For most of the year, visitors to the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport Village are treated to Broadway-caliber musical theater productions. Come October, the 500-seat theater and surrounding property is transformed into an immersive, theatrical haunted house.
“We use all of our aspects of our theater background,” said haunt director Michael Baker. Props, makeup, wardrobe, lighting, sound design and set carpentry are all done in-house, according to Baker. “It’s a good way to show off what we do best.”
Baker, who has toured in national productions as a member of the Actor’s Equity, began teaching at the Gateway Acting School in 2003. A lover of Halloween, Baker spearheaded the idea to create a haunted house 11 years ago.
“It started with an idea on some legal pads,” he said. “[Halloween] was something that I loved. My mother was a costume designer so growing up [my three brothers and I] always had the lead costumes.”
Baker was also part of a boy scout troop whose main fundraiser was a haunted house created at a local campground. “We didn’t have a lot of money, but we came up with all these tricks,” he said, which is where his love for the attraction began. “I would travel to haunted houses all over, when I was acting on tour, if there was a haunted house, I went to it.”
Working with a team including technical director John Sabo, producer Paul Allan and production manager Brian Loesch, the haunt has grown from a 20-minute walkthrough with two or three dozen actors to a 35-minute immersive experience with more than 100 actors and a new theme each year.
This year, a cannibal hippie colony seeks new recruits. Their goal is to affect all five senses.
“You’ll walk into an area and the floor is moving, or the walls feel a certain way. There are flashing lights, different smells, gore sprayers that hit you with some water,” Baker said. “The actors don’t touch you — they’re very good in character, so they push the limit but they know the limit.”
While the haunt is recommended for ages 12 and up, younger children are invited during daylight hours for a “not-so-scary” version.
“After the Friday night haunt, [the crew] covers up the gore and we go into not so scary mode,” Baker said. “It’s a fun Halloween hotel where patrons meet traditional Halloween characters, a witch, Dracula, a mummy, collect tokens and turn them in at the end for a treat.”
The production team has also unveiled several theme nights including zombie apocalypse night (Oct. 23), clown invasion (Oct. 24), Hollywood horror night (Oct. 29) and glowstick night (Oct. 30).
Rather than wait in line, guests are invited to hang out in the midway, which features attractions including a zombie shooting gallery, heckler, Billie Jeans Grill food truck, and a 21+ “fear garden” so you can get your pumpkin ale fix.
“It’s an exciting event that certainly wouldn’t be here without community support,” Baker said. “It’s a big fundraiser for the theater and an interactive way to keep arts alive in the community.”
Gateway’s Haunted Playhouse is located at 215 South Country Road in Bellport. General admission tickets start at $30 and can be purchased online at gatewayshauntedplayhouse.com.