Historic theatre’s latest trick a treat for horror fans
T’S hard to tell if your heart is in your throat or just pumping into overdrive when visiting the former Walker Theatre these days.
But the trick that’s at the Burton Cummings Theatre until Tuesday night is really a treat — that is if you want to have the bejeebers scared out of you.
Stage Frights, which began on Oct. 26 and runs through Halloween night, is a full-scale haunted house experience in the basement of the historic Winnipeg theatre.
Just a few metres under the seats and stage, where countless performers have entertained and thrilled audiences through the decades, the thrills now come with chills when participants are led through a basement of horrors, where every turn could mean a sudden visit by the dead or a sudden scream from the person beside you.
The show is subtitled Mabel’s Curtain Call and is based on the historical fact that actor Mabel Hackney graced the stage of the Walker in what became her final performance in 1914.
As of Sunday afternoon, about 2,000 Winnipeggers had met Hackney live and in the flesh, even though she actually perished in the sinking of the Empress of Ireland 103 years ago, along with her husband, Laurence Irving, and 1,010 other souls, after the ship was struck by a Norwegian ship on the St. Lawrence River.
The ship sank in 15 minutes, and while Irving’s body was recovered — holding onto a piece of his wife’s nightdress — Hackney’s body was never found.
But for a couple more days, Hackney is back at the Walker, albeit backstage and in the basement, and Winnipeggers are loving the comeback.
“It was awesome,” 12-year-old Tyson Schellenberg said shortly after “surviving” the show.
“It was great. I was worried in the maze, because I thought something was going to come out, but then no one ever did. I’ll be back next year.”
Nine-year-old Remique Cloutier said his favourite part was also the maze.
IBoth Schellenberg’s mom, Lori, and Cloutier’s mom, Lydia, said the fact that the show was rated PG-13 didn’t scare them from bringing their sons. “Kids handle things like this very well these days,” Lori said. “This was really well done.”
“I liked the artistic aspect — how they dressed up,” Lydia said. “There is some scary stuff. I did jump. There was a person behind me in one area — I didn’t expect that.”
Andraea Sartison, one of the show’s creators, and Ruben Ramalheiro, True North Sports and Entertainment’s director of live entertainment, said there have been at least a dozen people who were so scared they bailed out midway through.
“For some, it is a really scary thing and some don’t make it through,” Sartison said.
“Some come out and say, ‘Yeah, it is sort of scary,’ and the others are in between.
“Fear is a really interesting thing. There was a 65-year-old woman who got right out of the building itself. She didn’t even wait for her husband.”
“We’ve had more people who have come out early than I thought we would,” Ramalheiro added.
Sartison hopes the production by One Trunk Theatre becomes an annual event at the theatre.
Interestingly, a theatre security guard on Sunday — a real one and not a ghost — had something of a personal connection to Hackney.
“My great-grandfather was also on the Empress of Ireland,” Christopher Halliday said.
“He went to visit relatives in Scotland and he went down with the ship. He was a second-class passenger.
“I haven’t seen him yet in this show,” he added chuckling.
The production runs every half-hour, beginning at 6 p.m. today and Tuesday, with the last one at 10:30 p.m. both nights.
Tickets cost $25 and can be purchased at Ticketmaster and at the door.
Logan Stefansen (above) performs as part of Stage Frights: Mabel’s Curtain Call at the Burton Cummings Theatre Sunday. Ruben Ramalheiro (left) and Andraea Sartison are among those behind the haunted house experience, which continues its run tonight and Tuesday night.