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Queer haunted house reveals our internal fears can be scarier than ghosts and goblins

//Steven Frost portrayed Liberace in Hell inside his art installation for No Place to Go on Oct. 30. Photos by Esteban Fernandez | este.fdz20b@gmail.com

Another “Spooktober” has come and gone and yet the terror and anxiety continue into November for many. Fitting then, that the theme for No Place to Go’s haunted house revolved around internal fears.

“With the idea to queer the haunted house, we were really interested in stimulating an internal landscape of fear and also have people sort of negotiate the complexities between fear and desire,” said Serena Chopra, one of the event’s organizers. “Rather than things coming out at the audience externally, we really wanted a more pensive or meditated or introspective experience.”

Anxieties faced by those in the queer community can’t be shelved till the following year the same way Halloween decorations are at the end of October. Chopra, Frankie Toan and Kate Speer all felt a haunted house was the best way to get visitors contemplating on what it’s like to inhabit a marginalized body. Capitalizing on people’s willingness to dive into fear, Toan said that it’s a way to find joy, fun and also finding healing through fear. Putting the event close to the election was also important.

//Unable to communicate verbally, a clown sits frustrated they can only express themselves through grunts and outbursts at No Place to Go on Oct. 30.

The event took place across four sites accessed by car. Musician Liberace danced alone amidst candelabras in an otherwise empty space. Guests grappled with gender identity at a different site while a ghostly figure roamed around a room. A clown struggled to communicate with visitors through frustrated grunts and outbursts outside of Mint and Serif. People struggled with the binary inside a technicolor waiting room.

The reason for the separate sites was COVID-19. The original plan to house each installation inside one building was changed after the pandemic arrived in March.

“It’s capped at 30 cars per night and we’ve been sold out on all our shows,” Speer said. The reaction overall has been positive and most people were thankful to see art again she said.

“We’ve had folks outside our bubble and that’s presented an interesting dynamic where we’ve learned we can’t manage everyone’s expectation of the show,” she said. “Some people just read ‘haunted house’ and expect they’re going to be scared, and they come and realize it’s more artsy-fartsy.”

Overall, most people seemed to get what the artists were going for.

Justy Robinson, Steven Frost, Renee Marino and Hayley Dixon were among the artists who contributed to the project. Robinson played a clown. Frost channeled Liberace.

“So I wanted to think about not Liberace in hell, but in a sort of between-space. I don’t necessarily believe in hell, but, like a glitch space where he’d be stuck and that as a sort of like real punishment, maybe for who he was as a person privately, and also the celebrity culture that he created,” Frost said.

Liberace’s contradictions make for uneasy art. As Frost high kicks around his stage surrounded by empty space, it easily becomes a metaphor for the public facade people wear to disguise their own inner turmoil.

//Frankie Toan wears a pumpkin helmet that they crafted themselves at the No Place to Go cast party on Oct. 31. Toan was one of the event organizers.

It’s a theme that is familiar to people outside the male/female binary. Although acceptance of homosexual identities is now more mainstream than it was, the notion of nonbinary identity is one that is struggling to gain traction in contemporary society.

It’s a subject that inspired Dixon and Marino when they created their installation, The Waiting Room. 

“What is haunted? We often have ideas that haunted is going to be spooky, or blood, or graphic. What is really happening to us is like trying to understand how we fit in, in this world that we don’t fit in,” Marino said. “ And we’re trying to conform ourselves to be in this weird system.”

As the final votes of the election are counted, two competing parties offer up different visions for who belongs and who is excluded. And for those outside those narrow categories, there’s plenty of fear to be found beyond the confines of a haunted house.

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