Ghastly Gusties: Gustavus Alumni Fuel the Nightmares of Mall of America’s Haunted House Posted on October 30th, 2023 by

“Onionhead’s Revenge”, the 45,000 square foot horror attraction in the Mall of America, is a terrifyingly innovative haunted house that featured contributions from five Gustavus alums. Through their excellent and diverse education at Gustavus, these Gusties shine in a story driven haunted house that demands improv skills in an ever-changing environment.

American Monsters’ “Onionhead’s Revenge” tells the story of Onionhead, a young man from the eerie bayous of Louisiana. Blamed for the murder of a young woman named Charli, Onionhead is murdered, dismembered, and revived through voodoo magic. Reanimated and reassembled, Onionhead is out for blood. 

“What makes [Onionhead’s Revenge] different is that unlike a lot of other haunts where, you know, you go in and then there’s the creepy clown room, and there’s the zombie room, and then there’s the vampires, we are one cohesive story based on the Onionhead mythology from Louisiana. We also have very specific Louisiana creatures: cryptids, like, for example, the grunge, Momo, the honey island swamp monster, all these things that are very local to Louisiana and Cajan folklore that you don’t often hear about in the north,” says Rob Ward 14’, manager of “Onionhead’s Revenge”. “Instead of just being like, ‘Oh, we’re just here to be scared,’ you’re going to be scared, but you’re also going to be engaged in a story.”

To pull off such a theatrical attraction, one that even includes aerialists like Lillian Kline 22’, the “Onionhead’s Revenge” staff must play roles that demand physicality and improvisation. 

“[It’s been] a challenge for me. I’ve had the opportunity to play eight different characters in this show, and its been a real challenge because they are like night and day to each other, you know. So you’ve had to use the education that you had, you’ve had to use the exposure that you’ve had to be able to transfer that into these characters that are so different than anything I’ve ever played before. So its really exciting and a challenge,” says Susan Langins 80’.

Rob Ward is in charge of over 50 actors on any given night; juggling staff schedules, handling emergencies, and adapting to the “controlled uncontrolled situation” of a new attraction presents significant challenges. Thankfully, the small but vibrant Gustavus theater community in the Twin Cities can lean on one another to make the show go on. 

For instance, Sandesh Sukhram 21′ plays the essential role of a “breaker”. “Their job is to float around the haunt in costume, fill in where people need to, and make sure people get their breaks,” says Rob Ward. Breakers also monitor rowdy guests and sometimes Code Yellow violations, for when people get a little too… scared. “This is the only sort of performance style that you run the risk of people punching you in the face. That, and pro-wrestling… Sometimes people come in drunk or high. I had to eject these two people that were GONE just the other day, they were on something big, like their eyes were just glazed over, and they were stumbling everywhere. We [also] had to clean up a couple of puddles just last week!”

With all these challenges, it is vital to foster a great work environment that looks out for its staff.

“The haunt takes really good care of its actors. Our safety is paramount; they’re just very supportive of all of that for us. I think its a very welcoming situation for us. [In other roles], its not always that way, so you know you really appreciate it when they have our backs!” says Susan Langins.

A welcoming environment develops staff loyalty and cultivates the conditions for both novice and advanced actors to reach their maximum potential. 

“We have a huge variety in performance experience; you know, on one end, you have people like Susan who have been in the business for decades, and then you also have people that have never done any sort of performing ever in their life. You have people who have just decided, ‘Oh, this seems like a fun thing! I’ll go and I’ll audition and see how it goes,’ and you also have people from all walks of life. You also have a lot of drag performers and burlesque artists here; we have a stilt walker… We really have a top-notch cast. I’m very spoiled,” says Rob Ward. 


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