Jana Beagley

Of Monsters, Mazes, and Mayhem: Nightmare Vermont Intensifies Under Beagley’s Direction

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Thursday October 27, 2016

Shrieking. Goosebumps. Pounding hearts.

Welcome to the world of Nightmare Vermont, where evoking these sensations to the extreme makes for a joyous cast and crew—just ask its creator and event director, South Burlington resident Jana Beagley.

Entering its tenth Halloween season of haunting, Nightmare Vermont fuses live stage combat, theatrical storytelling, special effects, FX makeup, and interactive scares into one unforgettable experience which is staffed fully by volunteers.

The location for Nightmare Vermont changes occasionally, and when the perfect venue presents itself, it becomes a character in the show.

“Wherever we can find a place, we find a story that will fit the place,” Beagley explained. “We create the story from scratch every year, and we create all of our decorations. Nothing is ever repeated. It’s completely original every year.”

This year, Nightmare Vermont will put fear in every nook and crevice in the dark depths of the Champlain Valley Expo grandstand with elements of this year’s theme: a haunted dark circus. In the past, Nightmare Vermont has posted up in the city, such as the old Olympiad building and the abandoned homes in Picard Circle that were slated for demolition.

Beagley guided The Other Paper through the haunted route while it was being built, pointing to ideal scare spots and leaving out the particulars. One element participants can expect (in addition to creepy clowns) is the new “Strings and Stings” Maze; they can also expect to sign a waiver before entering, because once blindfolded, the intensity and extent of certain sensations will be unknown.

Beyond those expectations, the rules aren’t always crystal clear.

“One year we had a rule that people couldn’t go beyond the blue line, and we assured them if they stayed behind the blue line then they would be safe. Of course all of our monsters were crossing the blue line, and they were like, ‘you’re not allowed to do that!’” Beagley laughed devilishly. “We build up people’s expectations and then knock those expectations down.”

That said, Nightmare Vermont is cognizant that people have a range of comfort levels when it comes to a good scare. Therefore, participants provide consent by selecting a customized experience, thus making it more inclusive.  

For those who are testing the waters and don’t want their space invaded, they can purchase a monster ward--a glowing necklace that serves as cue for actors to keep their distance.

On the other end of the spectrum, those who crave a stronger haunting can bid on a monster teaser, which triggers the signing of another waiver. Those with teasers become part of the performance, and they can expect to be pulled into a fictitious-yet-terrifying scenario.

“This year, we’re putting into the waiver that we may ruin your clothing,”  Beagley warned. “We’ve duct-taped them to office chairs, we’ve had actors crawl over them, we’ve covered them in fake blood.”

Beyond the pure fright they bring to their customers (they can expect upwards of 3,000 entrants this year), the experience is also enriching for the Nightmare family.

“It is a great feeling of fulfillment to create this community every year, foster people’s talent, enjoy their glee,” she said. “And I’m proud that we create something truly unique. The story and characters are always new, and there are always epic stories of the broken prop that nearly ruined a scene, the stunt that went hilariously wrong, the audience member with a great reaction. We live on those stories.”

Other South Burlingtonians are part of the Nightmare crowd, such as Savannah Godbey, head of Nightmare makeup and assistant Nora Faulstitch. First-time leading actor Keith DeCosta is getting ready for the show, as well.  

Moreover, for all the gore and screaming that takes place, all scares go toward a cause. At least 10 percent of gross ticket sales go directly to charity. This year, Nightmare Vermont is donating to Generator Maker Place and has also funded an animatronic monster created by Generator designers and engineers to use in the show.

For several years prior to Generator Make Place, Nightmare Vermont funds went toward South Burlington Rotary Club. Nighmare’s sister event for children seven and older, Spookyville--also at the Expo--is raising funds for Camp Exclamation Point.

Naturally, the Nightmare Vermont production takes time to organize. Between finding a location, devising a storyline, holding auditions, holding combat rehearsal three times a week for six weeks, and spending time to set everything up, that leaves Beagley with a strict schedule. After all, she works full-time in the mental health field by day and is a mother to her 7 year old son.

“I have a very supportive partner who understands that the two months before Halloween are just survival mode. I kind of thrive on structure and deadlines, but he does end up with most of the housework so that I can spend every moment I’m not at work or Nightmare with my son.”

One could say that planning is Beagley’s forte, and some may recall when she managed a different form of planning. From 2009-2010, she worked for the South Burlington Planning and Zoning department as an administrative assistant under the department’s director, Paul Conner. In that time, one of the larger projects she organized was Green Up Day which broke some records for trash collected. She left the department after seven years of waiting to adopt her son from South Korea.

“The city was very good to me, but I was lucky enough to be able to stay home with him [her son] for almost two years,” she said.

Now, in 2016, her plans are focused sharply on making the Expo as creepy as humanly possible. First-timers are encouraged to come--you never know if you’ll discover a new hobby.

“One of my big thrills in life is walking people through the first time they discover Nightmare, and they discover what scaring people is all about. They realize that they love it. It’s very gratifying.”

Nightmare Vermont will run October 27-29. Tickets are $12/15 on www.nightmarevermont.org

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent