As Halloween approaches, LMU students prepare for the Theater department’s annual “Haunting of Hannon”- a haunted house that flips its namesake into a series of dark rooms, where actors will reenact uncanny short stories October 20 and 21st from 8-11pm.
Every year, the theme is based on Hannon’s Archives and Special Collections- this year, the theme for the Haunting of Hannon is based on cursed objects.
This Haunting is significant, as this is the first time that a student, Ashley Hsu, has directed the show as their senior thesis- a first for the annual production. This is also the first year the department will perform a separate, family-friendly version of the show. Hsu mentioned that she has planned this for over a year, and stated that she “jokingly, but not really” suggested to Kevin Wetmore, the Professor of Theatre Arts and MFAPP Program Director, during rehearsals for the 2022 Haunting of Hannon production that she could co-direct and write the script for this year’s show. Hsu said Wetmore encouragingly responded with, “Done deal, let’s do it.”
The pair’s mutual respect is evident in the way that they describe each other. Hsu calls Wetmore “a mastermind, an icon”, among other titles. Wetmore stated that the most fulfilling part of this year’s production is simply working with her. “Usually this is a solo effort,” Wetmore explained. “[Working with Hsu] has been fulfilling- her creativity, her inventiveness, her boundless enthusiasm… This is not a teacher and a student doing a senior thesis, but co-writers who are now co-directors who give feedback on every scene without exception.”
The process began during the Spring 2023 semester. Wetmore and Hsu had a meeting to discuss their plans, and to start thinking of how the 13 scenes will tackle the cursed objects and windows theme. Hsu stated that the majority of the researching and writing process took place during the summer where they would send notes to each other.
Hsu mentioned that she and Wetmore shared recommendations for horror media throughout the years, and pulled inspiration from stories about cursed objects. She mentioned Death Note (2006) as an inspiration. She stated that the Haunting of Hannon productions always have an element of education- the writing was crucial to the performance.
Wetmore also stated that this year is a landmark in not only its creation, but its delivery. “There’s a little bit more humor this year,” he explained, “It’s a little more self-referential. There are references to the theater department and people in the theater department.” He explains how humor and Hsu’s writing seem to be interlinked for this year’s showcase. “I wouldn’t quite call them ‘easter eggs’, but I think Ashley has been having some fun calling some folks out in terms of their contribution to the department.”
Audiences can expect to be unsettled throughout the production rather than frightened by jumpscares. “We don’t necessarily go for jumpscares- if that’s what you want you can go to Universal Halloween Horror Nights.” He said bluntly. “It’s not necessarily ‘Boo!’ but more ‘I saw your death last night. Have you called your parents lately?’”
Photo via Flickr
Hsu explained that the family-friendly Haunting was consistently held until 2020 amidst the COVID pandemic. This will be the first year the theater department is bringing it back since then. She mentioned that the script features references to children’s literature with cursed objects. “It’s more fun,” She said, “[It’s] spooky stories you tell around the campfire [rather] than scare-your-pants-off,” she said.
The interactive aspect of the Haunting of Hannon makes the production unique to the actors, as there is a different approach to it as opposed to a stage production. Hsu stated that there is “a level of improv” actors have to adapt to based on how engaged or scared the audience appears to be, depending on the group. She mentioned that there have been previous performances where the audience has heckled the performers or talked over the dialogue- the actors didn’t let it faze them, and carried on in a professional manner. “We have a very incredible cast,” Wetmore explained. “[They’re] very good at looking at people in the eye and saying incredibly outlandish things.”
Hsu said that the production’s goal is to bring theater to life and to ignite the audience to admire the medium. “You can create so many amazing scenes and impart knowledge on people through theater performance”.
Kevin Wetmore, Professor of Theatre Arts and MFAPP Program Director. Photo via Loyola Marymount
Kevin Wetmore interview by Alex Kim, Culture co-editor