Let’s Get Spooky: The Evolution of Rio Hondo’s Halloween Maze

Professor Matt Schleicher discussing paint techniques with his Stagecraft class. His students helped create this year’s Halloween maze, “Rex’s Revenge.”

Megan De Lara, A&E Editor

Halloween mazes have become a staple when planning October festivities. Deep within the walls of the M-Building, Rio Hondo has been brewing up their own scares, but it takes a lot of work backstage in order for all the “eeks!” and “ahhs!” to come screaming from the faint-hearted.

Two years ago, Matt Schleicher was new to the theatre department faculty and was looking for ways to recruit students into the tech program. Getting into the spooky spirit wasn’t part of the strategy, until a student by the name of Richie Castro-Chanel approached Schleicher with an idea.

Time to get spooky

“He found me in the hall one day, this was probably the first year I was here, and was like, ‘You know, we’re doing a Film club [and] we were wondering if there’s a way we can do a Halloween maze,’” Schleicher said. “He wanted to do a maze in the Campus Inn. He wanted to know if we had some props or things that they could borrow.”

Castro-Channel’s plan seemed like a recipe for success. Not only could the project boost enrollment numbers, but it was something unique and intriguing for students. There was only one problem: the location. Though big enough to fit a maze, the Campus Inn was too far from the theater workshop. Instead of eliminating the idea, however, Schleicher’s creativity served up a different avenue: The Black Box. Although much smaller than the Campus Inn, the Black Box offered a controlled environment and everything needed in order to create a successful Halloween maze. Eventually, Schleicher was able to completely take over the small theater for a two-week period, and thus production on Rio Hondo’s Halloween Maze was a go.

A significant part of the program

Now, the maze has become a “pivotal cog” in Schleicher’s program. This year, the theater department and the Multiverse of Film club have teamed up to bring Universal Monsters, like Frankenstein’s monster and The Mummy, to life in “Rex’s Revenge: Classic Monsters Halloween Maze.”

The theme for the maze was an exciting one for Schleicher, and he and a small team of students took the entire summer to brainstorm its design. Once fall semester began, Schleicher’s Stagecraft class and his First-Year Seminar class, “Beyond Words,” worked together to research details for the project.

“They had to do the research for those movies and find pictures and imagery. They brought all that [in].” Schleicher said. “Then…I [have] one student who kind of lays out the flow of the maze with my help. And that’s Belinda, she’s done it a couple of years. But she just kind of sketches it out and I give her the parameters.”

It’s a detailed process very similar to that of mainstream horror mazes like Halloween Horror Nights. Every pathway is Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant. Walls must are thoroughly secured, and other precautions are taken in order to ensure a safe environment for attendees. After that, it’s a collective effort between theater classes as costumes, props, and makeup are gathered to turn what is drawn on paper into a reality.

Megan De Lara
Stagecraft students painting an area of the Halloween maze.

All majors welcomed

While the process teaches core values of technical theater craft, any student is welcomed to join the class. Students learn how to adapt to certain situations, which includes turning “mistakes” into creative masterpieces. In addition, students also learn how to use household tools that can be incorporated into every day life. And though Schleicher is a very hands-on instructor, he allows students almost full creative freedom. From the building and painting of sets, to the marketing and distribution of fliers, everything is student-driven.

“[Matt] lets you kind of take the lead,” said Britny Arevalo, a non-theater major in Schleicher’s class. “He tells you, ‘here, you do this,’ and then you go off and try it yourself. He doesn’t micromanage, he trusts you, [but] if you need the help, he’ll direct you.”

It’s a fun environment for everyone that allows for growth with just a dash of “creepy” thrown into the mix.