UVA Wise students build and operate haunted house for class credit

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WISE, Va. (WJHL) – This October at the Wise County Fairgrounds, students from The University of Virginia’s College at Wise are putting what they have learned in the classroom to the test – in the form of a haunted house.

“We had talked about the possibility of like, wouldn’t it be neat if we could do a class,” Department Chair of Visual and Performing Arts at UVA Wise Ben Mays said.

A few years ago, the class titled “Haunting Houses” was the brainchild of Mays and Michael McNulty. Students would not only receive instruction in the art of scaring, but also hands-on experience in the act of creating and maintaining a haunted attraction.

Eventually, the University of Virginia came around to the idea.

“It took some convincing that we want to design and operate a successful haunted house,” Mays said. “The students took less convincing.”

“I’ve always kind of liked Halloween,” said fifth-year theatre student Autumn Bolling. “I’ve never been to haunted houses or ever been in one, but I was like, maybe it’s something worth trying.”

This fall marks her third-consecutive year working the haunted house and her second time taking the class.

“It takes the aspects of theatre that we try to tell people all the time that are part of everyday life and it really puts them into play,” Bolling said. “Not only are we actors in the house, but we build, we design, we deal with the public. We’re management, we set schedules. We kind of have to use everything we’ve been learning over the past four years all at once.”

The unique value of the opportunity is not lost on another “Haunting Houses” veteran, Mo Lees.

“I think it could easily be turned into a classroom study that wouldn’t be as much of an interactive experience as Ben [Mays] has made it for us,” the senior said.

Both Professor Mays and the students agree, however, that the community has played a huge part in the success of the haunt, particularly those that volunteer their time to be part of the attraction.

“The community has obviously helped us tremendously,” sophomore Erin Musick said. “The first night I remember we only had about 13 actors total.”

“If you were to talk to my wife, she would tell you it was probably the only time that I thought ‘why am I doing this,'” Mays recalled.

But, with the help of those community volunteers, the crew turned one of its shortest-staffed nights into an experience that a record-breaking opening night crowd won’t soon forget.

“They have experience and they have knowledge and wisdom that is really worth something,” Mays said. “I think maybe I’m the first person that came along and said ‘Hey, would you share that with my kids.'”

Mays said he does not have the same energy he once did. But, the continued support and words of encouragement he receives from patrons and students alike is what keeps him going.

“It’s what validates my thoughts that this is worthy of study,” he said.

Tickets for “Forbidden Fairgrounds” are available beginning at 7 p.m. on show nights. The “Fright Team” will run two shows this Friday and Saturday, October 22 and 23. They will put on their final four shows next weekend from Thursday through Sunday, October 28-31.

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