Behind the Scenes of “Spirits in the Night”: One-on-One with the Directors, Writer and Consultant of the Haunted Tour.
Visit our Spirits in the Night page for more information on tour dates, times, and ticketing.
Craig Bergum – Lead Director
How did you originally get involved in “Spirits in the Night”?
Last year, my daughter, Cameron Pickering, was in a meeting where ideas were being discussed about haunting the Lincoln Tallman House. She remembered that, at one time, I had haunted Parker High School auditorium. In fact, there are still people who believe that it is haunted! So she asked if I might get involved in helping put this together. So we started to talk about what it was going to look like and what we were going to do.
Cameron and her husband, Stephen Pickering, wrote the story last year and designed some of the effects, and I designed additional effects. I started out being the director, but I had some health issues with my knees where I couldn’t continue. So, Cameron took over the lead on that. We had already cast the show. We had designed a lot and started the process of building set pieces that needed to go in.
As we got closer to the time, I was able to participate. In fact, I participated each day of every weekend! I was able to help with the set up and all, so that was nice.
How is this year different for you?
I’m lead director this year and, believe it or not, it’s less stressful. As a father, it was hard to watch my daughter become stressed with it last year. So, this year it’s just me, and assistant director, Karen Brown. For me, personally, I love to work with people.
We changed it up this year, and 90% of the people are involved every single weekend with every single show. Last year we broke that up a bit. We also had enough people from last year who wanted to participate again this year who are dedicated actors and crew. We thought we could make it work. It’s great how most everyone is a part of this for all 4 weekends!
Is it an entirely different tour?
It is totally different this year! Our effects are set up so that when things occur, there’s a heightening of fear as the people anticipate what’s next. There’s a lot of anticipation.
Last year we staged out of the Stone House, then went across to the Lincoln Tallman House and then ended the tour with the Spookeasy in the Frances Willard Schoolhouse. This year, the Spookeasy is tripled in size, and it is in the newly remodeled Prent Center Carriage House. The ambiance in there is so cool! It’s just beautiful. Even coming out just for that is well worth it!
We’ve also expanded some things on the grounds. That suspense builds almost immediately as you approach the house.
Every single room in this house is a stage of its own. And, what’s new this year is that the cast and crew have contributed a great deal to decorating this house, each and every room. And that’s very different. So, what I really like about that is how they have a different kind of ownership over the tours.
The pride is different. It’s not just in the 5 or 10 seconds that they’re on. But the entire show means something more to them. Sometimes they’re only on for 10 seconds for 6 times in an hour. But, they’re anticipating the reactions of the public. We have so much fun with that.
What has the planning been like?
This tour has been in the works since last November. Much of it is pre-production stuff, branding the show, advertising, marketing, getting the buzz out. We worked on setting up ticketing and while all this was happening, we were bouncing off ideas on the story line. Christine Hall was asked to write the story this year, and we really went in a totally different direction. It’s a very different type of scare!
Once preparation and rehearsals are over and the tours begin, what do you look forward to in October?
I will be here every night in the control room. The best thing is…right after a scare occurs, there’s camaraderie with the cast and crew. They get a feel for what just happened in the house. I love to see them sharing their stories about the tours that go through, how “this person’s eyes bugged out” or “that person screamed.” It’s really great.
What do you enjoy about working on this big project?
I really enjoy it all. One of the things I like about it is working with the staff at the Rock County Historical Society. They’re all involved in this somehow. In fact, just today, a couple of staff members are over in the Stone House decorating. Each RCHS staff member is passionate about the mission. They’re all willing and dedicated to helping with “Spirits in the Night” in some way or another.
This is a huge fundraiser for RCHS, and it absolutely means a lot to me. I told the cast that they are doing more than just the tours. It’s contributing to RCHS, and to this community by supporting Rock County Historical Society and all they do throughout the year for our community. There’s so much more than just this campus here. For Mike Reuter to have this vision, to be willing to open up the RCHS museum and other buildings here to the community and to this cast of people who have to spend so many hours in the house, it’s pretty courageous. It’s really a lot of fun that they’re doing this!
Tell me about your theater background.
