and he built sets for movies. He's brilliant and we're just really lucky that he wanted to help.”
Evans added the haunted house will be a way to raise money for the veteran center to do some improvements. The money also is going toward creating a scholarship fund for kids who want to be in theater.
“Right now, a big challenge is budget because we're doing this off a lot of donations,” Laderer said. “A buddy of mine donated the use of his walls for the haunt and some props and lighting and stuff. We’re just trying to, for lack of better words, cobble it together with what we can do. But it's going to be a good one — it'll be fun.”
Laderer adds they only have 1,800 square feet to work with, but the show will be memorable.
“We are packing a lot into it and then we're also going to have a chain-link maze with strobe lights in the corner so it's just miserable trying to figure it out,” he said. “And when we throw in some kids and some actors in there with them, it's going to be even worse!”
As for the young thespians, they will be learning a new type of acting.
“They are excited for this opportunity to be doing a haunt and to be training in a new form of theater,” Evans said. “That's going to be a really fun thing for them because in a haunt you're not really following a script, you're doing improv.”
Veterans will be helping in various ways from building the haunt, taking part in it and even acting as protection, if you will.
The cost of the haunt is $10 per person, with young children admitted at no charge. Those $10 give each person one time through the haunt, as many maze tries as they want and access to more tradition Halloween events inside the center. Also, for an extra $1 donation, a veteran or new recruit in uniform will safely escort you out of the haunt if things get too scary.
Service Officer Dennis Gardner of the center said the veterans are excited about the haunt especially because it has a military theme. And they’re ready.
“We're getting really good feedback from our members,” he said. “The interesting thing about PTSD is if the veteran knows he's coming up on something it doesn't normally trigger them because they can prepare themselves mentally.”
Gardner is excited about the haunt as well, and not just because it might bring in some needed funds. It’s also a way to connect with the community, he said. Gardner is so excited he even came up with the tagline for the haunt: “These colors don’t run – but you might!”