creative:impact - Monsters, ghosts, and goblins! Oh my!
Director of Night Terrors Brandon Wiard stops by to take "creative:impact" listeners on a behind-the-scenes tour of Wiard Orchards Haunted Thrill Park. Discover what it takes to create a frightfully scary experience along with "creative:impact" host Deb Polich of Creative Washtenaw.
Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.
ABOUT BRANDON WIARD:
Brandon Wiard has been working in the haunted house industry off and on since he was 12 years old. In middle school, he would spend his fall weekends acting in the Kiddie Haunted Barn at his family’s orchard not knowing it would end up turning into his career. After graduating high school he left the family business to pursue a musical career as a recording artist.
After getting married, he started a 10-year tour of duty as support staff for a local law firm but eventually got pulled back into the fold doing the haunted houses on the weekend. In 2015, he left the law firm in order to work at the orchard full time and has been there ever since. Under his guidance, Night Terrors has gone on to win multiple “Best Of” awards from within the industry as well as nationwide news outlets like Yahoo! and Travel & Leisure magazine.
Deb Polich: This is 89 one WEMU, and I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, and while David Fair is out on medical leave, your solo host for WEMU, his weekly feature, creative:impact. I invite you to join me over the next few weeks as we continue to welcome creative guests and explore the impact of the arts and creative industries in Washtenaw County. It's fall--my very favorite time of the year. Cool days, nature's most magnificent color palette, and sampling Michigan cider and warm, fresh donuts. Simply the best. Fortunately for me, there are lots of cider mills in the region, each with their own character. One of the oldest is Wiard's Cider Mill and Apple Orchard, which was founded by George Wiard in 1837, the same year Michigan became a state. It's still a family enterprise, and Brandon Wiard is here to tell us how Wiard's is involved into an "agri-entertainment complex." Welcome to creative:impact, Brandon.
Brandon Wiard: Hey, good morning.
Deb Polich: Thanks for being here. So, Brandon, 1837 was a long time ago. How are you related to the founder, George Wiard, and what generation are you?
Brandon Wiard: So I'm seventh generation, and I'm not sure how many greats it equates to, I guess, I could have done my math.
Deb Polich: So he's your grandfather.
Brandon Wiard: I'm on call this morning.
Deb Polich: He's a grandfather.
Brandon Wiard: He's a grandfather.
Deb Polich: Awesome.
Brandon Wiard: That's correct.
Deb Polich: Seven generations is amazing for a family business. You know, here on creative:impact, we explore how our creativity intersects with all sectors. And I love the term "agri-entertainment," though, I must admit, it's really new to me. So what exactly is that? What is agri-entertainment?
Brandon Wiard: So, agri-entertainment. The country fair at the orchard started in the early 80s, and that was at a point that my dad realized that, you know, as a farm to grow as a business, we needed to add something more than just the orchard itself. So, we started the country fair, which is, you know, sort of the usual fair hay rides and the petting farm. And then that grew to live music. And, you know, well, the haunted house started as a night time thing but actually ran in the daytime. So now it's, you know, now it's blossomed into what we have today with, you know, almost a sort of a carnival-like atmosphere, carnival theme park, but with the the orchard setting and obviously, you know, more of a farm theme to it.
Deb Polich: Yeah I know. It's a huge enterprise, absolutely. And you have the best title: director of Night Terrors. As the head of the Haunted Thrill Park, which is amazing. And haunted houses have become really big businesses. How long is the season and how many people does Wiard's thrill park attract to Washtenaw County every year?
Brandon Wiard: Head count? I don't know as far as how many people come through the gates. That's not my focus is on the show, not the back end, which would probably stress me out more if that was also...
Deb Polich: But it's a lot.
Brandon Wiard: My job description. Oh, yeah, we have lots of new faces come through the gates every year. But then we also have tons of repeat customers, too, which is great because we get compliments and comments. As far as, you know, things that we've changed and updated, the season itself runs, typically, it's the last weekend in September through Halloween night.
Deb Polich: So, you get a little bit of a break the next day.
Brandon Wiard: No. No. We immediately start tearing down the hayride trail. It's kind of an endeavor in of itself.
Deb Polich: It's probably like were probably like the Thanksgiving Day parades, right? This is creative:impact on eighty nine point one WEMU. And our guest is Brandon Wiard, director of Night Terrors at Wiard's Haunted Thrill Park. So make no mistake about it, this is a creative industry, and, Brandon, you have a performance background in music. Has that experience informed your work as a presenter and producer of the haunted houses?
Brandon Wiard: It has. I had, actually, in a recording studio for seven years as well. So, when I came on board and started, you know, looking at the attractions and what we were doing, sound design was a big focus. So, that obviously dipped into my musical world. And then, from the writer's standpoint, it was, you know, lines with the actors and coming up and, you know, elaborate backstories for each venue. So, yeah, when I, you know, when I tell people what my job is, they kind of cock their heads sort of like the RCA Victrola dog, because it doesn't seem like a real thing, but, no, it, you know, it hits every mark for me as far as my creative output goes. So, you know, video, video sound, writing, et cetera, et cetera.
Deb Polich: So what makes a great scary attraction?
