Sean “Bazil” Duran: November 25, 1966 – April 30, 2016

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I have so much I want to write and I have no idea how to write it.

So let’s start with a present.

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“I have a present for you,” Chris said, somewhere around 1993, and handed me this little plaster Day of the Dead sculpture.  “Bazil made it.  He made a bunch for a gallery in Chestnut Hill, but when they told him they were gonna sell them as authentic Mexican art, he said no and took them back, so…this one’s for you.”

When I think about Bazil – Sean – this story always comes to mind.  I didn’t know him well, but I knew he had strong convictions and would not only stick to them, but would also make sure the people around him did as well.

Sean was one of the iconic actors at my beloved haunt, Grisly Gothic Gables.  He joined the cast to help him learn how to talk in front of crowds (or so I’ve been told), and perhaps one of the reasons I can’t think of Grisly without thinking of him is that he proposed the haunt’s name to the owner, Allan, during a brain storming session.  His butler character was funny-bizarre, vaguely slobby, definitely frenetic…my favourite haunt memory of him is him filling in for a clown scare, still dressed as a butler.  When the time came to scare visitors, he rose out of a hollowed out bed holding a fake butcher knife and announcing, “I’m not a clown, but I’ll kill you anyway!”

(Lesson:  As long as you understand the scare and what’s expected of you, improv – even if it’s on the bizarre side – as long as it’s in the character of the haunt?  It works.)

I suppose it helps to understand that I became a haunter not because I loved scary movies (which I did) or because I thought Halloween was pretty (which I did), but because the first time I saw Grisly Gothic Gables, with Bazil and Janice at the front of the house looking like everything I’ve ever wanted to see in haunt actors…well, I fell in love with the haunt, with the cast, and at the core of my haunter-heart you’ll still find that perfect visual.

You’ll still find Bazil.

Bazil was the one that helped my ex husband understand why haunting is fun.  “Do you know what a pig pile is?” Bazil asked one day.  “You don’t?  Ok.  So let’s say you enter a room through a door on the left side of the room and the exit door is clearly visible on the right side.  How do you leave the room?  No, you don’t go out the exit door, you jump on top of each other LIKE THIS!! and then you knock down a wall behind you and you leave that way.”  Despite being jumped on and nearly knocked over, my ex agreed to come to Grisly to see what a night of haunting was like, and he ended up doing tag-team scares with Bazil.

…Good times.

At the museum where we all worked, Bazil did so much that most people don’t know, rather like at Grisly, where he designed several of our t-shirt designs with no credit claimed.  He (along with fellow Grisly Peter Cook and Peter’s wife, Lisa) worked on a book about our dioramas that has been used extensively by the teacher naturalists there, and can be found now in the Drexel University library.  He discovered a forgotten mummy by literally tripping over it in our collections. He restored Edgar Allan Poe’s raven, which now resides at the Philadelphia Free Library.  He worked on the butterfly exhibit where I became a butterfly keeper, and helped create The Big Dig, an interactive looking-for-fossils exhibit I helped maintain over the years.  (I’m told he was inspired by Peter and Lisa’s visit to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.)  He and artist Ray Troll worked together on several projects, including one at our museum. He was instrumental in creating the Crazy Critters Chuck Jones exhibit that I have…way way too many stories about working.

For someone who touched so much of my professional life at the Academy, you really would think we would have seen each other more. Alas.

Bazil moved on to work at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Miami, where his resume is truly amazing. Like, amazing in a way that you look at and you think, ‘What couldn’t this guy do??’ I think I speak for many of us when I say that Bazil was the kind of person you quietly make a role model and you hope someday to be even a fraction as good at..well..ANYTHING as he was.  Because he touched so many people’s lives and varied worlds, I’m sure there’s an incredible amount of stories and discoveries to come that will astound those of us that knew him.  (Heck, just from the bit of research I’ve done here, I’m in awe of the man.)

