Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Behind The Build - The Haunted Garden @ Nightmare Festival

The Haunted Garden 2014! What an experience! This year we ventured out of our old Silver Spring yard haunt to bring our over the top creations to Nightmare Festival in Darlington, MD. It was probably the biggest thing I have ever done and certainly the hardest I have ever worked. With only 2 months to build and less than a week to install, the challenge was fierce, but my team and I worked around the clock to ensure that we provided an amazing Halloween experience for 3,000 EDM festival goers. I didn't get to document the build as much as I would have liked, due to being so dedicated to the task at hand, but I'll give you a glimpse into what it took to make this extraordinary haunted festival come to life.

Nightmare Festival is held on the vast campgrounds of Camp Ramblewood - a unique rustic resort near Havre De Grace, Md, boasting hundreds of acres of multiple fields, wooded trails, cabins and a lake. This was beyond a challenge for us as we spent our previous years densely operating on a 1/4 acre wooded lot.
The first challenge was to create a "haunted walk" in between stages to give patrons a themed adventure as they made their way around the festival. I was given a tree lined path and a huge open field. What better reason to create MORE giant mushrooms? We busted out another 3 to add to the 5 from Big Dub Festival for a total of 8 giant mushrooms! They were a huge hit and created a wonderful walkway for everyone. I called it The Garden of Wonders -   complete with straw bales, corn, custom carved pumpkins, L.E.D. lighting and an assortment of creepy characters.

At the entrance, an Wonderland inspired sign to direct patrons along their way.

The mushrooms were lit with ColorBlast LED fixtures. 
The Bunny Butler.

The next task was joining the giant mushrooms with the field surrounding the barn, which served as the 2nd stage. This posed a great challenge because, well, there was nothing there! But it soon occurred to me that we would create an out of this world, vintage inspired, Night Circus because who doesn't love clowns?
This is where we worked the hardest. This was a theme I had never done before, so I knew we would be making this whole installation from scratch. We also needed a 360 degree environment as people would be flowing from all directions, going from one stage to the next. So for 12 hours a day, non stop for 2 months, we worked and we worked. The first order of business was to create a ticket booth.
Every carnival needs a ticket booth and after searching the web for some inspiration, we fell in love with this fabulous design from Keith Corcoran. http://makezine.com/projects/scary-ticket-booth-build/

I added my own special details throughout and jig-sawed the letters to give the sign some depth. With a little gold and some circus bulbs, it felt like we stepped back in time.
The next piece was a wild and crazy Kissing Booth - complete with a bizarre assortment of props and oddities. My husband built the booth itself and let me handle the sign and the details.
I cut a piece of plywood, stained it to create an aged look, then painted stripes and letters.
Craig built a simple frame, cut holes in the top for posts and a half circle out of the counter in the back.
We added old boards from our farm and painted them red & white. We always dilute the paint with a little water to give the aged look. After a lot of gluing and painting, we gathered props that would fit the scene.
 These fabulous, handmade heads were purchased from a retired circus haunt in California, better known as The Haunt at Hellizondo. 
The poor mannequin had quite a night.
We couldn't stop at a Kissing Booth and tackled the next project -  a life size Jack in the Box. This was a collaborative project between my husband, Addy Catbug and myself. We had a lot of fun with this one doing multiple layers of designs, lettering and reliefs. 
We put a trampoline in the bottom and our wonderful actress, Sophia aka Jack, brought the box to life. 
We filled in the areas with more straw, corn, pumpkins and swirls on a stick! 
The swirls on a stick were made simply using 1 inch foam, paint and wooden stakes. These were hand painted by my good friend and new member of the team, Marsha Harvilla.
Of course every good carnival needs a spinning wheel of death.  This one was completely built by my husband Craig. Made from 2" blue foam and a thin sheet of luan wood, it connects to a wood frame and motor that runs on a car battery. Eventually he put an over-sized head on this one since it was part of the Freak Show.
 This amazing piece was already at the venue, which is one of the reasons I wanted to go circus theme. I dressed it up a bit with draped fabrics and accents and then sent in the gypsies.
 The far focal point of the circus needed something substantial, luxurious, and mysterious. So we brought in an 8'x8' stage, pipe and base and red velvet stage curtains.
Shilo as The Marionette 
The last and most important part of the circus, in my eyes, was the need for oversized vintage inspired circus posters. These are very expensive to purchase, so I decided that we would just have to make them ourselves. This was another collaborative project between myself, Addy Catbug, Sara Navi Hrkach and Robin Kovzelove. I purchased large canvas by the roll and a decent amount of acrylic paints. Sara created the masterpiece - Serpentina. Robin made the Sideshow Spectacular using both freehand paint techniques and photo transfers. Addy hand painted the awesome Kim-Ken He-She poster and helped me with the typography posters. 

