Published September 26, 2019


NORTH READING — The North Reading High School drama group, The Masquers, is rebooting the annual Haunted Playground on Saturday, October 19 at the L.D. Batchelder School from 5:30 to 9 p.m.

General admission to the Haunted Playground is free but some activities will have a small cost associated with them, such as the midway games. It is being described as a night of family-friendly fun suitable for all ages with special “haunted” attractions created for families and others for those who like a little more of a scare. The Masquers began planning this event for many months as a way to give back to the community.

Over two decades of tradition

As many residents will remember, the Haunted Playground was run for over 20 years by The Martins Pond Association and was held at Clarke Park on Burroughs Road. That tradition ended a few years ago, after 21 years. One of the organizers who was there from the beginning, Janet Nicosia, recalled, “The first haunted playground was just that – we had people dressed up in costume inside of the playground area and kids would file through and get get ‘scared’ around the climbing structures. They had a few minutes to play and then we sort of swept the kids out and then had the next group come in.”

WHAT’S A LITTLE sparring among friends? Masquers Rachel Schladenhauffen and Stuart Garniss take a break from planning the reboot of the family-friendly Haunted Playground, to be held at the Batchelder School October 19. Run by the Martins Pond Association for over 20 years, the legacy event has been turned over to the town’s theatrical students. (Courtesy Photo)

“We had food and other things, but then the next year and the year after it started getting so big that we had to change the way we did things and that’s when we came up with having skits and leaving the playground open for play,” Nicosia said.

“One of my highlights of the entire Haunted Playground era was some of the homemade costumes. We had a lot of fun with all the wonderful people that came and acted over the years. There were families that volunteered for many years,” Nicosia recalled. She acknowledged that there were too many individuals to thank.

A few years after the Martins Pond event ended, the Friends of Hornet Productions took up the mantle and held a wonderful 2016 event at the Batchelder School.

The Masquers began discussing the possibility of producing the Haunted Playground as far back as 2017.

Theatre Arts Director and teacher Allison Kane acknowledged the history of the event. “The Haunted Playground is not our idea. Its conception was through the Martins Pond Association. While I do not live in town, I attended the Martins Pond Haunted Playground religiously year after year with my own two children, who still talk about it. In 2016, the Friends of Hornets Productions, which is the Middle School booster program, produced the Haunted Playground at the Batchelder. Once again, I attended with my children and enjoyed every ounce of the evening,” Kane said.

“Everyone in town has been so helpful and enthusiastic to see this wonderful tradition brought back. Both the Friends of Hornet Productions and Martins Pond (Association) have been a wealth of knowledge and assistance, and we are forever grateful. We hope everyone is ready for a family-fun spooky night. I know we are!”

Costume parade planned

The Masquers invite everyone — kids and adults alike – to attend the Haunted Playground in costume. They ask everyone to leave their fake weapons at home. There will be a costume parade for younger children.

A highlight of the night will be the three-tent family tour full of skits and entertainment plus lots of food for dinner and snacks, midway-style games, a free magic show, face painting, and tarot card reading as a part of this Halloween celebration.

Horse-drawn hayride

This time around they have also added a horse-drawn hayride for the whole family and a haunted inflatable maze for those a little braver-at-heart. In true Masquers’ fashion there will be other entertainment surprises and experiences throughout the night for all to enjoy, according to Kane.

“Masquers is about creating magic, bringing to life a believable world through planning, creating and teamwork. It’s the basis of every show we produce. And the Haunted Playground is no different,” she said.

“It took months and months of planning and work. We met dozens of times over the summer – each student leaving with ‘homework’ to do such as researching, creating budget charts, reaching out to businesses, comparing prices, designing and building events, and learning about the legal and safety portions of running such an event for the town,” Kane said.

The students created business models, budget spreadsheets, schematics of locations, and original scripts for the entertainment. “Students have been the point people, with my guidance. They are the ones who have done this work. This team could not be more prepared for an amazing and theatrical night for North Reading!”

Masquers members excited

Masquer Rachel Schladenhauffen said she and other Masquers members were excited to work on the Haunted Playground because they are working directly with the community to create what they know will be a fun, family event, and that it is also exciting because it involves problem solving on a whole new scale.

Another Masquer, Brandon DeCleene, describes it this way: “It’s a great combination of performance, entertainment, carpentry and planning. I have really great memories of going with my brother and sister and dressing up for the event. We are really grateful for the legacy of the event that has been handed down to us. We are planning some new activities… but you’ll have to come and see!”

Added Masquer Bridget Grew, “Everyone is getting to work on something they are passionate about. (We) can’t wait for you to see what we’ve been working on!”

“We have been thinking about reviving the Haunted Playground since last May,” Kane said. “We’ve been working on this event for about seven months now. We are always grateful for the support the community gives to theater events, and we are looking for a way to give back.”