I did theater in high school. Went to college to be a teacher, and while there, I minored in theater production. Not in directing or acting, but in design. I really enjoyed it and didn’t have much opportunity to do much with that until I moved to Janesville and started teaching at Parker High School.
My first show was “The Sound of Music”. I didn’t direct it, but did the technical theater. The next year was my director’s debut with “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. It was my favorite show. That was in 1992.
We started out with two shows a year. All the shows I did after that were connected to the curriculum in some way. I did theater at Parker High School for a number of years and then my career moved to Edison Middle School. I brought the high school in and teamed it up with the middle school kids and with the teachers and parents.
That was ‘technically’ my first experience of community theater experience. It was beyond just the kids and a great opportunity for them to work side by side with their teachers. They were no longer ‘under their authority’. And in many cases the teachers learned so much from the kids! They’d be back stage, working lines and they were equal. That was a lot of fun!
Then I first became involved with Theatre Unlimited, Inc. when we did “The Music Man”. That was a huge production! They’d had a couple years off, went black for a while, and needed a boost. We kicked that show out and had 50-60 people in the production! It was great and so much fun.
As a director you’re never alone. You’re always working with so many people. If you come in and try to micromanage, it’s not going to work. A director has to collaborate with people, and when you trust your team, amazing things can happen.
And that’s what happened here with “Spirits in the Night” at the Lincoln-Tallman House. It has been a collaborative, team effort. We’ve had real team work all the way through, and that’s become my philosophy.
This will be my 66th production!
What has retirement been like for you?
I retired in January. Physically, I needed some surgeries and time to recover. My wife and I had been planning for a number of years to purchase a boat to either do a business or do a liveaboard type of thing. We ended up falling in love with sailing and the idea of sailing. So, the day I retired, I left for Florida and spent a month down there looking. I found the kind of boat we were looking for and about 2-3 months later we found the boat! We named her The Camial, which is a combination of the names of my children, Cameron and Danial.
When you think about time when you retire, the consumption of time spent in theater is amazing. But I enjoy it and working with the team… I just committed to doing “Spirits in the Night” next year!
Do you think the public will get a lot out of this year’s show?
I think they will! With this production, it’s not just one show, but a series of shows as people go from floor to floor, building to building. The story begins in one section and something ominous has occurred there, then you move to the next floor and experience something new, and all of a sudden, your heart is pounding. By the time you’ve gone through all floors, in every corner you will expect something!
We’re spending 30+ minutes on each tour, about 26 minutes in the house this year. Last year was only about 10 minutes in the house. That’s a big difference! I think they’ll really enjoy it!
Karen Brown – Assistant Director
How did you get involved in “Spirits in the Night”?
Last year I was in it, and this year Craig and I have come up with some of the ideas. Last year I was the séance woman, named Esmeralda by some of the people in the cast. The tour basically started with me in the séance room and then it went on from there. As the show went on, we found I was able to sneak into other areas, creating more scares, additional bodies. I was in the right place, or wrong place, at the right time, depending on if you were touring or part of the tour!
How does this year’s story differ from last year’s?
It’s totally different. Craig’s been thinking about this since last year’s show. He knew that in order to bring new people in or the same people back we needed to do something completely different. So, he, Stephen Pickering and Christina Hall came up with this idea. We all started meeting in March and with the RCHS staff to get this all planned.
Tell me about your volunteers and how the house has come together?
Craig has done a lot of this work, Monday through Friday during the day, since he’s now retired and so many of us go to work and school and only have the weekends. I work as a special education aide in the School District of Janesville. But it’s nice that we’ve had a great turnout of volunteers! The numbers are nice, because sometimes you get too many people and you’re not sure where to send them. Stephen Pickering, our Production Consultant, also takes turns coming over to direct the volunteers and do work on the house. He knows what needs to be done, all the ‘what’s, ‘when’s and ‘where’s.
Are you pleased with this year’s cast and how it’s going?
Yes, yes! We have newbies who have never done theater before and we have seasoned actors who have been in many productions already. It’s a nice collaboration between those two sectors of people, and we hope the newbies are enjoying and understanding how theater works. This is a theatrical production, like any other production, and there are rules, things that have to be done in order to get it to the point where you can present it.
