Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Halloween Horror Nights 2011

(subtitled "Exit From Hiatus")

Just a little foreword before I begin the blogpost proper. The events detailed in this blogpost date back as far as last September so yes, this blogpost is WAY overdue. However, I really didn't want to skip it because I think that Halloween Horror Nights was one of the events last year that defined 2011 for me. To be honest, maintaining my blog wasn't very high on my priority list last year but now I have an iPad on loan to me for a semester, I will hopefully be able to churn out more of my blogpost ideas that are currently sitting idle. Ok, now on to the blogpost proper...

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It all began way back on 31 August when I came back to work my part-time job as a waiter in Universal Studios Singapore during the Hari Raya break. While I was in the back-of -house, I noticed a poster advertising the auditions for internal staff for the upcoming Halloween Horror Nights (HHN).

A little backstory on what HHN is all about. HHN is a Halloween event that originated from the Universal Studios in USA. This meant that HHN in Singapore would be a MASSIVE scale production, similar to its American counterparts. In a nutshell, HHN was about taking the Hollywood experience, converting to a Halloween theme and setting it in a theme park for the public.

None of that really mattered to me though. The moment I saw the poster, I was hooked. For the longest time I wanted to have a glimpse of what it was like to be a part of the entertainment industry and this was my chance. The moment I got back to my room, I cleared my schedule to make way for the audition and crossed my fingers.

Fast forward a few days ahead to the audition day. When I walked into the audition room, I was greeted by the project director, the head of costumes and the stage manager for HHN. The audition actually went a lot quicker than I expected. The first part was essentially just them asking basic questions about my background like "Would you mind wearing coloured contacts?" and "Have you ever worn stilts before?". The second part was even easier. The project director simply said two words, "Scare me". The moment those two words left his mouth, I instinctively did the scariest thing I could think off. I bolted to their table and screamed as loud as I could into their faces. The tactic must have worked because a few days later, I received a call from Universal Studios Singapore saying that I got in.

Fast forward once again to the first day of practice. During the contract signing, I learnt that I was casted as an Evil Clown. Whatever that entailed, I didn't know but I digress. So as they gathered all the scare actors in the Pantages Theatre to brief all of us, we were grouped according to our areas and roles. As I sat down in my designated seat, the random stranger suddenly said to me, "I'm sorry but I seemed to have forgotten your name". A little surprised, I simply replied, "I don't recall ever telling you my name". As it turns out, by some random stroke of fate, the person sitting next to me was the ex-vice president of the NUS Comics and Animation Society of which I was currently the president of (in my defence, I only met her once before and moreover she was cosplaying that time so it was hard to recognize her out of costume). Either way, I was thankful enough to have met a familiar face in a sea of strangers.

The practice sessions before the event were odd enough for me. We were all dumped on an empty set with no idea whatsoever what our characters were supposed to look or act like other than the one-liner that told us what character was. So basically for the first few practices, we were left to our own devices and imagination as we explored how we interpret our roles and how we could interact with out surroundings. Nevertheless, over time as the props stopped shifting around and the costumes were finished, we had a more solid feel for what our characters were supposed to be. After that, the rest was history. After the practices, we went straight to the event itself which was spread over two weekends. Night in night out, we scared patrons as they walked in. Over the two weeks, I saw all kinds of people. Some were scared of out their wits for simply being there, some were stoned faced, some ridiculed us back as we tried to scare them, some even manhandled us while we were on duty. I was even fortunate enough to catch some of my friends while I was on set.

All in all, how did I find the experience? For starters, it was tiring like f**k. I was on set for as long as 45 minutes at a time and I was forced to wear a full-faced sponge mask so after just 15 minutes, my face started to melt under the sponge mask. On top of all that, we had to report in at 5pm and we were only released after 1am. Add transportation time on top of that and I got at least 10 hours of being outside to add to regular university curriculum and the fact that I only got to sleep after 2am for two weeks.

But boy was it fun. It would go without saying how fun it would be to be a part of an event centered on entertainment. On top of that, I got to mingle with a lot of interesting people behind the scenes. I met full-time performers, students studying drama and theatre, people who were there simply because they didn't have a job and even a person who has been in the freelance theatre business after quitting school after O-levels (there was an interestingly sizable number of openly gay people there as well). All of them were amazingly fun people. It was like a breath of fresh air to meet people I have never mixed with before and it was eye-opening to learn what it was like to be a part of the entertainment industry, both from talking to all these individuals who are a part of the industry and by simply being a part of this event myself.

Of course, this job had some extra perks. Before the event was opened to the public, some of us had the chance to experience the entire event for free. Some of you would have felt the $60+ entry ticket was too expensive but I would say that the ticket was worth every cent. The entire set-up was incredibly elaborate and the high production value was immediately obvious the moment you see the New York area which was converted to a post-apocalyptic setting complete with crashed cars and a dozen wandering zombies. It's certainly something that one is unlikely to experience within Singapore or even possibly South East Asia. As a customer and as a performer on and off set, I feel fortunate to have been a part of this incredible event and if all else works out, I would totally be a part of this in the future.

Some pictures of my costume for those who are curious:-

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