Bazil is survived by his wife, Kat, and his daughter, Bridget…and he’s mourned by too many people to count.

Thank you for touching my life and for inspiring me, you most perfect Grisly.

bazil

Info about a celebration of his life:

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More info about Sean:

http://www.frostscience.org/blog/a-loss-for-frost-science-and-miami

https://sciencemuses.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/your-listening-hue/

http://blog.orselli.net/2011/09/why-we-do-what-we-do-interview-with.html

http://www.martinhsu.com/press.php?p=50 – Dinosaurs of China exhibit

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article6718815.html – Amazon exhibit

http://www.frostscience.org/blog/miasci%E2%80%99s-sean-duran-awarded-prestigious-noyce-leadership-institute-fellowship

http://www.frostscience.org/blog/green-roof-tour

bazil

 

 

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i’ve got the power?

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Back at home, I realize that most of the packing I’ve already done should probably be redone.  One suitcase is dedicated to costuming, and contains wigs, makeup, 3 pairs of shoes that have all been test-worn to make sure they’re comfy, 3 costumes (2 dresses and one coat-and-pants outfit in case it rains), a glue gun, needle and thread, zip ties, varied types of plug adapters, some small hand tools…anything I can think of that might be useful for build/tear down as well as costume repair and daily haunt work.

I keep reminding myself that this is not China, that I’ll be able to buy things if I need them.

I keep ignoring that rational part of my brain and rethinking everything I’ve already packed.

The other suitcase contains day to day needs.  Clothing for down time, work clothing, sunblock, hats, pain killers, bandages, protein bars, antacids, Zip Fizz…I keep rechecking the weight of the suitcase, reconsidering the contents, adding stuff, taking stuff out..

Bones tolerates the chaos very well.  Because the man is a saint.

Several trips to the thrift store later, I’m pretty sure I’m as prepared as I’m gonna get.  Maybe.  Probably.

My carry-on contains,among other small items, yet another pair of shoes and a power converter with an adapter plug.  This is something that completely confused me on my China trip, and so I’m overcompensating this time around.  I think most of us know that the electricity in the US is 110V and 220V pretty much everywhere else.  Which means you need to buy a power converter.  However, the outlets are also different, so you also need a plug converter.  When I went to China, I only bought the plug converter…and honestly, when you do a search on ‘power converter’ on Amazon, you get more plug converters than power converters, so I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s not purchased both parts of the needed system.

Additionally in China, we had power surges and people using the converters that didn’t really know how to use them…so we had lots of fried equipment.  The trick with converters is to get one that will handle the wattage you plan to use…so you have to take a look at the electronics you’re bringing and figure out how strong a converter you need to purchase.  If you underestimate your wattage need, that’s when your electronics get destroyed.  After a lot of thought and looking at my budget, I decided I really didn’t need to bring a hair dryer or flat iron, so a 100 watt converter would probably be fine, and I already had a plug adapter.

I actually can’t find a pic of my adapter, but it looks sorta like this.  I purchased this power converter, which is a heavy lil’ guy, so I packed it in my carry-on bag, and while it could handle my glue gun, it probably couldn’t have handled a hairdryer.  I liked the USB port on it, because it meant we could charge multiple things at one time.  That said, if all you’re worried about is keeping your celphone charged, you could totally buy something like this and make your life much easier.

In the days leading up to my departure date, I obsess about supermarkets and food prices and how the guys don’t seem nearly as concerned as I am but I’m on a super tight budget and I am WORRIED and B1 told us to do it THIS WAY and maybe no one but me intends to do that and maybe I can get a slick little ‘buy from us and we’ll give you deals’ card from the stores but oh I can’t get that mailed to me in time and maybe I shouldn’t bring so MANY shoes but I’m so scared my plantar fasciitis might flare and that’s a hell I just don’t want to ever face again ever and is that really strong enough sunblock and…

Proof of Bones’ sainthood is that he didn’t strangle me during those final days of preparation.

