A decade of terror
October 15, 2013
By Neil Pierson
Nightmare at Beaver Lake promises hidden surprises in celebration of 10 years of Halloween spookiness
The people behind the annual Nightmare at Beaver Lake always have a few tricks up their sleeves.
For the 10th anniversary event, for example, the haunted house at the end of a dark, terrorizing walk through the woods has a special surprise awaiting guests.
However, the secret is closely guarded and won’t be revealed until the Oct. 18 opening, said Dana Young, of Scare Productions, the group responsible for bringing in more than 100 actors, makeup artists, costume designers and stage hands to make the show happen.
Nightmare at Beaver Lake has been the area’s most well-attended Halloween event since its inception in 2004, and even its organizers have been amazed by its popularity.
“We hoped to have 200 people, and we ended up with almost 4,000 in four nights,” Young said of the first year.
“This is our 10th year, and we’re expecting in excess of 12,000 people to go through this year,” said Norm Bottenberg, of the Rotary Club of Sammamish, which helps distribute the event’s profits to various charities. “It depends a lot on the weather. It’s a very unique haunt, because it takes up the entire park.”
Planning for the event — 30 sets in nine buildings along a trail that’s three-quarters of a mile long — practically starts the day after the previous year’s haunt ends. Scare Productions starts collecting new ideas in February, Young said. Construction of new sets begins in March and goes all the way until the end of September.
Scare Productions doesn’t want guests to be bored by the same experience year after year, so it changes 90 percent of its sets for Nightmare at Beaver Lake. Even for returning sets like a 20-foot-long spinning vortex, the interior and exterior décors have been updated.
Young recommends families with children younger than 10 stick to the 45-minute Family Scare, a shorter version of the Full Scare that follows. However, it’s up to parents to choose what’s appropriate for their children, and Young said many younger children have done fine with the scarier, gorier version, while some adults have been escorted from the set because of their fright.
Bottenberg said there’s no fake blood involved in the Family Scare.
“We tone it down because we want the kids to come through, and the actors are taught not to come as close to the kids, and to be sensitive that if the kids are scared, to back off a bit,” he said.
However, at 8 p.m., all bets are off, and darkness envelops the woods at Beaver Lake. Bottenberg said flashlights aren’t allowed, and neither visitors nor actors can wear masks, which tends to alter behavior.
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Young said the actors who rotate through the sets on a nightly basis are taught to keep everyone safe — including a no-touching policy that keeps everyone at an arm’s length. The actors don’t memorize lines; they learn the psychological traits of their characters.
“We’re really looking to entertain, so some of our sets are scary — very scary — but we also have sets that are funny, and we have sets that are eerie, and sets that are just disorienting,” Young explained. “The truth is, you can’t keep a scare up here all the time. You have to let them come down so that they can be scared again. So, it’s a whole psychological process out here.”
A large percentage of the actors are high-school students, and Young said they take pride in providing an authentic experience. There’s an annual award given to the first actor who makes an adult urinate in their pants.
“You might think, ‘Does this really happen?’ Yes it does,” Young said. “Not only does it happen, it happens multiple times during the year.”
Bottenberg said the event typically nets about $70,000 in profits each year. Once expenses are paid, there’s a large chunk of money that goes to “as many community groups as possible.”
The Rotary Club of Sammamish has helped fund college scholarships for area high-school students, and it has donated to a wide range of groups such as the YMCA and Red Cross. Worldwide, Rotary has helped eradicate polio and start clean water projects.
Young noted that one Scare Productions volunteer is chosen annually to receive money for continuing education, whether it’s a traditional college or trade school. And the group tries to repay the city of Sammamish for the usage of Beaver Lake Park.
“We usually do a service project for them once a year, and do something to make the park a better place for people who are here when we’re not here,” she said.