West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 20 | October 17 - 23, 2007

The Lower East Side Traditions and Transitions
A special Villager supplement

Haunted house frightfully popular

By Lisa Lacy

Anyone who doesn’t like clowns, mummies or tight spaces would be advised to stay away from the Clemente Soto Velez Center until early November.

That’s because an annual Halloween event is drawing thousands of brave souls to the Lower East Side cultural center named after the Puerto Rican poet at 107 Suffolk St. at Rivington St.

An interactive theater troupe, Psycho Clan, is using the entire former school building’s first floor — that’s 23 rooms — to do everything it can to strike fear into the hearts of New Yorkersa in what it bills as “New York’s most horrifying haunted house.”

This marks the third haunted house for Luis Cancel, C.S.V.’s executive director.

An artist by training, Cancel has an upcoming Soho art gallery show. He studied painting and printmaking at the Pratt Institute and now does digital art. He also hosts “Loisaida Cultural Wire” on East Village Radio on Mondays, interviewing local artists, and plays Latin, jazz and salsa music. He has also headed up numerous nonprofit and public agencies.

Cancel says Psycho Clan, headed by Timothy Haskell, had worked with C.S.V. before and were looking for an adaptable space when they first brought the haunted house to C.S.V. four years ago.

After attracting 35,000 people last year, they have added far more rooms this year in the 2007 version, “Nightmare: Ghost Stories.”

According to Haskell’s blog, as of last Monday, attendance was up two and a half times over 2006.

Cancel says the themes of each room are derived from responses to a poll of greatest fears. That includes being trapped on a bed and unable to move while your mouth fills with cloth. But there is also plenty of traditional guts and gore and good old claustrophobia and suspense.

Sometimes the haunted house is perhaps a little too scary, as one of the actors recently got hurt when a visitor reacted badly, Cancel says. In order to prevent such occurrences, there are a number of fire exits along the way should anyone want to call it quits.

There’s also plenty of Heartland Brewery’s Smiling Pumpkin Ale to calm the nerves of those waiting in line.

New this year is a maze with frightening characters at every turn — clowns included. Jasmine Rosario, C.S.V. acting facilities manager, says clowns figured high on the list of biggest fears. She herself has done the maze several times and even though she saw the production team set it up and she’d met the actors, she says she still screamed a lot.

As Cancel explains it, there is some distance when you are at the movies, but this haunted house is very much an interactive experience.

This is one of C.S.V.’s most popular events of the year and marks the beginning of a busy season until May.

C.S.V.’s current repertoire also includes a children’s puppet theater; a performance project called Cobu, which combines Japanese taiko drumming and American tap dancing; and a photography exhibition, “From Manhattan to Oaxaca: Recent Photography,” consisting of work by Francisco Alvarado-Juárez.

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