I created the typography posters first in Illustrator, choosing the right fonts and placement. I then printed each letter to scale using my home printer, cut, placed, traced and painted for days on end. 
Serpentina - hand painted by Sara Navi Hrkach  
Sideshow Spectacular - Hand painted by Robin S. Kovzelove
Kim-Ken The He-She - Hand painted by Addy Catbug Bramson

I time lapsed myself painting the Greatest Spectacular on Earth poster. This one minute long video has over 1,000 still images over a 12-hour period. After giving the poster a base layer of color, I placed the stencils, traced and painted. 
 Of course The Haunted Garden isn't complete until you have an enormous creature watching over the landscape. This time, Jack the Giant Pumpkin Head joined the circus!
Soaring to 26' feet, we built him using flexible insulated duct, aluminum duct and foam. For the clothes, we used red, white and black felt - pinned, cut, sewn, taped and glued.
Rigging by Anthony Terranova - the master of soaring heights. This was tricky and he needed to be very secure and safe. We were expecting 50mph gusts that weekend. 
 Last but not least was the entry sign for The Night Circus. 
After finding the perfect font, in this case I used Cirque and Aegean, I arranged it with the effect I wanted and to scale. This is done the same way I make all my other signs. Print stencils, cut, trace, jigsaw, paint and glue.
I knew I wanted it to look like the opening of an actual circus tent, so I painted some red and gold drape details.
Our costumes were a collection of more great buys from The Haunt at Hellizondo and various weekend visits to the flea markets. Staying true to the theme, we collected an awesome assortment of top hats and actual vintage costumes and uniforms.
 The Night Circus was incredibly challenging and a ton of work but we had an absolute blast building it, creating characters and enjoying the atmosphere with the patrons. We will continue building on this theme for years to come.

The whole circus theme was created as we were figuring out the theme for the stage inside The Barn. This special hidden nook of the venue is old, creepy, raw, intimate and honestly, my favorite stage to be a part of. The dj booth would be situated on the small enclosed stage. The old world, ornate decorations on each side of the room were leftover from PEX Summer Fest and it couldn't have been more perfect. I started with making a sign for the entrance.

I always start my signs to scale, in Adobe Illustrator. 
 I, very carefully, freehanded the shape and cut with a jig saw. 
 I started with a base coat of white washed stain. Then I applied a watered down version of white to create a vintage look. Then, using a yard stick, created stripes.
Painted them in with diluted black paint so you can still see the wood grain.
 The frame was made from 1" blue foam to keep the sign lightweight. Painted red and glued to the backboard.
I made my stencils from the original Illustrator graphic, traced, cut and placed along with some decorative pieces.
I painted the letters with gold acrylic paint and sprinkled a very small amount of glitter tor shimmer. Then drilled 1" holes for the lighting using a hole saw attachment to the drill.
I handed it over to the tech crew along with this nifty chase controller from www.NoveltyLights.com. After arranging wire after wire every 4 parts, we accomplished a chasing marquee sign!

We strung some circus lights to the barn and the entrance was set.
Up next was creating something really special for the stage. My husband decided to own this project and came up with a giant clown with spinning eyes.
Inside the mouth would be the djs. Amazing.
After measuring the stage on site, Craig cut the pieces out of 1/4" plywood. Then mostly freehand, drew and painted on the details.
Added some uv paint layers for lighting effect.
The next order of business was creating a ghostly and traditional haunted path to serve as a walkway between the campgrounds and the main stage / vendor row. I made this witch last year but never really finished her. This year we were able to carve her face some more, build her body, hands  and hood. She still isn't finished. I may even turn her into a completely different creature next year. 

