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‘Alone in the Dark’: YTN puts on haunted forest tour

Paul Iano, right, in character as “Brother,” guides Isabel Bolger, 10, across a footbridge during Youth Theatre Northwest’s Haunted Forest production at Island Crest Park on Mercer Island on Thursday, Oct. 22.  - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Paul Iano, right, in character as “Brother,” guides Isabel Bolger, 10, across a footbridge during Youth Theatre Northwest’s Haunted Forest production at Island Crest Park on Mercer Island on Thursday, Oct. 22.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

It’s dark. The boughs of trees creak in the wind. You feel a chill, but you’re not sure if it’s from the cold or the haunting accordion music that drifts, eerily, from the darkness beyond.

Welcome to “Alone in the Dark,” a haunted Halloween tour put on by the actors of Youth Theatre Northwest. The first YTN show of its kind, “Alone in the Dark” blends theatrics with horror and wilderness with imagination to create a unique Halloween experience for those who love a good scare.

Set within the shadowy groves of Island Crest Park, “Alone in the Dark” turns the park’s familiar trails into a world of spirits, spooks and the unknown.

“You can trust us... Yes, come closer. You can trust us...” whisper the Espers, a group of phantoms lurking deep within the knotted forest.

The actors — dressed in clothing that whispers of the grave, their faces painted a pallid white with haunting black eyes and lips of ruby red — creep around you silently. They peer into your face, tug at your shirt, run a spiny finger along your back. Other times, they just stand and stare at you, lips turned up into a quizzical smile.

Like most great haunts, “Alone in the Dark” is more about the creepy ambiance and unsettling characters than it is about narrative. Yet there is a story to the forest plays: Four lost souls are trapped in a mystifying and ever-changing forest. While trying to escape, the characters, leading audience members along with them, come across a series of haunting scenes.

An interactive show, “Alone in the Dark” forewarns visitors that “only you can guide the lost souls past the phantasms and malevolent tempters that lurk among the trees and bind them to the dark.”

Putting on a play in the middle of a dark forest is no easy task. YTN actors and directors have been rehearsing and brainstorming for weeks, trying to turn a muddy and tangled setting, that changes as the audience pushes along, into an accommodating stage.

“The kids have really been involved in developing a show with their own unique ideas, but we’ve definitely met challenges,” said YTN Executive Director Manuel Cawaling, adding that if things go well, the theater would love to turn “Alone in the Dark” into a signature Halloween event.

Not only is the production a good way to add one more show to the theater’s repertoire, but it allows YTN and the city to work together.

“The haunted forest lets us work with the parks department and creates a program with rich educational opportunity for our kids,” Cawaling said.

Part of this education includes learning how to overcome production obstacles.

“In-house productions are fine-tuned machines. But out here in the woods — well, all of a sudden, there’s a big puddle in the middle of the set,” Cawaling explained.

Yet so far, the process has been a positive one. The young actors are learning to work around each problem, creating their own solutions. After all, puddles of water and branches that snag add an element of reality to this haunting alter-world.

“Come follow us... Please come... we don’t like to be alone...” the voices whisper.

And so you cautiously prod on, led by the ghostly light of a lantern down a dark and muddied path. And you almost forget, momentarily, that the lurking shadows beyond are just theater.

“Alone in the Dark” tours start at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 29, and run through Sunday, Nov. 1, at Island Crest Park. For tour times, ticket information and more details, visit www.mercerislandshauntedforest.com or call 232-4145.

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