 

frozen bottles of waters might just save your life

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One of the things that I was immediately impressed with about the prep for my Australia trip was the lack of things I had to worry about.

“What airport do you want to fly out of?”

“Ummm…Kalamazoo, if it’s possible…”

“You got it!  Your visas will be emailed to you soon.”

“Wait, I don’t have to apply for those?”

“Nope!  It’s covered.”

“What about travel insurance?”

“Covered!  Details are coming.”

“How many suitcases can I bring…?”

“Two.”

“What’s the luggage fee?”

“….It’s covered!”

“BUT I STILL HAVE CONCERNS AND QUESTIONS AND AUUUUUGH!!!” *

“We’re having a one day meeting/training here before you leave the country!”

The way this process usually works is that people interested in joining Haunt Team USA head to Ohio for a two-day “boot camp” in which candidates get into costume and practice the types of things they will have to do in Australia.  It’s a tough, intense audition.  People that end up going don’t always get selected their first time through the boot camp.  But it is, hands down, the absolute best way B&B can prepare their team, and we’re at a disadvantage because we aren’t getting the benefit of that training.  Instead, we’re having a very abbreviated ‘here’s what you need to know’ intensive workshop.

That meeting was when I first met the people I’d be living with for about a month…JS, the oldest member of our team as well as the most extreme of us (think Rob Zombie covered in gore with a heart of gold and you’ve sorta kinda got JS in your mind), W, the youngest member of the team with the most experience for this gig (this would be his 7th show in Australia!), and R, W’s girlfriend (an Aussie and a sorta-team-member).  We spent maybe 5 hours going over the gritty details of what we needed to know to be really prepared for this upcoming adventure.  B&B do an outstanding job of prepping the members of Haunt Team USA, and their notes include a suggested shopping list, as buying groceries is something you might only get one chance to do so.

B1 focuses a lot on buying groceries.  “Grab two carts.  Fill them.  Spend $100 for each person.  Have your list ready ahead of time.  Buy anything you think you might want, and then take turns cooking meals for the group.”  He makes it very clear that the best way to get through this venture is to work as a team.

He warns us that good insoles will be your best friend.  Also, frozen bottles of water might  just save your life.  Oh, and bring things you don’t mind not bringing back with you.

“Haunted houses are still new in Australia.  The audience there is not like what you find here.  They will scare differently.”

We’re given instructions on how to manage ticket collecting at the door…told to try to defuse situations at the haunt rather than be aggressive about them…told to watch out for Vietnamese gangs that might try to steal tickets from us.

And also?  Fear the daystar.

“There’s no ozone layer over Australia,” B&B warn us.

“Ummm…say what now?”

“No, really,” R chimes in.  “It’s a serious thing.”

B&B, as well as W, share stories of sunburn – “My eyelids got burned!” is one in particular that terrifies me – that make me want to run from the room screaming in terror.  I can get more surnburn in 30 minutes than most people will get over an entire summer. Finally!  Something I can for real legit worry about:  How will I ever survive nearly a month without being burned to a crisp??

In the midst of my worry, it’s suggested I go get the metric poop ton of costuming I’ve brought along with me to go over character ideas with B2 while B1 continues to talk to the rest of the team.  Part of the interview process for this gig was sending photos of myself in varied haunt costumes, and I thought I was more or less prepared costume-wise, but in my panic over sunburn and heat stroke, I’m already eliminating about half of what I’ve brought with me.  (Admittedly, part of my problem is that my focus has always been more on operations than on performing; so, although I have characters, haunt acting is secondary to me.)  B2 patiently dealt with my panicked self as I babbled my concerns at her, threw costuming all over her living room, and whittled my choices down to three.  B2 then had a photographer-friend shoot some pics of me to be considered for use for a booth display B&B were taking to TransWorld in a few weeks…

Next was dinner, and then an extended bit of chatter after everyone but me had left (extended, in part, because I friggin’ love B&B and hadn’t seen them in much too long)…which means I got home ungodly late.  But it was worth it.  Because now not only did I feel more prepared, but – as previously mentioned – I now had something to actually obsess about…sun protection!