Brandon Wiard: Oh, that's a good question. I would say a great haunt would be something fully immersive where you feel like you've, you know, you've left the outer world. And that there's some sort of thematic element that's taking, you know, as you're traveling through the haunted house, you still feel like you're in that same space and things are ramping up as you go. So it's, you know, I always tell people it's 10 second theater, but also sort of this roller coaster where you know you're ramping up to that last big scare.
Deb Polich: I love that. 10 second theater. Are the attractions designed and built in house, or is there like a, I don't know, a haunted house attraction catalog or store that you go to?
Brandon Wiard: So, we do, obviously, you know, set design and things like that are in-house. I do have a friend who's a prop maker, so we employ him as much as we can to do things custom because there's a lot of haunted houses that you go through and you'll, you know, if you go through as many as I have you, you'll see a prop and go, "Oh, that's you know, I know the exact company because these are, you know, these are companies in our industry." And we do actually have a trade show in St. Louis every year, which, if you can imagine being backstage at a rock concert for four days, that's about what it's like.
Deb Polich: A lot of fake blood?
Brandon Wiard: Oh, lots and lots and lots of fake blood and we have fog machines and sirens going off, but I always tell people it's funny that first fear, you feel like you're going to Disneyland and then now it's almost, like, I'm going to Wal-Mart, where I walk in and I go, "Okay, I need, you know, I need these custom severed heads that have chains cast into them so I can hang that ceiling." And then I'm quality and price shopping at the same time.
Deb Polich: Wow. This is creative:impact on eighty nine point one WEMU. And I'm Deb Polich and I'm talking with Brandon Wiard, director of Night Terrors at Wyatt's Haunted Thrill Park in Ypsilanti. So monsters, costumes, makeup, and sets. Oh my! What are the different jobs that are required to run this operation?
Brandon Wiard: So, obviously, yes, obviously we have 500 attractions and short span of time. So, there's, you know, there's all the prep, and there's also everything happening during the season. So, we have our own makeup department with our lead makeup person who has also been working on some set designers here with us. You know, we have our event coaches, costuming. I mean, everyone.
Deb Polich: It's like theater.
Brandon Wiard: Yeah, everyone for Night Terrors wears different hats. We have someone that actually works in our bakery who does theater costumes in the offseason, so she jumps in to help us with that bit. But, yeah, it's, you know, and it's a mixed bag, too. We have people that come with a theater background. We have people that come just in off the street and are, you know, naturally...
Deb Polich: Scary?
Brandon Wiard: Well, and naturally talented to just jump into a character and make it their own.
Deb Polich: Great.
Brandon Wiard: So, I always like being surprised every year by how people kind of come out of their shell as the year goes on.
Deb Polich: So, it just sounds like so much fun. So, I have to ask in this time of COVID, what protocols and how are you keeping your staff and visitors safe?
Brandon Wiard: So, last year was a little more stringent, as far as what we were doing. We had all of our actors were six feet away at all times. All the actors had masks on. We had anywhere that they couldn't socially distance. We had flexipartitions up. We were, you know, we were fogging the venue every half hour roughly, with an antiviral drug. Sorry. It took my brain there for a minute. We're still recovering from our Night Terrors weekend. And, this year, we have, you know, we've dialed things back a bit, and now we just have all of our actors wearing masks because, you know, just being cognizant of the fact that they're yelling. It's not necessarily 15 minutes and close contact, but when you're projecting like that. It's not a normal conversation. They're monsters.
Deb Polich: Right, right. So, that's what we're all doing in the creative industries and venues. Just being trying to make everything as safe as possible. So what's your favorite part of this business?
Brandon Wiard: What's my favorite part? I would say, I mean, I enjoy, you know, I enjoy seeing a new scene come to life for the first time, or I enjoy seeing a new actor jump into a scene, you know, that historically had someone else in it for years that since moved on to something else. It's like, "Oh, they, you know, they've taken it on to a different place and sort of made it their own just as far as the the acting of it goes." But I would say the feedback, you know, you hear people screaming from inside, and I smile, or even just people walking by saying, "You know, the haunted hayride was amazing." That was, you know, the sets and everything that we went through just was Disney level. So, for all the time and energy we put into it, that makes it worthwhile.
Deb Polich: So, do you ever wonder what your seventh great grandfather, George, might think about Wiard's today?
Brandon Wiard: I'm sure he would have his head cocked like the RCA Victrola dog here, trying to figure out how apples and peaches and asparagus turned into...and actually, that's our we kind of once we usually partly on...there's a night terrors yawn for you. That's some authentic haunting.
Deb Polich: Right, right. Well, Brandon, thanks so much for taking us on this ghostly tour of Wiard's haunted thrill park. We wish you the spookiest of seasons and happy Halloween.
Brandon Wiard: Thank you. You as well.
Deb Polich: That's Brandon Wiard, director of Night Terrors at Wiard Haunted Thrill Park, and you can find more about Brandon in the Haunted House Attractions at WEMU dot org. I'm Deb Polich, president of CEO of Creative Washtenaw, and this is your community NPR Station eighty nine point one WEMU and WEMU HD one Ypsilanti.
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