 Craig took on the job of making giant hands using 2" blue foam, cheesecloth and Great Stuff. This was a tedious, sticky process. 
With some careful rigging and serious strength, she made her way up. The rest of the path was a collection of my favorite store bought props from years past, spiderweb, hand made ghosts and a combination of uv and amber lighting. 
We continued our theme decor all the way down the venue to the pavilion stage, where we put our Giant 17' Spider on the roof, complete with new uv paint job by one of my favorite artists - Danielle De Francesco. 

This is the only picture of Danny Davidson's beautiful handywork at Voodoo Lake, which was adorned with handmade scarecrows and voodoo symbolism. It was breathtaking and if you were there to see it, consider yourself one of the lucky ones.
And of course a rave isn't a rave without the main stage insanity of over-sized deco, lasers, lights and video. This amazing spectacle was a collaborative effort of the decorators from Bad Ass Raves, SuperCal, Prime Laser Systems and Nephilnine Deco. All veterans of production.
Overall. this was a huge collaborative effort between myself, my husband and 20 other people. From the build to the install, costumes and makeup, acting and performing, painting and pumpkin carving, it was a massive undertaking created by truly dedicated and passionate Halloween lovers. To those involved, thank you from the bottom of my heart. This could not have been done without you.
A very special thank you to:
Addy Bramson - Crew/ Artist / Painter 
Danny O'Doyle Davidson - Co-director /Set Designer / Makeup Artist
Michael Faulkner - makeup artist/sound & lighting guru
Craig Peet -  Master Builder / Actor / Scariest Clown EVER
Sara Navi - Makeup Artist / Illustrator / Painter/ Costume Designer / Actor 
Kenzie Frenzy - Actor / Circus Performer
Dan Gambyt Ardnt - Actor / Set Crew/ Lighting 
Amanda Mandalay - Electrocute 
Josh Almond - Actor / Crew
Steve Calamia - Ring Leader
Danica Jade - Actor / Circus Performer
Anthony Terranova - Master Rigger 
Nichole Skye Jonker and Lexi Worsham - Gypsies of The Circus
Shilo SortTingHat - Marionette / Decorator main stage
Travis Vilyn - Actor / Pumpkin Artist
Shechi DarkMatter - Actor / Circus Performer
Kasey Lloyd - Pumpkin Artist / Mistress of Ebola
Raul Render Colon - Pumpkin Artist / The Man 
Marsha Harvilla - Crew / Actor
Danielle De Francesco - Scenic Artist / Painter / Woman of Action
Jessica Babb and Bryce Newell - Slow Kidz
Rebecca Souther - Pumpkin Artist
Chad Bozzarelli - Festival Owner / Bad Ass Mother Fucker
Bobby Fingles - Production Manager of The Year
Kevin - Head Above Heart Photography
Cj Winn and Ashley Pasqualichio - Crew 
Sophia Doc Satann - Actor / Jack in The Box
Also a very special shout out to:
Anjelica and Nicole Light It Up
Michael Hogan
Danny Elemental Reamer
Mara Faulkner
Robin Kovzelove
Jessi Love
Jasmine Sims
Randy Christie
Steve and Amy Paradis
Amy Stiver
Lonnie Fisher
Sue Helfrich
Luis Cruz
Andrea Noriega
Kappy Bunting
Ben Kirsch
The entire Electrocute Collective
Bad Ass Raves
Thank you from all of us at The Haunted Garden!
Till Next Time & Happy Haunting!
For more info on The Haunted Garden visit :


  1. Absolutely amazing! It was just a wonderfully, creepy, halloween-isk experience that I will remember for so many years to come! This was one of my favorite parts of the whole festival.

  2. How awesome. I'd love to do something on this scale if I had the space and the friends to help. I especially love the ticket booth.. though I'm a bit biased. :)
    Seriously though, epic work!

    1. Keith! It's an honor to have you stop by. Thank you so much for your wonderful booth design and inspiration.