Back at home to repack my suitcases a few dozen more times over the next week, and then….to the airport we go!

 

* I wasn’t entirely this bad.  I think.  Probably.

…No, I was totally insanely bad.

live, my beauty, live!

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When last I blogged about Halloween, I was working on creating a zombie.  And I was, admittedly, following Neil Gaiman’s advice and pretending I was good at it.  But a little foreplanning would have served me well.

So I had this mannequin:

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..and I had this head…

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..but this head was filled with hard foam.

zombie foam

So I had two choices:  Try to figure out how to glue the head to the neck – o hai giraffe zombie! – or hollow out the head and slide it over the neck.   Foam removal was much easier a concept than it was a reality, and it took me a few hours to remove enough foam to allow easy neck insertion.  Considering I have another  head to work with someday, I am documenting this fact in hopes that I remember to fit head to neck before I do any painting, because the fear of screwing up the mask and the paint job gave an extra level of anxiety to the task of foam removal.

As I mentioned previously, the mannequin I was using had a broken foot and couldn’t stand up on her own.  While I was fighting with foam, he was creating a platform for our chickie, and rigging up an armature for the arms.

Our gal is a bit more brittle than we’d anticipated, so screwing directly into the body was not Bones’ favourite job.  But he is my hero, and he made it work.

The apron-looking thing is a piece of a zombie costume. I’m not sure how old this thing is, but I love the look of the bones and such.  Obviously, it was in need of a repainting to make it match her head…as the next photo shows.

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The bits on her arms are from a completely different zombie costume.  The  look of it is SO different from everything else that I had some serious doubts any of this was going to look like it made any kind of sense.

We had left her with only a partial right arm so that I could get her dressed.  Sadly, the clothing I had pulled from my costume stash for her just didn’t fit right.  My wedding dress was promising, but Bones voiced…um, a loud protest…so I moved on to a blouse created by a Philly designer, Ercoli.  The blouse had seen better days, and it allowed me to show off those gorgeous ribs of hers.

She still needed hands.  I have a thing about monster figure hands, in that I want the figures in my haunts to have believable  hands. I used to work for a haunt that used cotton gloves filled with nothing, and it was painfully obvious that they weren’t hands.  So I had repainted a pair of recycled latex hands earlier.  (Below is a progress pic.)

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Hair was stumping me a little.  I finally settled on a horribly gaudy red wig I had stashed away.  With some black spray paint (I know, I know…tacky as heck) it showed some promise.

I slashed her clothing so that we could see her exposed bones and bits, using liquid latex to make the edges icky, and then  used more latex mixed with grey powder to give her clothing a further grimy feel.

And…voila!

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That neck seam is pretty amazingly invisible to me.  Also, o hai!  My zombie is a hussy!  But I really couldn’t bear to cover up that chest.

zombie gzombie azombie f

She ended up being much prettier than she probably should be.  I’m still not sure how exactly that happened…  Were I to do it again, I’d have lightened up her face, because in haunt lighting her features are a little hard to make out.  Alas.  Still, for my first attempt, I am beyond happy with her!

painting the walking dead

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So after a night of obsessing over my zombie’s mouth, I decided that using her original lips was the better option. And as soon as I cut the latex to expose her mouth? I regretted my decision, because it left a pretty obvious edge that I couldn’t hide.

…Moving on! I decided to start with a base colour of grey for her skin, then a layer of green, then a drybrushed layer of off yellow. I then chose to give her a secondary level of exposed muscle, with a few bits of exposed bone. For the muscle layer, I went with two shades of red followed by a diluted wash of black. (I used craft paint for all of this.)

