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The Nightmare at Beaver Lake returns
“There’s a psychology to scaring people,” Dana Young says. “For example, no matter how you look or what size you are, or what abilities you have physically, you can be scary just by staring at people.
“We teach them patrons are their prey. Werewolves want to eat you, zombies want to eat you, vampires want to eat you. Murderers want to kill you. So they’re always looking at them with feral hunger in their eyes.”
As Young, the art director of The Nightmare at Beaver Lake, talks about their actors’ preparation for their monstrous roles, she stands in the middle of a makeshift shack several hundred yards into the Sammamish park’s woods. It’s one of nearly 30 along Beaver Lake’s walking paths, each with its own theme; this one, painted in disorienting spirals and geometric patterns, is a funhouse.
None of the sets seem particularly malicious in light of day, and Young acknowledges this. But by nightfall, she says, the walking path will become a literal pants-wetting nightmare.
The Nightmare at Beaver Lake returns today, Friday, after holding its annual ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday evening. For a decade, the Rotary Club of Sammamish has partnered with Scare Productions, the city of Sammamish and other local organizations to scare the tar out of patrons — and the money out of their pockets. One hundred percent of the event’s proceeds go to charities in and outside of Sammamish. One volunteer also receives a scholarship to continue their education.
The attraction expanded as traffic increased. To keep patrons coming out year to year, the coordinators scrap the lions share of previous seasons’ setpieces and start from scratch.
“Ninety percent of the haunt is different every year,” Young says. “And what’s the same is different from the previous year.”
Planning for each year’s Nightmare begins at Scare Productions’ workshop in February, eight months before opening. Once volunteers are allowed to begin construction in the park, donated by the city, work continues until opening night.
Volunteers are typically high school or college-aged — people with “boundless energy” who can also be motivated by racking up school community service hours in a fun way, Young said. Nightmare could have up to 200 volunteers in the park on a given night, many of whom work behind the scenes to make sure necessities like line control, security and lighting run smoothly.
And then, of course, there are the actors. Nightmare’s volunteer monsters, killer clowns and serial killers went through training Saturday and Sunday.
“We have a team of really seasoned adult actors (to help with training),” Rotary President-Elect Cary Young (no relation) says.
After learning safety first — basics like maintaining distance from patrons and staying healthy while working outside on cold nights — the actors delve into the mechanics of creating a frightening theatrical experience.
“We do a lot of improv training with our actors,” Young says. “We do training with props and how to use them. We do exercises like throwing a ball and whoever has the ball has to keep a story going. We play to your strengths. If you’re really creepy and silent, you can be a character who (she settles into a dead-eyed, unblinking expression to demonstrate) just… kind of… stares like this, and that can be very creepy by itself. We’ve had actors playing zombies who, on their own, started crawling through the mud and muck on the ground to give their role that extra authenticity. They’re that dedicated.”
They’re motivated, in part, by an honor coveted every year: the “Pee Your Pants Award.” Every year of Nightmare, an adult patron has been so surprised or scared they’ve lost bladder control.
“The award goes to the first adult pants-peeing confirmed by security,” Young says. “And you can always tell. You can tell because, first, there’s the smell. But then you can also tell because for some reason the person will yell it out. ‘Oh my god, I peed my pants!’
“But we haven’t gotten anyone to vomit yet.”
The Nightmare at Beaver Lake will run through Halloween night Oct. 31. The child-friendly Family Scare is held from 7 to 7:45 p.m. and costs $10. The full scare show is held from 8 p.m. to closing and costs $16.