No seriously, it was. It had rained for three days straight but thankfully let up just enough for our farewell evening in the U.S. We journeyed to the rural, upscale village of Serenbe, GA where an interactive playhouse lies concealed in the forest...out in the middle of nowhere. We are supposed to be going to an outdoor play. I’m thinking small open-air Shakespearean type playhouse. I was wrong….dead wrong. Dun.. dun.. duuuun.
At dusk we park the car and trek on foot a 1/4 mile through a mud-soaked field surrounded by nothing but trees and silence. Our path is illuminated only by torches staked in the soggy ground every few hundred yards. At the edge of the open field we are greeted by an ornery woman wearing a long, black, hooded cloak who checks us off her guest list. It is completely dark by now and as we enter the woods down the torch-lit trail I can't help but wonder what is going on... Wiccan ceremony? Episode of Survivor? Who knows. I thought we were going to a play???!!!
At the bottom of the hill awaits a shabby-chic, scrap wood/corrugated metal outdoor pub draped in Halloween lights. Rude English-accented ghouls dressed similarly to our greeter, with ghostly white faces, exclaim "Wha’ you wan’ ta drink? I ‘aven't got all day!" They grudgingly serve up Oktoberfest, spiked cider and caramel popcorn, after which muttering “Get outta my face.”
We've arrived at our 1/2-acre open auditorium: a thick copse of trees provides a ceiling of bony branches silhouetted by the moon, the wet, leafy ground is our floor, there are no seats. The dim space, lit only by torchieres and paper lanterns, is sufficiently creepy. We cross a small stream and wait for the show to start while the rest of the 70 or so people filter into the tiny 1-bar hamlet of...Sleepy Hollow.
The “experience” begins with the introduction of a nerdy and skittish Ichabod Crane, his giggly and shallow paramour, along with three other characters. This play is entitled an "immersive experience" and IS such. We stand up most of the time and are led by the actors to 4 separate small wooden stage areas. Each area utilizes a minimal amount of actual stage lighting to retain proper spookiness. One such stage is a makeshift covered bridge made out of shipping pallets, the haunted “Church Bridge". Another stage area sports crude benches and hay bale seats, akin to sitting around the campfire telling scary ghost stories. A superb sound system is hidden amongst the trees.
The only annoyance is that we are herded like sheep to each stage site every 15 minutes and it is slow-going due to the dimly lit paths, stepping carefully to avoid tree stumps and stray branches. But the actors walk among us, throwing out derisive jabs here and there, aiding in forgetting the few minutes it takes to assemble. "Move along people. Cows move faster ‘an you. Watch yer step, if ya fall I'm goin’ ta swipe yer beer ‘an laugh." At intermission one can buy more alcohol or play old fashioned games: ring toss onto pumpkin stems, corn hole or bobbing for apples (which they alternately called ‘bobbing for a head cold’ – I wonder why no one played).
Throughout, we are treated to not only beautiful singing and rich comedy, but mandolin, guitar and accordion music as well. It was far and away one of most interesting venues I have ever seen with outstanding acting to boot.
The play culminates once again at the Church Bridge. We are rounded up and squeeze shoulder-to-shoulder into the narrow walkways on either side of the bridge where they finish the tale of Ichabod crossing the bridge, never to be seen again. And as we peer through the wooden beams, awash in a reddish glow, we witness the headless horseman galloping by...yeah...on a real horse. Cool. Since when did the last play you went to feature live animals?
Tramping back across the open field to the car, I realized we could not have asked for a more ‘Sleepy Hollow’ eve...a bright full moon hovers, a slithering mist conceals whatever hideous creatures hide beyond the tree line, a damp chill sets in our bones. Last one to the car gets eaten by a werewolf!
Click below to watch the professionally done trailer. It’s worth it…