The term “ghosted” is a millennial expression for when all contact with a person comes to an abrupt halt — i.e.: “He completely ghosted me after our Tinder date.”
It also happens to be the title of Arts in the Open’s latest theatrical production that pairs the supernatural with Boulder’s natural beauty. “Ghosted: A Paranormal Mystery,” performed throughout the tree-lined inclines of Chautauqua, takes audience members on a freewheeling and slightly spooky hike through the Mesa Trail — each step uphill revealing both humor and mild fright.
“Arts in the Open had always wanted to do a ghost-themed story,” said playwright of “Ghosted” Joaquin Aviña. “The question was — always — which one do we want to use.”
For fodder, Aviña turned to the landmarks and legends of Colorado — a state filled with hair-raising tales of yesteryear.
“Colorado’s rich with fabled stories of hauntings, whether they are located in Denver, up in the foothills or in the mountain towns throughout our state,” Aviña said. “I thought it would be fun to tie a number of these different stories together in one play.”
From a notable 142-room architectural wonder in Estes Park to the ghost of a Titanic survivor with Colorado roots, those familiar with the state’s haunted history will delight in the production’s apparent nods.
“What inspired me, was of course the Stanley Hotel; famous from Stephen King and ‘The Shining,’” said Aviña. “Then there is the Molly Brown estate, and considering the fact that she’s nicknamed the Unsinkable Molly Brown, it seems classic to me to write a story in regards to her. And the third was just a fun story out there that I thought would be interesting and add some humor to the play, and that is in Central City. There is an outhouse that is famous for being haunted there.”
A media-hungry ghost hunter, a detective and assistant will rely on insight from the audience to navigate their journey into the unknown. Ticketholders, who will start the theatrical jaunt at the Chautauqua picnic shelter, are in a sense the compass carriers of the play — deciding which direction to turn and just what predefined locations to investigate.
“I had a chance to see one of the productions a couple weeks ago and I was taken aback by how the audience involved themselves with the play,” Aviña said. “Of course that was by design. I did develop this play as a ‘choose your own adventure’ style play that at points during the production the audience members could vote on what they’d like to see happen next.”
Not only do the way the stories unfold vary from day to day, because of the evolving climate of the play’s outdoor site, the very set has the ability to transform. Hiking theatergoers may just experience heavy gusts causing leaves to rustle and drop from overhead — an effect you just can’t find in a typical curtain-drawn production.
“As with any of our shows, our scenery is always changing,” said Arts in the Open’s artistic director Matthew Davis. “A show at the start of our run in September will look very different than a show at the end of October. The trees change for our audience in the fall and by October, the scenes have taken on a more deathly bare feel.”
“It adds more to that reality of the story and a better sense of place when the scenes of the play are framed in the landscape of The Flatirons,” Aviña added. “I believe there is nothing more immersive than looking beyond the actors and their stage and seeing either a setting sun, a hint of wildlife or the wind howl at just the perfect time.”
As for what subject matter Aviña would like to see Arts in the Open tackle in future productions, he hopes to draw more inspiration from tales of the Centennial State’s past.
“I’d really like to explore the history that Colorado has with early Spanish influence,” Aviña said. “Obviously, there is a lot of rich culture in the southern edge of Colorado near New Mexico. I would love to see if there are any stories that can tie in this history with modern themes. Certainly there are lines connecting current world news with viewpoints from the 1700s and 1800s.”
The approximate length of the hike is two miles with an elevation gain of 400 feet. Audience members are encouraged to bring camping chairs or blankets and mats to sit on while watching the scenes develop. Unlike the obvious scare tactics of haunted corn mazes, “Ghosted,” is a thinking person’s Halloween activity — yet also seems tame enough for kids to enjoy.
“Maybe the most rewarding moments are when someone who wouldn’t do well in an indoor theater, like a small child, is so engaged in a story,” Davis said. “They can walk or run to the next scene and explore the trail along the way.”
If you go
What: Ghosted: A Paranormal MysteryWhen: 3 p.m., various weekend days throughout Oct. 27Where: audience members will meet at the Chautauqua picnic shelterCost: $20, $17 Concert Member, $18 Colorado Mountain Club Member and $15 children under 10More info: tickets.chautauqua.com