Working in the Lincoln-Tallman House, have you had a few of your own restrictions and rules?
Oh absolutely! Things are much stricter because this is a museum, and it’s one of Janesville’s treasures! We want to preserve it as it is. So, in order to change it up for our Halloween tours, we had to replace some of the things in the house with items that aren’t so old or delicate. We’ll have a lot of people coming into the house, it’ll be darker. We don’t want things to get broken or misplaced.
We’ve talked to the RCHS staff, directors, actors and everyone involved about protocol in the Lincoln-Tallman house. The museum curator, Laurel Fant, even took us on a walk-through of the do’s and don’ts throughout the building. We also received a lot of props from people to use in our “Spirits in the Night” tours. We have to be careful that no one touches other people’s items that have been donated.
Tell me about your own theater background and your other hobbies.
I’ve been in theater for 8 years now and have done 14 productions. I supposed this would be #15! I keep losing track. My favorite roles include Captain Hook in “Peter Pan” at Edison Middle School, Agnes Gooch in “Mame”, Mrs. Sowerberry in “Oliver, Verne in “Bingo, the Musical” and Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn in “Music Man”. I’ve played opposite Dave Bitter in several shows. David was one of our tour guides in last year’s “Spirits in the Night”.
In my spare time, I enjoy singing, playing guitar and I play flute at church. I’m also in the process of learning mandolin!
Personally, you’ve invested a lot of time into this. Are you involved in other productions at this time?
Right now I’m a member of “The JPAC Comedy Players”, an improv comedy troupe of about 8-12 local comedic actors who meets regularly to offer comedy shows at JPAC and other theatrical venues across the region. But, I had to miss the last meeting because of rehearsals for “Spirits in the Night”. They overlap a little bit. However, by the time we have another meeting, this show should be off the ground, up and running ready to go for every Thursday/Friday/Saturday in October, so I should make that next meeting!
Tell me about how your family members are involved in this year’s “Spirits in the Night”.
My husband gets coerced into helping me with my projects, so he is now involved in this production. This is the first time my daughter has done any kind of theater. She’s pretty excited about this. My grandson is 9, and this is his 4th production, so he’s pretty seasoned and knows what to do.
What do you look forward to after rehearsals are all done in October?
I’m really looking forward to the launch party, “Night of the Bite”! I know it’s only the second night we’re open, but I’m really looking forward to seeing how the community gets together. We’re going to have fun, some scares and live music. It’ll be interesting! I’ve never been to something like this, a big opening party for a production, so I’m excited about this party. I can’t wait!
Do you think the public will get some good scares on the tour?
Oh yeah! It’s hard to talk about it without revealing too much. So, you’ll have to come and see!
Christina Hall – Writer
How did you first get involved in “Spirits in the Night”?
I was a performer last year. Stephen and Cameron asked me if I’d be interested, and I was! I had a couple of roles, one of them was The Lady in White, which meant I got to wear a white dress, scream and scare people in the basement. That was fun!
It was just really great to be doing something completely different in the Lincoln-Tallman House. I have loved the house for a long time and used to work here giving regular tours and first person tours. I used to dress up as Elisa the Servant, which was, of course, a completely different thing. But, I had never been a part of a Halloween haunted house production, so this was a fun switch.
Without giving too much away, how is this year’s story different from last year’s?
I guess the biggest difference is that rather than being set in the past, it is set in the present. The guides who are taking people through the house are modern day people, so they won’t be wearing historic costumes. That was the biggest thing to figure out right from the beginning…what time period was this going to be?
Has the story been edited and has it evolved?
Yes, it’s constantly evolving! There have been more drafts on paper than I can even count! Of course, then every time we come to rehearsal, something gets changed. It’s just such a complex production, with so many people. With so many of the effects, we don’t know what they will look like, what they will sound like or how they will work until we do them.
People are always getting new ideas and realizing that, “We can’t do it this way, so we have to do it another way”. I would say that even right now, the latest version of the script is outdated because we’ve changed things. And I knew there would be changes. But, it still retains the same basic story, and we needed that script to go off of. It’s staying true to that.
