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Starlight, Star Fright

Starlight Theatre's fall programming might scare the bejesus out of you.


Starlight Theatre's Halloween celebration is so frightening it scared the theater's insurance company. "One question they had was, 'What signage is present to warn patrons of the gruesome nature?'" says Bill Hartnett, who's overseeing Stage Fright at Starlight. "They said they had covered other haunted houses, and this is by far the bloodiest they'd seen.

"Of course, I'm ecstatic," Hartnett adds.

Hartnett, vice-president of events and entertainment for Starlight, returned to Kansas City after working for Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. There, his staff was spooky enough to make Universal's Halloween Horror Night "one of the largest haunted attractions in the country," he says. "And I fell in love with the concept." Here he's in cahoots with actress Donna Thomason. "We are selling scary," Hartnett says. "Very scary."

But Hartnett and Thomason didn't want to mess around with Starlight's reputation as a kid-friendly place catering to a Wizard of Oz crowd, and that was part of the challenge. "We've stayed completely away from satanic or cult in nature," he says. "That's not something everybody gets. But we don't want people to feel let down, either, like it's a trick-or-treat pumpkin patch."

Besides thrill rides, refreshments and a "no-scare zone" (where Hartnett screens shows from the Sci-Fi Channel), Stage Fright has invested its flesh and blood in three haunted areas. "There's the Lichter meat-processing plant, where they don't use conventional livestock," Hartnett explains. There's also an experimental sci-fi lab "where people are secretly experimenting on aliens, but the aliens take over." And the Rock and Roll Prom is "inspired by Carrie and other teen scream films," he says. "The crazed people who've taken over the school are disguised as their favorite rock stars. Some are dead; some, like Ozzy Osbourne, are alive."

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