Drive-through haunt at Orange County fairgrounds may save Halloween from the clutches of COVID-19
For a while, it looked like Halloween was going to be one more holiday on the coronavirus chopping block — with pandemic restrictions forbidding large gatherings and person-to-person contact, the thrills of haunted houses and nighttime trickery seemed all but doomed.
But, with a lot of creative talent and a little ingenuity, a new kind of Halloween tradition has been born that even the Orange County Health Care Agency can sign off on. And it begins in Costa Mesa on Thursday night.
For the record:
10:11 a.m. Oct. 1, 2020An earlier version of this story misstated that producer Mark Entner and director Josh Randall worked together to create the Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor. Entner was a past producer, but Randall did not work on the production.
Through Nov. 1, the Orange County fairgrounds will undergo a sea change, as a mere parking lot transforms into a stage for a truly terrifying spectacle — an immersive drive-through Halloween haunt.
“Urban Legends of Southern California” is a 45-minute experience that lets participants drive through four experiential zones, each of which combines live performances, dazzling special effects and coordinated lighting and sound in a production that can be enjoyed from inside a vehicle.
“We have always wanted to produce a Halloween haunt,” Mark Entner, the show’s executive director, said. “And with the pandemic, essentially, a lot of Southern California’s favorite attractions needed to cancel this year. So, we thought we’ve got to reinvent how Halloween could be celebrated — how could we do it safely?”
In the past, Entner helped produce the Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor in Long Beach, an attraction that like many other Halloween events was canceled this year.
Entner has now teamed up with creative director Josh Randall to produce “Urban Legends.” Working together under the banner of Stardust Entertainment Group, the creative duo assembled a team and began sketching out the framework for how a drive-through experience might play out.
The answer lies in bringing the fright factor directly to revelers, instead of the other way around, by letting patrons remain inside their vehicles while the horror comes to them. Randall said he was eager to accept an intriguing creative challenge.
“All of the traditional scare tactics we use no longer applied, because there’s literally a barrier between our audience and our actors,” he said, adding that the show required a darker, atmospheric approach. “We’re really playing with people’s preconceived perceptions of what they think is going to happen and providing a really different experience that is immersive, really scary and, at the same time, fun.”
Each zone is inspired by a popular urban legend known to most Californians. Loath to reveal any spoilers, the creators referenced Bloody Mary and Bigfoot as two pieces of lore explored in the course of the show.
One of the scenes takes place, appropriately, in a drive-in theater with spectators trapped inside their vehicles, while another has a woodsy feel.
Randall said scene setting was important as the creative team looked for ways to scare people scattered throughout a group of about 30 vehicles all at once.
“We’re creating an experience not just for one car or one small group, but for a much larger group,” he said. “So we’re asking, what’s something that could happen to this large group and still scare every single car?”
As expected in these unprecedented times, extra precautions must be observed. Participants are asked to wear facial coverings while their vehicles’ windows are down, and actors are not to come within 8 feet of audience members.
“We’re not trying to create something for COVID-19 — we’re using those restrictions to create something brand new,” Randall said of the production. “We feel pretty confident we’ve tapped into an exciting new medium.”
“Urban Legends of Southern California” is one of several “reimagined” events that has looked to the Orange County fairgrounds for a stage. Last month, the Orange County Fair & Event Center organized a weekend Drive-Thru Fair Food celebration that was recently extended through Oct. 25.
A series of drive-in concerts has also drawn music lovers to the Costa Mesa site. Center spokeswoman Terry Moore said OC Fair officials have been pleased to partner on new and creative enterprises.
Fight Club OC season ticket holders enjoyed a night of wrestling inside their cars in Costa Mesa. At this event, it was cool to wear masks, whether you were wrestling or watching.
“We are excited to welcome folks back onto the fairgrounds for this innovative Halloween event,” Moore said. “We know that people are looking for safe and fun diversions, and this will bring some spooky thrills for all.”
“Urban Legends” tickets start at $59.99 per vehicle for Wednesday shows, increasing to $89.99 on Saturdays, and must be purchased online at urbanlegendshaunt.com in advance. Shows run in timeslots from 7 to 11 p.m., except the week of Halloween, when they run until midnight.
VIP packages are available, and merchandise and food can be added to tickets upon online checkout. Organizers have also planned a special Halloween event during the Oct. 31 5 to 7 p.m. timeslot for families with children under 13, with costumes, car decorations and goodie bags.
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