For many, Halloween was quite spooky. Raging, partying, laughing and dancing occupied some students’ weekend, while others drank the night away. The Villard Room wasn’t the only way to enjoy yourself this weekened, however. Sunday night, a haunted trail behind the golf course stretched from the Wimpfheimer Nursery to Sunset Lake. Don’t Wait up was presented by Unbound, Vassar’s experimental student theater organization. Collin Knopp-Schwyn ’16 and Alycia Beattie ’16 ran the event.
For students who had not experienced Halloween at Vassar yet, the wide variety of options offered throughout Halloweekend this year created an unforgettable experiemce. One of the performers in Don’t Wait Up, Jake Terreden ’19, addressed the alternate programming he encountered during his first Halloween at Vassar, saying, “It’s been much more fun than any high school party I’ve ever seen. I really like the variety of options, the fact that there was something for everyone even if you’re not insane and want to go the big Villard Room party. You could definitely go to The Witching Hour or the Halloween Movie night. It does try to make it inclusive in a time when it can be very exclusive.”
Don’t Wait Up wasn’t always presented as an immersive haunted trail. Knopp-Schwyn [Full Disclosure: Knopp-Schwyn is a crossword editor for The Miscellany News] recalled, “Alycia and I, in addition to our friends York Chen and Belle Shea, did this secret, unsanctioned midnight ghost tour back on Halloween 2013 that we sold as us telling real, historical ghost stories about Vassar. But that became this whole ghost drama when Alycia suddenly appeared as a ghost. The whole thing was a huge seat-of-the-pants mess but we had twenty-five people show up to see it, which felt like a success.” He went on, “Don’t Wait Up, like most of the good to middling ideas I’ve ever had, was the product of a restless night attempting to fall asleep. I’ve wanted to do a follow-up project to that ghost tour of two years ago, but on a much grander scale and Don’t Wait Up fit that bill.”
Meeting by Kenyon Bridge, people walked along the trail through the dark woods, only guided by their flashlights and the dim paper lanterns along the trail. Minutes of silence could pass before they might encounter someone or something on their way, be it mannequins, morph suits, sprinters or screamers.
The original intention was to have the event occur on Vassar Farm, but, with guidelines stating that the Farm can’t be open after dark, a new location was found. Knopp-Schwyn saw opportunity in this minor speed bump, commenting, “We had to find alternative space and we ultimately settled on the Golf Course trail which is in many ways better. It’s safer, it’s wider and more varied than the Farm trail was.”
Going for a lingering eeriness rather than a jump-scare, the performers caused shock, panic and the hurried gasps of many who dared tread past.
Asked about the true nature of Halloween and its appeal, Terreden responded, “Horror can come in a variety of different forms. For some, it’s the knowledge that one will always die, for others it’s that finals are next week, and for us it’s walking in the woods alone.”
“The element of loneliness associated with walking the trail by oneself is what draws me to that project. So rarely is theater created for an audience of one, often out of the financial or logistical impracticality associated with it, but here we have an opportunity to create a unique, terrifying, individual piece of performance,” Knopp-Schwyn said.
There were enough guidelines in place to ensure that anyone who walked through the trail would come to no harm. One was that the performers were not allowed to come into actual contact with anyone, lest someone be on the receiving end of a violent outburst.
Despite providing alternate programming for the Halloween weekend, Knopp-Schwyn explained, “While Don’t Wait Up has a number of safeguards to keep people from getting lost on the trail or from being too uncomfortable that it’s no longer enjoyable, I don’t think we intended this as a safer option, like something to compete with other Halloweekend events. Where most of the events that happened this weekend were grand and social events, Don’t Wait Up is inherently an antisocial event.”
He went on, “I have trouble seeing Halloweekend as an either/or of Villard Room party or Don’t Wait Up. Why can’t it be both? And it definitely can be, because we’re performing on a Sunday when there’s not much else happening.”
A performer in Don’t Wait Up, Griffin Berlstein ’19, talked about his particular enjoyment of this Halloween. He said, “There were a lot of weird things you could potentially do. For instance, I got 28 people with moderate degrees of intoxication to sign their souls over to me when I was dressed as the devil. I’m not sure if I can cash those in for anything, but that’s a thing I have now.”
Reflecting on the overall effect Don’t Wait Up might have, Knopp-Schwyn said, “Less than entertaining, we’re hoping the trail is eerie and disquieting. We hope people are afraid in a way that no other event at Vassar will be able to make them. We’re aiming for a creepy, shiver-inducing sort of feel. It’s been a project goal not to rely on jump-scares in this project and I think we’ve managed alright.”