By Rachele Stoops
Nebraska Repertory Theatre, Friday, October 21, 2021 7:30 pm.
Halloween is not my favorite holiday.
Sure, I like dressing up in costumes and buying candy for 50% off the day after, but anyone who knows me would never expect to find me at a haunted house.
I do enjoy Shakespeare, however, as any legit English teacher does (or claims they do), so I was excited to see what the Nebraska Repertory Theatre would do for their Halloween offering, ShakesFear, directed by Kevin Rich and Andy Park, playing through Halloween weekend at UNL’s (purportedly haunted) Temple Building.
My good-natured husband accompanied me, and we were by far the most middle-aged patrons at the first showing of the evening.
When we arrived at the Temple Building, we noticed some costumed characters hanging out near the side door of the building. “Are they in this?” my husband asked. “Because if not, college has gotten a lot weirder.”
College may have gotten weirder, but they were, in fact, in it, and we were greeted by a few more creepy figures – and a giant-headed William Shakespeare – as we made our way up the steps to the lobby of the Temple Studio Theatre.
Instead of heading in to the theater to find seats, we were politely instructed to wait in the lobby until our appointed time. Other ticketholders, scheduled to attend the next showing (Shakesfear runs at fifteen minute intervals), were sequestered in another part of the lobby to wait their turn.
When the clock struck the hour of 7:30pm, our group of ten gathered near the door of the studio theater. One of the students said to another, “Remember, they can’t touch you!” I desperately hoped that was true as we waited in the darkness.
After a few moments, we were ushered in to a beautifully detailed library set, where a very professional-sounding guide dictated the rules: don’t open any doors, don’t touch anything, and be scared in a reasonable manner. I could make no such promise.
The adventure truly began, then, when a disembodied skeletal Shakespeare head with glowing eyes (green, then red), revealed the tragic tale of his stolen play, and implored us to risk the dangers on the path ahead in order to rescue the script and prevent it from being lost to history.
As I said, I’m not a haunted house kind of gal. From what I’m told, haunted houses typically include a lot of things and people jumping out at you, and I just don’t do well with that. I think it goes back to 1986, when ten-year-old me was alone in my bedroom, lying on my canopied bed and reading a Baby-Sitters Club book. I started hearing rustling behind my closet door, and when a voice spookily warbled my name I took off running down the hall, screaming at the top of my lungs. I was completely convinced that a ghost or a murderer was concealed in my closet next to my jelly sandals and my Miami Mice sweatshirt!
It was not a ghost or a murderer. (You may have figured that out on your own.) It was my seven-year-old brother, who thought it was hilarious. I’m pretty sure he still does.
So even though it’s been thirty-five years (holy cow) since that terrifying experience, and I’m into true crime podcasts and the occasional horror movie, I am not the most reliable judge of a scary haunted house. But Shakesfear scared me.
Each room featured a different Shakespeare character or scene. I recognized Puck and Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Weird Sisters from The Scottish Play (better safe than sorry) and a familiar bear scene that I had to Google (it was from A Winter’s Tale). The costumes were brilliant, each room was unique and fully decorated, and every actor gave a convincingly creepy performance. I jumped more than once, and I was glad my naturally stoic husband was holding my hand (and holding in his laughter at my jumpiness).
The tour through Shakesfear lasts about fifteen minutes, and there are guides at every turn. Exiting out into the darkness outside the (probably haunted, remember) Temple Building is the perfect way to conclude the experience.
I asked my husband, a more seasoned haunted house authority than I, how Shakesfear compared to other haunted houses he had survived in the past. His response: “It was pretty good.” From him, this is glowing praise. But if Nebraska Rep chooses to stage another haunted house next year, he’s got his fingers crossed for a Rob Zombie theme.
If you go: ShakesFear runs through this weekend and next, October 22-24 and 28-31, 2021, at UNL’s Temple Building, 1209 R Street. Times vary depending on the evening: October 22, 28, and 29: from 7:30pm – 10:30pm (every fifteen minutes); October 23 and 30: from 7:00pm – 10:30pm (every fifteen minutes); October 24: from 6:00pm – 10:30pm (every fifteen minutes), and October 31 – Halloween night: from 6:00pm – 10:45pm (every fifteen minutes). Purchase tickets here: https://nebraskarep.org/season_specific.php?show=2
Rachele Stoops teaches English at the Graduation Pathways program at Lincoln Public Schools. She has three incredible offspring who are all grown up, which gives her extra closet space. Rachele graduated from Doane University with her EdD in May 2021, but still forgets that she’s actually Dr. Stoops. She listens to true crime podcasts, corrects strangers’ grammar, and shares an adorable townhouse with her new-ish husband, Shane, and Cecil the curvy chihuahua.
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