With the arrival of fall, many are flocking to pumpkin patches or haunted houses to get in the spooky spirit.
While strolling through a corn maze and running from a chainsaw-yielding man in a Jason mask has its appeal, some crave a bit more substance with their Halloween-themed happenings.
Those looking to experience a uniquely dark and layered offering will want to check out “ShakesFear: An Autumn’s Tale” — an immersive theatrical experience featuring some of the most memorable creatures and characters created by William Shakespeare.
Put on CU Boulder College of Arts and Sciences Department of Theatre & Dance, the sinister experience kicks off Friday. Tickets are $16.
While most associate Edgar Allan Poe with macabre tales, Shakespeare was also quite the wordsmith of creep and chaos.
“I didn’t realize how much material was actually there until we dug in,” said Kevin Rich, CU Boulder’s associate chair of theatre. “This is our third iteration of ‘ShakesFear,’ and we find more characters and scenes to include every time. There’s just so many witches, ghosts, villains, sprites, dead kings and queens.”
Rich collaborated with director Andy Park to design the haunted attraction for the first time in 2014 in Illinois. For three years in a row it drew sold-out crowds eager to get a taste of this new hair-raising event.
Last year, it took place in Lincoln, Nebraska, where Park serves as the artistic director of the Nebraska Repertory Theatre.
This will be the first time “ShakesFear,” co-directed by CU grad student Heather Kelley, takes place in Boulder.
Due to its gory nature, it is recommended for those ages 12 years and older.
“Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” has been a popular pick on Netflix as of late, and “ShakesFear” will offer a bit of cannibalism as well.
“The title character from the lesser-known play ‘Titus Andronicus’ actually bakes two guys into a pie and makes people eat it,” Rich said. “We’ve included him every time.”
“ShakesFear” takes theatrical storytelling and the art of the scare up a notch.
“Immersive theater seems to be getting more and more common, so I’m thrilled to be able to give our students the opportunity to get some experience in this emerging art form,” Rich said.
Audience participation is also part of the chilling mix.
“In this version, Shakespeare has been locked in a cage and his characters are running amok,” Rich said. “An audience member or two may even be presented with the opportunity to free Shakespeare. It’s so fun trying something a little different each time, tailoring each production to the venue we’re working in.”
Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre — whose stage has hosted many Colorado Shakespeare Festival since the 1950s — will be the site for the dramatic adaptation.
“I can’t wait for people to experience the Rippon from this perspective,” Rich said. “There are so many cool nooks and crannies to explore, and it’s absolutely beautiful at night.”
Under the stars and the glow of the moon, attendees will get a chance to walk the perimeter of Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre where they will stumble upon dark woods, a graveyard, a deceased monarch, Puck from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and many more chilling figures.
“People sometimes forget that Shakespeare had a dark side,” Park said. “Some of his characters are straight-up disturbing. I definitely don’t recommend eating the pie, if Titus offers you a slice.”
“ShakesFear” is sure to be a favorite among those who know Shakespeare’s work well and those not completely familiar with the prolific Bard.
Before the frightening work of Stephen King, Anne Rice and Rob Zombie hit book shelves and the big screen, Shakespeare was captivating audiences with his tales of revenge, love, murder, fear and magic.
“I do think Shakespeare has influenced Gothic and horror genres,” Rich said. “Apparently, Bram Stoker was inspired by Shakespeare when he wrote ‘Dracula,’ ‘The Shining’ has been said to have echoes of ‘Macbeth’ and I’ve even read comparisons between ‘Twilight’ and ‘Romeo & Juliet.’”
The three witches in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” recite, “Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and caldron bubble” as they cast eye of newt and toe of frog into a boiling pot.
If it wasn’t for this wicked trio, there likely wouldn’t be the Sanderson sisters from the “Hocus Pocus” films, whose living spell book is bound in human skin.
“ShakesFear” aims to break the fourth wall with attendees. Rich has described the show as “a haunted house meets Meow Wolf.”
“The sets, costumes and lighting are extremely theatrical,” Park said. “I especially like how we’re using this beloved outdoor theater as it has never been used before. As you walk through the experience, you’ll encounter areas of the theater that we’ve reimagined into classic locations from Shakespeare’s plays and areas with special scenic and large-scale puppetry creations that will likely catch the audience by surprise.”
Jill Hibbard, a Nebraska-based puppet maker, is known for constructing large-scale creations that elevate productions to new heights. Both Hibbard and Park have been included in the Boulder production, thanks to CU’s Roe Green Visiting Theatre Artist fund.
“Jill Hibbard designed a donkey puppet, a large Neptune puppet that’s featured in a shipwreck scene, a harpy puppet and a few others along the way,” Park said. “Her design for our final scene is my absolute favorite. It’s both macabre and beautiful, but I don’t want to spoil it with any more details.”
It’s fair to say Shakespeare was a lover of drama, showmanship and originality. Perhaps he would have reveled in the scary spectacle that is “ShakesFear.”
“I also love riffing on Shakespeare in this way,” Rich said. “Shakespeare was an adapter. He rarely started with an original plot line, but instead adapted classical stories for his contemporary audience. So hopefully what we’re doing with his plays is something he would have approved of.”
After exploring the darker works of Shakespeare and creating this show with Park, Rich began to recognize the art that goes into crafting a memorable and engaging haunted house experience.
“It’s funny, I was never much of a haunted attraction person until I started working on ‘ShakesFear,’ but I love them now,” Rich said. “I’ve learned a lot more about them and have developed a real appreciation for all that goes into producing them. My favorites are the ones that incorporate story, some kind of a journey, into them and that’s been my favorite thing to experiment with every time we revisit ‘ShakesFear.’”
Organizers are hopeful that the innovative production will present those with a unique opportunity to experience Shakespeare’s work on a completely different level — far beyond his use of iambic pentameter. “ShakesFear” shines a light on the ahead-of-his-time creativity he possessed and his penchant for the twisted and bizarre.
“English class can sometimes ruin Shakespeare for folks,” Park said. “People often get frustrated struggling to read and analyze his plays when they were meant to be experienced and enjoyed. Shakespeare was a populist, and I think ‘ShakesFear’ taps into that reality and invites the audience to explore The Bard in a fun, new way.”
“ShakesFear: An Autumn’s Tale”
Friday, Oct. 7
Saturday, Oct. 8
Sunday, Oct. 9
Wednesday, Oct. 12
Thursday, Oct. 13
Friday, Oct. 14
Saturday, Oct. 15
Sunday, Oct. 16
Timed entry every 10 minutes, 7-9 p.m. nightly; experience runs approximately 45 minutes.