Today something terrible happened. Something that no one was expecting and I couldn’t ever imagine happening. The haunted house that I am affiliated with was hit by a horrible storm and then sunk into the lake. It was a haunted house floating on a barge on Navy Pier and literally sank and everything that was inside of it was lost. The props, costumes, televisions, computers, makeup, equipment…EVERYTHING. It is beyond comprehension. Thank God the shows had been canceled for the night because of the weather so no one was in the house, but the damage is still beyond repair.When I first heard the news I didn’t think it was real. I thought people online were exaggerating. Then, I saw the headlines, then the photos, and finally the video. Then it registered and hit me hard. It’s not just a barge floating on a lake sinking, it’s much more than that. It’s people’s goals, dreams, hardwork, passion, and teamwork. For some it’s much more than losing something physical; it’s a connection deeper than that. However, from my previous experience at the haunted house, I want people to focus on the good vs the recent bad. Let me explain. Please step into the time machine with me as we go back about 3 1/2+ years.
When I had just gotten back from college, I was trying to do acting, but it wasn’t really taking off. There wasn’t much progress as I did extra work for the now canceled Chicago Code and a slew of other random things. I was trying, but it wasn’t going anywhere. I had also not yet taken the plunge into signing up for improv classes. My mother was getting her haircut at a place in the neighborhood and told me to go in there and get my hair cut by the same girl because she did ‘theater’ stuff. Her name was Audra. SO I went in. After getting my haircut over the span of a few months and her knowing I wanted to do more acting and theater, she told me to come and audition to be a performer for the haunted house at Navy Pier she worked with. I went to the audition and shortly notified after that I would be a performer at the haunted house that season.
It is here where I met not just new friends, but a family. There was a cohesive bond among everyone who worked at The Fear haunted house and was associated with Zombie Army Productions. It was here that they saw me at my best and here that they saw me at my absolute (drunken) worst. We had all come from different walks of life, but none of that mattered when we were all in that house. Some of us may have never crossed each other’s paths had it not been for the haunt, but it was here that we were all best friends gathered together for the sole purpose of terrorizing and scaring people for Halloween. I remember working in the house and being in the rules room watching the intro video thinking, “I wish I could do this.” Keep that in mind as it’s going to come up again later. It was such a great video and got everyone nice and terrified for all the monsters and scares the house could hold. It is here that I met two of my best friends Tina and Andrew. Two friends who would eventually get married because they’d met in the haunted house that year. Tina worked in the zombie room with me and told me she did improv. Between popping out of the floor to scare people walking by and diving around corners, I would hop out to talk to her because she seemed like a pretty cool person (I guess she still is or whatever) and I tried to get all of the information I could out of her about improv because I was still hesitant and nervous to sign up for classes. To sum it all up, she told me, “start at iO.” She might have also called me an asshole before or after that sentence, but either way, I took her advice and my improv career took off, which is a story for another day.
The point is, being a part of that haunted house and meeting the people I did would change the trajectory of my life forever. It created friendships and partnerships (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE AND I LOVE YOU ALL) that I will cherish forever. People I still know and people I will never forget. While some moved away to places across the country and some just stepped away from the scene, I will always remember my days at The Fear and my days hanging/partying with the Zombie Army. I will never forget being a zombie, a vampire, or a porter. I knew the people at Navy Pier and then met all the people at Statesville Haunted Prison. One big giant scary hilarious family. As the years, bus and house parties and zombie proms went by, I would be asked to be a part of multiple projects working with John Laflamboy and the Zombie Army as well as become an Associate Producer for Tina’s comedy production company Big Little Comedy. All because I took a chance and went to a haunted house audition to meet new people.
Let’s go back and travel to the present day. A few months ago (before the Tina/Andrew wedding), I was asked to be in the intro video that would be shown in the rules room at the new Zombie Containment haunted house at Navy Pier. When I got that phone call, I almost shot through the roof. It meant so much to me. It was very special and I am beyond grateful for the opportunity as it was literally something I said I wish I could do years ago. It happened and it was such a fun experience. While I was unable to assist at the haunted house this year, I am still well aware of that bond the team at that haunted house formed together. I got to walk through the house and see all of the hard work (from the builders to the performers) a few weeks ago (oh and drown in foam bubbles at the end) and I can say to everyone who made this haunted house happen, you should be PROUD. You should be very proud and honored because you created something amazing and you were a part of something wonderful. It was the only haunted house in Chicago (and that I know of anywhere) that was floating on a barge on the lake. It was a house that seen thousands upon thousands of people (including Macaulay Culkin and the band Gwar) walk through it both at Navy Pier and at Riot Fest. It was a haunted house that reviewers said had the perfect combination of funny and scary. You are part of a family. A family that sticks together through the good and the bad. What happened today was awful, but the experience you had before this and the people you met (and the people you scared) is what you should remember. To the performers, I am sorry that the show ended early, but I know from my experience that the friendships you formed and the times you shared scaring people will be something you’ll hold onto forever. In fact, they might have changed your life forever. Focus on the fun you had and the night after night hard work you put in.
Despite what happened today, The Zombie Army will rise up. It always has. It always will.