My first memory of working on a haunted house is less than glamorous. I was standing in the basement of a partially-in-use barn and was told, “We need to have this space cleaned so we can use it for a costume room.” Next thing I knew? All the people in that room had left me alone with a vacuum and a lot of work.
I did it, of course. It didn’t occur to me to say, “Oh, hell no.” But later, when I wrote about how I became a haunter, this story didn’t make the final cut. Neither did the tale of my first legit project in the haunt, which was helping to build a set of front porch stairs. This was much more exciting to me than I can adequately describe, because it was me MAKING something. As a child, I was largely denied the use of tools due to my gender, so…yeah. I was pretty damned excited.
Before I ended up focusing primarily on actor hiring and management, I had the time to help in small ways with the creation of the haunt I loved so much. In the beginning, that help was with scenic painting – in small ways, of course. Our scenic painter, Mookie, guided my nervous self as we worked on curved crypt hallways and metallic lab wall panels. She herself was full of fire, dramatic accents and laughter, covered in paint splatter, and embodied everything I thought a scenic should be. She and our haunt boss seemed to share a brain, she seemed able to create any look he dreamed up, and she quickly became a sort of creative hero to baby-haunter-me.
Years later, after our haunt went dark, we became friends, and she brought me on for a day of helping paint some theatre sets. It was a fantastic experience. But I never quite put it together in my head that I could maybe repeat that experience elsewhere.
As I’ve written here, I became my haunt’s scenic painter by default, with varying levels of success. It’s been terrifying, to be honest, because I think about Mookie and all of the amazing things I’ve seen her create, and I know I don’t measure up to that. I am well, well aware there’s so much I don’t know, and I want so much to be for Bones what Mookie was for Allan.
Last year, I saw an opportunity to help do some scenic painting at the Kalamazoo Civic for a show I was working on, “Crazy For You.” Bones agreed to go along with me to help paint. We spent the day working on huge drops under the guidance of the Civic’s David Kyhn, and by the end my arms were much more sore than I’d anticipated…but I’d learned so much! (One of those things, of course, was that there were much easier ways to give a wall a woodgrained look than what I’d done at our haunt that year. I hadn’t thought enough outside the box to realize I didn’t have to actually use a woodgraining tool on the panels…as gorgeous as it had looked, the detail was lost in haunt lighting. Alas. David’s techniques were much more practical.)
I’ve become a bit (?) of a scenic groupie since then, asking questions about how varied sets have been painted. I’m finding that I’m noticing more details in what Mookie painted back in Philly..that I’m starting to see things a little differently. And when I noticed this page in the current Civic’s show’s program last night, I couldn’t wait to share it with Mookie.
I’ve probably never told Mookie how much I appreciate her guidance in the past – her patience and her passion – how much I think about her every time I wash out a paint brush – how much I value the adventures we’ve had together, and how much I think of her and miss her.
There’s a small list of people that inspire me to try to be a better haunter. And oh, my beloved Mookie, you are ever on that list. It’s a shame it’s taken me over 10 years to get to somewhere vaguely in your world – but I’m here, and I’m trying, and I’m thinking of you. ❤