MAD teachers David Kanary (left) and Carolyn Westberg are leading this year’s MAD Haunted House.
PHOTOS; Erik Pinkerton

As the days grow dark and the cool air settles in, Yukoners begin to turn their attention from campfires to pumpkins, embracing the spirit of Halloween.

The City of Whitehorse bristles with spooky events for all ages. One of the largest and most-sought-after Halloween fixtures is the annual MAD Haunted House, presented by the Music, Arts and Drama (MAD) program, at the Wood Street Centre, located downtown at 411 Wood street. Celebrating its 20th year, the MAD Haunted House continues their tradition of creating bone-chilling themes that scare and excite the masses.

Audience members who dare traverse the haunted halls of the Wood Street Centre have been treated, over the years, to haunted theatres, trains, museums, black magic and mythical creatures … to name a few.

Of course, there would be no haunted house without the tireless efforts of the MAD students and teachers who diligently work at creating and crafting their spooky production.

Carolyn Westberg and David Kanary, the current teachers of the MAD program, began their first MAD Haunted House as a team, in 2016, when they and their students created a “plague-themed” event based on the Black Death pandemic, in 1300s Europe, that killed millions of people. The event sold out and was a huge success.

“We learned a lot about the grade levels and what kids can handle as far as scary. I think Plague was one of the scariest because of the psychology. It was about sickness,” said Westberg.

The haunted house is more than a show. The themes of the event get integrated into the day to day studies of MAD students.

Carolyn and David find a theme that will work and workshop it with the students who then design their rooms and write the scripts.

“They do research, as well, and it feeds into the overall theme of the haunted house. Part of their curriculum is drama and English … we integrate it in. Even part of their phys. ed. is involved because of the dance and movement,” said Kanary.

“We give them the backbone, and they give [us] the flavour,” added Westberg.

It takes about a month to prep, with an estimated 100 hours involved in the entire process.

“When we are busy, it’s as much as two hours a day with construction, performance and dedicated time. It’s a theatre experience, and we want to give them the best. Our games are about focus and teamwork,” said Kanary.

Westberg adds, “The big thing about having this space is planning a confusing, effective and unpredictable route. It’s challenging because we just have these big open spaces. Our goal is to create an unrecognizable state. We don’t want the people to know where they’re going. It’s a multisensory space, playing on your hearing, sight and, at times, even smell.”

The theme this year is shrouded in mystery. The only information available is that there will be an “invasion” unleashed into a ravished apocalyptic world.

“We don’t want to spoil anything, but we can say that something is unleashed and the world is in an apocalyptic state. The safe house is no longer a safe place, and there’s a need to escape. Nobody’s to be trusted,” said Westberg.

The MAD group works hard to create illusions that fool people who have been there before, and their excitement is infectious.

“A lot of the students have never done this; for them it’s brand new. This is one of their biggest and most-challenging shows because it’s difficult and they are interactive with the audience,” said Westberg.

As for the audience, David Kanary has some advice: “Don’t hide in the back, don’t hide in the front. There’s no where you’re safe.”

The 2018 MAD Haunted House will perform 12 school shows for grades 4 to 7 and will be open for the public audience on Friday October 26 at 6 p.m. and on Saturday October 27 at 3 and 6 p.m.

Tickets will be sold at the door (no reservations) and this is a cash-only event.

Ages for public entry are for students in Grade 4 and up.*

*Please note: (for people with medical issues) There will be strobe lights and fog in use.

It’s a mad, mad world