Ever wonder what it takes to start putting together a grand scale project like Howl-O-Scream? You may have guessed correctly that the planning, marketing and creative development began long ago, but it may surprise you to learn that our technical team has been hard at work building and decorating our haunted attractions since the beginning of June. Why so early? When you’re building sets and props for new mazes, scare zones and shows, in addition to making costumes for more than 400 cast members, it takes several months of work from our entire park team to get our park ready to join the dark side. This year marks our 13th anniversary of Howl-O-Scream and the park is gearing up for some scary nights ahead. To ensure that we provide the best (and worst) scares for our guests, our creative team has to dig deep to find the most haunting realities. Our inspiration comes from many sources including the most basic research like listening to Halloween music or movie scores, and reminiscing about horrible experiences and phobias of our own. This year’s special anniversary gave us a great opportunity to bring back some classics, as well as debut several new thrills. Many of our team members were here back when some of our classics were initially debuted, so they bring a unique perspective on how to incorporate the old with the new in order to enhance the experience.
As you walk around the park you’ll see some of our traditional pieces being integrated for our 13th anniversary.
Howl-O-Scream has transformed itself over the years with new attractions pushing the envelope of fear. Keeping up with this annual transformation is quite a challenge and would not be possible without the focused coordination between all park departments. Over the summer, our Entertainment team led the way by beginning to install theming in our indoor maze facilities. Through careful planning and precise positioning, each maze is constructed to offer the path of most resistance for our guests. Perhaps the best part of being a part of this team is the chance to walk through the mazes both with the lights on and off during the construction phase. We are all tasked with looking for new spots for scares and different ways to interact with the guests while trying not to get too spooked at the same time. However, our team is also vulnerable to the fright as technical team members are known to take quick breaks to scare unsuspecting team members. It is a haunted maze after all.
Once the summer starts to wind down the lighting team takes over with the changeover of all light fixtures throughout the park. It’s a huge task to undertake as there are several hundred bulbs in a single region of the park, so you may notice them start to change color earlier than you might expect. Our lighting designers and technicians begin their work after dark to have the chance to transform the park in their own way that no one will see until opening night. You might think that lighting an event that’s supposed to be dark and scary wouldn’t be that intensive, but completing a park-wide lighting transformation includes all 13 attractions, walkways, signs and installing all of our special effects featuring more than 40 fog machines. These team members are masters of scare as you never know when they can throw a switch and leave you alone in the dark.
Before any effects are installed in the park, each piece of equipment is thoroughly tested at its maximum capacity. We also play with new techniques like this fog curtain which will make its debut this season.
Our lighting team has to work side by side with our park theming group that not only transforms the park with haunted decor, but also takes care of installing every bit of signage that you see throughout the park. Their work ranges from installing hundreds of pumpkins, cornstalks and spiders, to making sure that you can easily find your way around the park’s attractions. We have an amazing team of in-house artisans that design attraction logos, themed menu boards and even the backdrops for our photo opportunities. Believe it or not, this year there are more than 300 signs for Howl-O-Scream alone ranging from the large marquees down to the smallest entrance signs. See if you can count how many are in each village after we open.
This arch was sketched, cut-out, constructed, painted and installed all on the same day. See if you can spot where this arch lives on your next visit.
Our Sign Shop works diligently to make clear, yet clever signage to ensure that the biggest scare of Howl-O-Scream is not how to find the restroom. If you ever find yourself searching for that next attraction, take a quick look around and you’ll find that we’ll point you in the right direction.
One of the most essential components of our Howl-O-Scream theming rests in the hands of our costume department. Tasked with the job of providing costumes, makeup and wigs for more than 400 cast members is quite a challenge. The team does a fantastic job of preserving costumes from previous seasons – as you never know when that polka dot shirt or pair of overalls might fit another theme the following year. Our costume shop works around the clock to ensure that our current productions run smoothly, while also holding fittings for up to 40 cast members a day. Some of our cast members have more than three costumes, playing in a variety of roles in our exciting Howl-O-Scream shows so it can be quite a challenge to keep up with the demand.
It’s not always vampire cloaks and demented clown hats down at the costume shop; our team also designs all masks, furs and makeup for every performer in the park. Watch out for these costumes, as they’ll be coming after you right around the corner.
The time for Howl-O-Scream is creeping up on us and I’m already feeling the adrenaline begin to flow. It’s one thing to see these attractions during the day with the sun up and the lights on, but I can’t wait to see the entire park come to the afterlife at night. For more information on our attractions and operating hours, check out the website at howloscream.com/va. Hopefully you’ll have a chance to see the fear growing at the Dark Side of the Gardens.