Ghosts, goblins, jack-o-lanterns, and trick-or-treating: all things that embody the spirit of Halloween season. This year, a new tradition begins at Old Sturbridge Village.
Brian Clowdus Experiences’ “Sleepy Hollow: A Legendary Outdoor Experience,” opened October 11, 2016 at Old Sturbridge Village. Originally the show was produced at Serenbe Playhouse, founded by Clowdus in Atlanta, Georgia, the show finds a new home at the Massachusetts living history museum.
This is the theatrical production’s first venture outside of Atlanta and Clowdus is especially thrilled to bring the timeless tale to New England. “It really is something different that audiences have really latched on to,” he says of the positive reception of past productions. In producing this New England version, Clowdus was inspired by the region’s famous historical moments of witchcraft, coinciding perfectly with the spooky, supernatural nature of the production and the original classic tale about the Headless Horseman ghost. “This [version] inherently feels a little creepier,” he adds.
The original 1820 story by Washington Irving fits in with the Old Sturbridge Village time frame of rural New England life from 1790-1840. “The great thing about [the] adaptation [is] that this version is different than the one in Atlanta because I’ve adapted it to the space,” he says. When Clowdus first visited the museum, he felt as though he walked right into Irving’s classic tale. “I have stepped back 200 years! I literally feel like I am in Sleepy Hollow!” he says. “In Atlanta we have a full set built, but in Old Sturbridge Village, everything we need is [already] there,” he adds, referring to the museum’s historic buildings and landscape. One particular favorite was Old Sturbridge Village’s Vermont covered bridge, bringing to life an integral part of the legendary tale.
The sold-out performances are structured as interactive theater, completely immersing the audience in the world of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. “Interactive theater breaks down the fourth wall. I think it gets the audience to be engaged,” says Clowdus. “[T]he actors are speaking directly to them [and] the audience is on their feet going from each scene. […][The] show can be a little different each time based upon how the audience [reacts].”
Not only is the audience engaged with the actors, but the atmosphere around them adds to heighten the world of Ichabod Crane. “The lighting and sound is truly incredible,” Clowdus says. The Old Sturbridge Village buildings will be enveloped in theatrical lightening, while fire pits will appear on the Village’s small lake and large-scale puppets will appear in the show. “I think [the show is] going to have this vibe of haunted house-meets-play, but it has a level of sophistication to it that typical haunted houses [don’t have],” Clowdus says. “I hope [the audience] find[s] themselves immersed and forget they’re even in a play.”
Though the performances this year are sold-out, with its 3-year contract, guests will get a chance next year when the show returns to Old Sturbridge Village. “I think hopefully people are going to really enjoy it [and] that it becomes a family tradition every year. I hope they’re scared, I hope they laugh, I hope they cry!” says Clowdus. He also hopes that bringing the classic tale to life in a unique and interactive way will resonate with audiences, no matter if they know the original story by heart or are inspired to read it after meeting Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman in his production. “I firmly believe that a classic work has to be reinvented to stay alive,” he says.
With Clowdus’ imaginative spirit, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” will return with new life every year. Catch “The Sleepy Hollow Experience” at Old Sturbridge Village until November 5.
© Chelsea E. Dill 2016