Something wicked this way comes. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Temple Building will transform into Lincoln’s only haunted attraction with the opening of ShakesFear at the Haunted Temple.
Not for the faint of heart, the immersive theater experience produced by the Nebraska Repertory Theatre will frighten guests along a twisted journey to discover one of Shakespeare’s lost plays. Trained actors and professional production designers will deliver bone-chilling jump scares and misdirections for thrill-seekers and Shakespeare fans alike. Created by Andy Park and Kevin Rich, ShakesFear is a haunted house that seeks to return Shakespeare to its populist roots while scaring and entertaining a diverse audience. The attraction will open Oct. 15 and close Oct. 31 in the Temple Building, which is rumored to have its own haunted past.
ShakesFear is the only haunted attraction within Lincoln city limits due to strict fire regulations, according to Rick Campos, fire inspector for the University of Nebraska and previously the City of Lincoln.
“For the last five-plus years there hasn’t been a haunted house in the city because other people haven’t been able to meet the criteria,” Campos said.
The ShakesFear team approached Campos early on to fulfill the requirements, which included a robust sprinkler system and fire-treating costumes and materials.
“Safety-wise, they’ve put a lot of work into it,” he said. “I’ve been through the performance and it’s great. I highly recommend it.”
ShakesFear immerses the audience in the haunting world of Shakespeare as they encounter ghastly ghosts, a murderous king and a bloody butcher while working to protect one of Shakespeare’s lost plays.
“You have actors who are approaching you and they’re speaking in Shakespearean dialogue, and that alone is unsettling,” said Andy Park, ShakesFear co-creator and artistic director for the Nebraska Repertory Theatre.
ShakesFear is equally designed for haunted house fans and Shakespeare fans.
“People who may not be as familiar with Shakespeare will still enjoy the experience,” Park said. “They’ll go into a magical forest, walk into a creepy castle and meet terrifying characters along the way. It could become a wonderful gateway to Shakespeare in a very new and exciting way.”
Shakespeare fanatics will enjoy the Easter eggs throughout the experience, such as seeing Lady Macbeth in a window, the ghost of Hamlet’s father and Friar Lawrence’s chapel from “Romeo and Juliet.”
The ShakesFear team boasts professionally trained actors who interact with and guide the audience through the Shakespearean narrative.
“This is a great experience for our actors,” said Christina Kirk, executive director of Nebraska Repertory Theatre and director of the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film. “The actors are wearing full facial masks, triggering special effects, and working with technology that they might encounter on a Hollywood film set. It’s a lot more complex than jumping out of a dark corner and screaming ‘Boo!’”
“The idea is that you create a whole immersive environment where people are engaging with the story,” Park said. “We have an amazing production designer, Jill Hibbard, who has created an incredible world that is both frightening and beautiful.”
The creative team includes Jill Hibbard, who specializes in large-scale puppetry, props and scenic art; Michelle Harvey, the lighting designer, who recently finished lighting a magic show in Las Vegas; Jason Hibbard, who serves as technical director for the project and the Glenn Korff School of Music; and Jeff O’Brien, director of technology for the Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts, as sound and systems designer.
These professional credentials contribute to a high-quality haunted house experience with master-crafted experiences every step of the way.
“The production values that we’re bringing to the experience may surpass what most haunted houses do,” Park said. “The experience uses a variety of pneumatic devices, animatronics and other special effects like smoke and lasers. Most importantly, the show features a cast of trained actors that bring a frightening unpredictability to the experience.”
Park and Rich created ShakesFear as a way to return Shakespeare to its populist roots.
“I think, at some point in time, Shakespeare became elitist,” Park said. “Somehow it turned into something that wasn’t for everyone, but if you look back at the roots of Shakespeare, it was populist entertainment, like ‘Game of Thrones.’”
This is not the duo’s first attempt at re-popularizing Shakespeare. Park and Rich ran an outdoor immersive Shakespeare event for several years at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, and the show sold out numerous times. This experience inspired them to create a new version of the show and emphasize the haunted attraction aspect.
To prepare, the team participated in one of the largest haunted attraction conferences, Transworld, where they learned closely held trade secrets and were inspired to create the one-of-a-kind ShakesFear experience for Lincoln.
“Halloween is about getting frightened, having fun and sharing scares with friends and family, and we are going to deliver on that,” Park said. “I think it’s scary, but I also think it’s beautiful. It’s gorgeously conceived, and I’m really excited for people to see it and experience it.”
ShakesFear is not recommended for those under age 13. Tickets can be purchased online in advance for $15-$20.