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Behind the scenes at one of Vermont's largest haunted houses

A woman holding a monster head.
Marlon Hyde
Vermont Public
Jana Beagley is the founder and director of Nightmare Vermont. She created this event in 2004 because she wanted to continue acting in interactive haunted houses and nobody else was doing it.

“We are in the underbelly of the Champlain Valley Expo grandstand. And there are two attractions under here: the theatrical show and the scare maze," said Nightmare Vermont founder and director Jana Beagley.

Every year, she has to think of a new theme. This year’s theme is a children’s TV show gone wrong.

"I'm guessing that you don't really get scared too much. Like, I'd have to do a number to scare you," I said.

"I've been haunting for over 30 years. I started when I was 13. And I'm 45. So I've completely lost my startle reflex. Like I can't jump. Like I just don't," Beagley said.

Since creating Nightmare Vermont 18 years ago, Beagley has enjoyed every second of scaring the socks off of people.

A children's TV show set.
Marlon Hyde
Vermont Public
This year's theme is a children's TV show gone wrong. The team builds the set and interactive maze over three weekends in preparation for the show.

The scare maze is similar to most traditional haunted houses. It's equipped with creepy environments, people in scary makeup jumping out at you, loud noises, large things dropping from the ceiling and animatronics.

“I know there are some folks who come and they just want folks to jump out at them and say 'boo,' again and again and again and again," Beagley said. "And we do give people that experience. But it is important to us that we also tell a story."

She keeps storytelling at the heart of the operations here while allowing her staff to explore their own creative vision.

Travis Dudley, who was part of the haunted house’s inaugural group of volunteers, says this immersive theater experience has developed quite a bit from its early days.

A black sign that reads "Nightmare Vermont" out infront of the Champlain Valley Expo grandstand.
Marlon Hyde
Vermont Public
Nightmare Vermont was started in 2004. Initially it took place outside of the grandstand, now every year it takes over for Halloween weekend.

“So in 2004, we were actually outside of the grandstand here working outdoors with a sort of a pre-show for what was in here," Dudley said. "The group of people who did that then went out and did their own thing. And it became first the Champlain Valley nightmare.”

Dudley is wearing an all-black suit, standing atop an elevated platform. His job tonight is to hide until a group of people walk under his platform.

When the lights are on he looks like your average Vermont dad, but when they shut off he morphs into a demon.

“My mama is hungry. She's trying to devour your flesh and your soul... And that is Mama. Mama is our demon dog," Dudley said.


Elsewhere, Charlotte Looby may look innocent when you see them around town, but tonight.

“I'm a demon in a teddy bear suit. But it's funny because I never hit my growth spurt. So I am a tiny demon," Looby said.

Eric Banks is a writer at Nightmare Vermont and majors in film at Champlain College.

“I've referred to this sort of as a free master class in terms of learning about theater, directing, working with people, leading people in terms of a creative vision," he said. "Some of the best learning and experience I've ever gotten is from Jana, the woman who runs this, and you're not going to get that anywhere else. And it's free.”

"Some of the best learning and experience I've ever gotten is from Jana, the woman who runs this, and you're not going to get that anywhere else. And it's free.”
Eric Banks, writer for Nightmare Vermont

The whole cast treats each other like family. More like the Addams family — but you get the picture.

Jorge Wolynski and Emily Wolynski McDowell volunteered here after moving to Vermont a decade ago. They're returning for their first walkthrough as patrons.

“This is where we got our group of friends. Yeah, [it's where] all the weirdos get together. They've been like our core group of friends. Yeah, [and] ever since you just develop a bond, you know, with each other,” they said.

Four actors standing together with Halloween themed make up on.
Marlon Hyde
Vermont Public
Nightmare Vermont takes about 40-50 volunteers every year. Here are four actors getting ready to greet tonight's patrons.

Beagley says there's a lot of nail-biting, stress and last-minute adjustments. Then the symphony of screams starts.

“It is sweet, sweet music to the cockles of my black heart , and it makes it all worth it. I love hearing people like screech and then laugh and then talk to their friends. Like did you see that? Like it's just the best feeling.”

Nightmare Vermont will return with a new theme next Halloween.

Have questions, comments or tips?Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Marlon Hyde @HydeMarlon.

Marlon Hyde was Vermont Public’s first news fellow, from 2021 to 2023.
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