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Going behind the scares at Colonial Williamsburg, Hampton History Museum

Natalie Joseph
Contact Reporternjoseph@dailypress.com

About two weeks before opening night of Colonial Williamsburg's "Curse of the Sea Witch," creative team member Tim Sutphin pulled into a parking space at the costume design center.

Sutphin arrived with one of the 100 skeletons that will appear on Duke of Gloucester Street. That morning, Sutphin said he was tasked to deliver the skeleton to another member of the Colonial Williamsburg creative team to prepare for its installation later that week.

Once inside the costume design center, head costume designer Tom Hammond and his team of three accessory makers, were busy gluing seaweed to hats, assembling aprons and attaching seashells to the sea witches' cloaks.

As Halloween draws near, the historic site uses its entire staff to transform Colonial Williamsburg into a haunted experience.

A few cities away, the Hampton History Museum hosted an open call audition Sept. 15 in anticipation of its Hampton Horror Tours. Inside the museum, tour director and producer Lisa Garber called names one by one, as volunteers auditioned for various roles in the production.

Horror tour actors, such as masters of ceremonies David Hunt, made their way to the front of a small room, read lines and let out a big scream, an audition requirement of Gerber's.

The preparation all is for events starting Monday and lasting through the weekend as patrons immerse themselves in haunted happenings in the Peninsula area.

Creative visions

The Friday before "Curse of the Sea Witch" opens, the Colonial Williamsburg staff begins to decorate the streets with skeletons and haunted sea decor.

In February, the creative board decided on the sea-witch theme after CW Halloween creative director Robert Currie researched ancient sea monsters and etchings from 18th century mythology and folklore superstitions.

Beginning in October, Currie and Sutphin were on hand as intense lighting and projection tests were conducted in the Raleigh Tavern.

Currie, who was a spectator during last year's event, joined the CW creative team in February. He said the idea for this year's theme is a spinoff from 2015's "Blackbeard's Revenge" and will be more immersive, creating a new mythology surrounding the characters.

The premise is that someone has stolen Blackbeard's head, and as a result, the Sea Witch has placed a curse on Colonial Williamsburg. The experience will involve several stops in the Historic Area.

"The idea to use ghost pirates rather than zombies was strictly so they can interact with the audience a little bit more," Currie said of this year's "Curse of the Sea Witch" program. "Zombies are stoic and don't do much, but pirates, they can be the comic relief to the scary sea witches."

The Capitol will serve as a focal point of the curse's tale, where people can step inside a mythological sea monster, similar to Jonah and the Whale, Currie said.

The Capitol's outer decor was designed by London-based artist Filthy Luker and shipped to Colonial Williamsburg in mid-October. Luker's company, In Air Design, created two giant inflatable tentacles, as well as inflatable eyes, that will move from the building and surrounding trees, conveying the idea of walking into a live sea creature.

For the Hampton Horror Tours, the creative vision begins with the auditions. Although director and producer Lisa Garber put together the stories and scripts beforehand, during the auditions, the final characters were cast, and costumes began to take shape.

The cast of characters include Edgar Allan Poe, British soldiers, influenza victims and, of course, Blackbeard.

Garber said the museum added an additional tour each night it runs, Monday through Friday, and set a limit on the space available on each tour to enhance the audience's experience, giving it a more personal and immersive feel.

Auditions

Colonial Williamsburg has no formal auditions for its haunted shows because the actors that participate in the haunted production work year-round as historical interpreters. Suptin said each position is chosen on a volunteer basis. He said if interpreters do not volunteer for a role, the creative board, which knows each interpreter's strengths, casts them in a role that matches their forte.

The opposite happens for Hampton Horror Tours. Garber hosted a two-hour open-call audition. Actors of all ages tried out, from an infant to a nearly 70-year-old.

About 16 people showed up to the auditions, and many left with multiple roles in the production.

During the audition, Garber looked for people who can ad lib brief speaking roles and be historically accurate.

"Most of the people portrayed on this tour were a part of Hampton's history in some fashion or another," Garber said. "We don't make up any stories, we don't make up any characters, and we don't hand them a script because people are only going to be at that particular site for maybe five minutes. We want our actors to interact with the tour, which sometimes take ad lib skills."

Rehearsals

To prepare for "Curse of the Sea Witch," Sutphin said CW interpreters are involved in multiple rehearsals during the weeks leading up to the haunted weekend.

During rehearsals, interpreters run lines and cues and practice the believability of their characters. Most of the rehearsals take place during the day, taking into account that most of the actors already work full time.

"It's not just one big rehearsal," Sutphin said. "There are multiple hours here and there dedicated for rehearsals so that actors can learn their parts and be familiar with the production."

