Friday, June 10, 2016

Setting the Mood: Or How Red Jello in Chocolate Sauce can be Terrifying

Remember the old phrase "set the mood?" When I created scenes and coached character creation at haunted houses, murder mysteries, even work training classes it was important to set the mood. What atmosphere? What appearance? What did you want the people you engaged to feel?

 How do you want them to perceive you? What can you do to engineer the sights, sounds, scents, even tastes to create the ambiance you need to make your event a success? Notice the shift: past to present, these considerations are important every day. Consider the difference in the unedited and edited gargoyle pictures below. Quite a difference a little time and effort makes when you approach considering the perceptual outcome you aim to create. 

A local fire department held a halloween party of the town children about thirteen years ago. A safe, free event for the community where they offered halloween themed activities. They wanted to do a free haunted house for the kids. They had costumes and a budget of less than fifty dollars after the candy was bought. They asked me if I could work with them to make it happen. I could use anything in their fire department supplies. Fifty dollars. Why not?
I walked through the fire hall. Picked my entrance and exits. Did we have heavy rope? Yes. Did we have huge heavy canvases to create walls and areas? Yes. We had some tables, weird white christmas lights, gourds, and big pieces of cardboard. It was a farm town so hay bales and heavy gloves were no cost as long as we returned them. Someone gave us several bags of cobwebs with black plastic spiders. Volunteers turned up silver and black and red spray paint. No sound system. No crazy noises. Simple. When it was set up the firemen looked at me. "You sure this is going to work?" I think the guy wielding the chainsaw in a hockey mask said it. It is easier to ask intimidating questions in a mask. The others nodded: the vampire, the gypsy fortune teller, the teenage zombie duo, the crazed coroner who would later be coated with chocolate syrup and red clotted chucks of jello he would randomly wipe off his shirt and eat cackling. He was the hardest one to coach because he did not see how that could be scary while he pulled the bits out of a plastic bag concealed in a scarecrow with a mannequin head.
I knew this question was coming. It is important. It has to be tested. Would my ideas work? The kids were gathered waiting. We went through places and roles, cues and guidelines. Mind you this mismatched group of fiends was getting a pep talk from a gray faced, sharp nosed witch with a scowl that could cut a sword in half. My pointy hat stood tall, the kitchen broom became a magic wand. I called for lights. Darkness fell. Anticipation and anxiety warred in the waiting kids and the questioning volunteers.

The first group of six teens were allowed to enter the narrow black hallway lined with tall oxygen tanks and cobwebs. A heavy gloved hand reached out and touched a shoulder unseen and another. It was a dozen paces. They made it ten. The fifth shoulder got touched and maniacal laugh to trigger the next volunteer was done. The chainsaw revved. The teens turned around and ran back out! The next three groups fared no better. I went from being a roving villain to a terrifying guide. I led the fourth group, that now had a chant. If you are terrified, if you want to push the monsters back so that perhaps you survive long enough for me to steal your soul, then call out "deliver us from evil." The louder you shout, the more of you shout, the more likely it will slow the monsters long enough for you to outrun them. Perhaps." They nodded. They ran through the words, lips moving, making sure they knew them. They entered.
Success! There was a break after all the kids and many adults had gone through several times. They wanted back through, the music of the night was the endless screaming and shouting chant "deliver us from evil." The volunteers gathered, amazed at themselves, amazed at the experience they created together.
Every day we deal with other people and situations. My story was of an external event. Why not apply the same practice to internal perceived events and situations? Do you have to choose to look at a situation or individual as negative? Do you have to be dramatic or antagonistic? Can you change your mood and approach? Instead of approaching with hostility or defensiveness, can you focus on goals and outcomes? Assume the people or situation you are dealing with is not out to get you. Assume instead that if you find the right tact, body language, and approach it will be easier to reach open communication, problem solving, and outcomes that open more doors. The chance for adventure, new friends, new experiences, new foods, different perspectives, new or improved skills could be how you motivate your paradigm shift.
How do you set your mood? What mood and persona do you project out to those around you?