Stage One:

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Stage Two (or, Oh Chickie I’m Not Sure What To Do Next):

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Stage Three:

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A sign of true love (as well as the best husband ever): Bones not only didn’t complain that I was working at the dining room table, he also cooked dinner and brought it to me while I was working. ❤

20151020-220055.jpgSide note: No matter how much they beg, do NOT feed your zombie table scraps.

20151020-220114.jpg“Please?  Just a nibble?”

I started working on her hands as well before calling it a day.  I can’t tell you how pleased I am to be working with actual hand-looking hands!  I used to work for a haunt that tried to use gloves in lieu of sculpted hands on their figures and IMNSO you can always tell that you’re looking at empty gloves.  If you’re building your own figures, keep on the lookout for hands you can salvage off other props.  These hands in particular are nowhere near new – the latex at the wrists is a little rough – but they’ll work for this project just fine.  I almost didn’t want to paint them because they sure do look aged/dead, but they don’t match any of my other materials and trying to paint everything else to match this might not work so well.  So!  They got a base coat of grey before Bones and I went out to visit some local haunts to get some more spooky inspiration.

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girl, be a zommmmmbieeee

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Earlier this year, Bones was gifted with a mannequin. As haunters, we know the rule: When someone asks if you want a mannequin, you say yes!!

In reality? Our plastic gal left something to be desired.

20151016-103216.jpg(What you can’t see is that our gal has a broken foot and can’t stand up by herself.)

I’ve been looking at her all summer, seeing very little potential until this week…when I concocted a plan to zombify the lady.

First things first! She needs a head.

I went through a few bins I affectionately labeled “stuff to make stuff” and realized this head had a foamy inside that should allow me to dig out a neck-sized hole.

20151016-103626.jpgThis head’s been through some hard times and I was not much fond of her look (no offense, kitten!), but it was the better of my two choices. My initial plan was to coat the cracks in her face with liquid latex…

20151016-103859.jpg…but there were a LOT of cracks and tears to fix. So I took a closer look.

I’d assumed this head came from a haunt vendor, although I didn’t recognize the work at all. As I poked at the cracks, I realized that in reality this was nothing more than a mask over a mannequinish head. So I took a deep breath and started ripping her face off.

(This was not to be the only serial killer feeling moment in this project.)

I quickly found that her face had been attached with liquid latex or glue and….straight pins.

Well. Ok then!

I went through my collection of faces (..oh, don’t pretend you don’t have a box of faces in your garage, too) and chose a feminine looking one. Then I used a paintbrush to apply liquid latex to her face. (Side note: if you’re working with liquid latex, make sure your work space is well ventillated!)

20151016-105008.jpg20151016-105024.jpgI pulled the latex mask over her face, reusing her original straight pins to secure the edges of the mask and slathering more liquid latex on the edges to help seal the mask to the head. (Ya wanna feel like a bad person? Shove straight pins into the eye sockets of a woman’s face. Pretty sure that’s more serial killer stuff right there.)

Annnnd I realized I made what I consider to be a girlie error. I had chosen a feminine mask that left me very little in the way of zombie details to paint later. 😦

20151016-105505.jpgIn other words? She’s too pretty, even with the folds around her chin and nose where the mask didn’t quite fit as snugly as I wanted. So I did the only logical thing..I tore her face off again and started over.

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20151016-105648.jpgMuch better! And this one made for a better, tighter fit, too.All those folds THIS time are actually meant to be there. My first choice was made from a thinner latex which I thought would work better, but having a bit more thickness did help me fit the mask to the face with less air pockets and tearing.

Then I left her to dry, and I went off to bed to, um, try to not dream about tearing faces off of heads…although I will confess I spent too much time thinking, “Hm, I should probably tear her lips off so I can show the mouth underneath…”

a conclusion i couldn’t have predicted

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Last day in China!

And I did NOT want to get out of bed.