Lee Ann Rose, who plays the sea witch queen, said the five sea witches were given a loose script and were able to design their characters around the script.

Rose chose to research based off Roman and Greek methodology. After the final scripts and characters are created, the witches practice their performances multiple times, as well as do one big run-through of the final grand finale performance.

"Each of the witches meet and come up with a backstory as to why we became witches, how we became witches and the strengths of each one of us," Rose said. "We each created stories so that these witches are much more than just superficial women that are walking around the street being evil."

Hampton Horror Tours only has two rehearsals before the big show.

During the first, Garber leads the group by walking each character through their positions, practicing lines and interpretation skills. The second is a full dress rehearsal, where actors come costumed.

"If it weren't fun, I wouldn't be doing it," Hunt said. "The individual parts are short enough that they are easy to learn, even if we aren't out here practicing together. We do one big run-through to make sure everyone knows their parts. It takes a lot of coordination to run from place to place and play the different roles."

Costumes and makeup

At Colonial Williamsburg, the costumes are designed by head costume designer Tom Hammond at the historic site's costume and design center, located a few minutes from the Capitol.

Hammond explained that the costumes will be similar to the regular colonial garments seen at Colonial Williamsburg, with additional embellishments like seaweed sleeves, aprons and ruffles to match the sea witch theme.

"As far as costuming goes, we have to work with what we already have because of budget concerns," Hammond said. "So the main things we have constructed are the cloaks for the witches that the accessories teams have dyed and added to."

The costume team has been working on the haunted costumes since July, a duty that comes in addition to their current work.

Colonial Williamsburg's three-person accessories team mainly works on haunted sea witch and pirate costumes.

Because they chose mostly to use previously constructed clothes, the accessories team, overseen by Hammond, exaggerates clothing, hats and shoes with colorful dyes, seashells and seaweed to give the costumes an 18th-century ghostly feel.

"What we are doing is changing the the regular 18th century clothes by adding on to them," Rose said. "For example, I have a necklace that I wear with a skull and a crown with elements of the sea, because I am the sea witch queen. I will also wear contacts that will give my eyes the look of being glazed over, and long black fingernails. My makeup will be green to give me an wrinkled, old, aged look."

According to Hammond, most costumes take about five or six hours of work just to bring them to the final stage. 

Heather Wiggins, wardrobe mistress for the Hampton Horror Tours, designs most of the costumes worn in the production.

After casting, each actor is given the option to make their own costume or have it designed by Wiggins for a fee.

If the actors take advantage of Wiggins' services, she then takes their measurements, helps them gather materials and items to bring their character to life, and also fits them for previously made costumes that may only need minor alterations.

"I talk to them about color and how to find materials at a small cost if the characters want to make their own costumes," Wiggins said. "I basically have one month to make many of the costumes and consult with the actors before the show."

As for makeup, Hampton Horror Tours makeup consultant Cindi Verser tells actors where they can buy stage makeup and instructs them on how to properly apply it.

"If they are going to be an influenza victim, I help them with what their characters would look like and how to adapt the makeup that they buy, or the makeup I can give from my kit, to create something that is going to look realistic at night and not too overdone," Verser said. "One of the biggest problems is people buy a kit of makeup and they just slap it on and don't have that haunted dead look."

Showtime

The months of preparation culminate in a week of Halloween haunts.

Hampton Horror Tours opens Monday and runs twice nightly, at 6:15 and 7:30, through Friday. Tours start at the Hampton History Museum at 120 Old Hampton Lane and include stops at various places downtown, including the graveyard at St. John's Church.

"The Curse of the Sea Witch" runs 8 to 10 p.m. Friday through Oct. 31 in the historic area of Colonial Williamsburg. The $25 admission gives you access to several locations, including a Tavern of Terror, an interactive experience at the Gaol and a macabre Dance with the Dead at the Capitol featuring live music. Charlton Stage also will screen the 1926 Technicolor classic silent film "The Black Pirate," starring Douglas Fairbanks, accompanied by live commentary.

Joseph can be reached by phone at 757-247-1514.

Want to go?

Hampton Horror Tours

When

: 6:15 and 7 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Where

: Hampton History Museum, 120 Old Hampton Lane in Hampton.

Cost

: $8 in advance and $10 at the door. Space is limited.

Info

:

hamptonhistorymuseum.org

or 757-727-1610.

"Curse of the Sea Witch"

When

: 8-10 p.m. Friday-Oct. 31.

Where

: Wristbands can be retrieved at the Visitors' Center, 101 Visitor Center Drive, Williamsburg, where there is free parking.

Cost

: $25.

Info

:

colonialwilliamsburg.com/haunting

or 855-296-6627.

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