EAST BANK — One of the Twin Cities most notorious Halloween attractions is back for its sixth year. The Soap Factory’s Haunted Basement originated as a fundraiser for the gallery and has become a staple Halloween event.
Roughly 10,000 visitors will brave the terrors lurking in the building’s ominous basement — around 500 of which will give up out of fright before reaching the end of the experience.
Soap Factory executive director Ben Heywood said planning the Haunted Basement takes months and the work of hundreds. Directed by local theater director Noah Bremer, the Haunted Basement utilizes professional special effects makeup, a crew of artist who conceptualize the experience, dozens of volunteer and paid actors and even engineers who craft the smells of the experience.
“It’s new every year, we don’t ever repeat anything,” said Heywood. “What we’re interested in is this idea of immersive theater. It’s always this personalized experience. It’s not a cookie cutter experience. It’s an intersection of contemporary art, which is what our gallery does the rest of the year, immersive theater, which is an increasingly important part of performance art, and then popular culture.”
The actual content of the Haunted Basement is always a closely guarded secret, with attendees discouraged from talking publicly about its scares. Of course, social media makes it easier than ever for attendees to share their opinions, which also gives the Haunted Basement team a look into audience reactions.
“We do quite an extensive evaluation. With social media, it’s very easy to get feedback,” said Heywood. “Some people will want it turned down and some will want it turned up. We kind of mix it around and turn it down in some areas and up in some areas.”
For those who would like a glimpse at the Haunted Basement but think it might be too frightening, the Soap Factory also offers “’Fraidy Cat Tours” on Oct. 21 and Oct. 28. From 10 a.m. to noon. These tours feature a lights-on look at the production hosted by some of the actors and producers.
“Because we’re an arts organization we feel it’s important that everyone should have access to the project,” said Heywood. “A lot of people don’t want to really fully engage with something as disturbing as the project.”
Another wrinkle that makes the Haunted Basement experience potentially even more disturbing: some think the building is haunted. Heywood doesn’t personally believes in ghosts, but admits the building’s past as an actual soap factory is rather gruesome.
“This was a place where animals were broken down into their constituent parts and turned into soap,” he said. “When we were given the building in 1995 by Pillsbury, the cleanout, the amount of much and dirt and bones and fat and disgusting stuff that had to be cleaned out. There is a long tradition of disgust in this building. And disgust is an interesting emotion, and it’s one of the emotions we’re interesting in examining in the Haunted Basement.”
The Haunted Basement runs through Oct. 31 at the Soap Factory, 514 2nd St. SE and is sold out. Fraidy Cat tour tickets may still be available at soapfactory.org. Heywood recommends looking for tickets for next year’s performances starting in August 2013.