The deal was that we were supposed to be up wicked early to go finish up everything in time for our inspection by the boss, then head off to the airport in the afternoon.  I am ashamed to say that I just didn’t care about waking up on time.  😦  To the boys’ credit, they tried to make sure I was cared for by making sure I could get breakfast before I went to the job site, but I didn’t know that, so I didn’t go to the restaurant.  I grabbed some fruit, checked my luggage with everyone else’s in the hotel lobby, and met up with the boys maybe an hour after they had started working.

One of the jobs I took on was to paint some 2x4s black to be used as bracing in the haunt.  I ignored my audience of 6 guys, found some black paint, could not find a paint brush…could, however, find a full sized roller sans holder.  (I should say, I did find other people painting over by the zombie shoot-em-up ride, but completely failed at getting anyone to understand that I could really really use a paint brush.  *sigh*) So I shrugged, dipped the end of the roller into the paint, and started slowly painting the bracing.

Wanna feel really stupid?  Go try to paint 2xs with just a roller.  It’s a great time.

After maybe 30 minutes, one of my audience member found a small roller on a piece of coat hanger wire.  He dipped it into the paint, rolled it across a board, and handed me the improvised roller.  I thanked him, tried using it, found it to be completely useless, walked over to a trash can, threw it away.  Went back to my big roller.

Then I had a great idea!  I found C and asked him if he could ask the audience to paint these boards.

Instantly, a box of paint brushes showed up!

FML.

As I failed at painting, I noticed there was a small pile of haunt walls off to the side.  They looked much the worse for wear, and we sorta raised an eyebrow, but we had a lot to get done, so a random pile of walls was nowhere near our list of things to worry about right then.  A bigger concern was the random park attendees that decided the haunt must be open for business and started wandering through as we were trying to finish up last minute details.

Good times, y’all!

Our inspection went very well, outside of a request for the videos J had provided to be in Chinese, not English.  Duly noted, he’ll work on that, let’s get the heck out of here!

We had a few hours before we had to go to the airport, and had been told we’d be able to go take showers before we left the country.  As it turned out, that wasn’t the case.  Our room keys didn’t work.  While I retrieved my suitcase, the boys were realizing we had no room, and the ever-resourceful J resorted to stealing a key from a maid’s cart and breaking back into one of our rooms so we could clean up a little.

In the meantime, S realized he had left his laptop back at the haunt.  Dammit!  We got a hold of someone at the park, and were told, “Oh, we’ll bring it to you at the park gate.”  We got into our shuttle van, went to the park, and were greeted by one of our interpreters who was holding just the laptop, not the bag/power source/assorted stuff.  So S had to run back into the park to get his stuff.

He came back looking really unsettled.

“What happened?” J asked.

“Well.  Um. You know that pile of walls?  Since we’ve been gone, they tore the front facade off the haunt and extended the front of the haunt with those walls, and then put the facade back on.”

I don’t have an ‘after’ pic, but I’ll try to make that make sense.  This is what the front of the haunt looked like when we left it.

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Our actual haunt had a full beautifully detailed facade, but you can’t see it because of this archway thing that was in front of the concrete pad where we were told to install the haunt.  What the owner had opted to do was to move the facade in front of this arch and then use the extra wall panels to connect the facade to the rest of the haunt.

I’ve never seen J look so stunned.  I still personally can’t imagine how that could have worked.  But somehow, this final tailspin of confusion and bewilderment seems to me to have been the most fitting way for the gig to have ended.

I’m so very glad I had the opportunity to haunt overseas.  It was amazing and bewildering and it taught me things about myself I didn’t expect to discover.  Not all of those discoveries were good, and I’m still processing some of that.  But overall?  Holy poop, y’all.  I helped build a haunted house in CHINA.

**CHINA**.

That’s pretty dang amazing.

And here, have some very random pics I didn’t share yet…

signage/other haunted attractions in the park

the insanity in our hotels

our haunt

random