Tell me about your writing background. How long have you had an interest in writing?
I’ve been interested in writing since middle school or younger. My mother, Pat Hall, is a well-known local author. I’ve never written anything that’s been presented to the public before, but mainly for my own enjoyment. My stories might be out there on the internet somewhere, but we’re not going to talk about that! Haha.
But, this is the first time I’ve written anything like this. It’s very exciting! My husband commented to me that this is actually the second public performance of my work, because I also wrote our wedding ceremony, which was about 3 weeks ago!
Do you also have a role in this year’s production?
Yes, I will also be guiding tours this year, and am one of the scares in the plot…but I can’t say anymore or I might give it away!
What do you look forward to after rehearsals are done in October?
It’s still obviously a work in progress. We’re sitting here with props around us and people are still running around setting things up. But, what will really be cool is when we have an actual group of people to guide through the tour.
Do you think they’ll enjoy it?
I do! And based on last year’s experience, I think we’ll have a wide variety of people and groups coming through. Some will be very quiet and some will be very rowdy. It’ll be fun!
Michael Schuler – Sound Director
When did you first get involved in “Spirits in the Night”?
It was last year. I believe that Craig and Stephen asked me if I would help with sound, as they were busy with other aspects of the production. So, I helped with some of the projection.
What all does running sound for this entail?
Well, it’s setting up the house, getting all the speakers and everything in place where it needs to be. I also create and edit the sound effects for each room or floor of the house, depending on what they want. I prepare the effects so they can run through the sound equipment where they need to be.
So, do you do solo work or do you have help?
It’s easier for me to do it myself than to explain it to someone else.
You’re putting in a lot of hours here. How are you involved in other sound projects in the community?
I run sound for most of the high schools in the area for their musicals, and I run sound for the Edgerton Performing Arts Center for Paul Tropp’s visiting artists. As a matter of fact, I’ll be setting up sound for Ronnie Milsap, who is performing soon on October 21st! That’ll be kind of exciting!
How long have you been doing this kind of work?
I started running sound in 1979 for the Marine Corps Stage Band. After I got out of the Marine Corps, I did rock n’ roll for about 5-6 years. Then I went back to school for a degree in Electronic Engineering. In 1999, Jim Tropp asked me to run sound for his production of the musical “Grease”, and I’ve been doing sound for musicals ever since then.
Will you continue running sound for future productions of “Spirits in the Night”?
At this point, I’m planning on it. I try to keep advancing, making it better and better. This year, I actually have a control room set up for all the sound effects, and use a wireless to control sound in all the rooms. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of modern technology in the setting of this historic home. There’s still room for improvement. We have plans of making more permanent installations of equipment so we don’t have to keep setting up and tearing down year after year. It’s a work in progress.
What do you look forward to in October, once it’s all set up?
Many drinks in the Spookeasy! Haha! I’m setting up sound in there, as well, and doing some technical work in the graveyard…creating a mysterious, spooky scene.
Do you think this production is going to be pretty spooky?
I think it’s going to be amazing!
Stephen Pickering – Production Consultant
How did you first get involved in “Spirits in the Night”?
In 2016, my wife, Cameron, and RCHS Executive Director, Mike Reuter, somehow came up with the idea of doing a haunted house at the Lincoln-Tallman House. I believe jumped on that idea, but, it’s all kind of a blur, as there was very little sleep and a lot of stress! We wanted to do something that was not your typical haunted house. This was to have a little bit more class, a little more thought. So we were excited about the opportunity to haunt a historic house like this, to have something other than blood and gore.
You were highly involved in last year’s production. Tell me the kinds of things you and Cameron did with 2016 “Spirits in the Night”.
Last year, Cameron was the primary writer and director. She and I tag teamed with everything from the special effects to directing, to acting, to hiding under beds, to pulling cords and pushing buttons. And we somehow pulled it off!
How is this year different for you?
This year, we had to pull back because of our work schedule with our business, Drywater Productions. So, we helped a little bit with some of the early planning and worked with Christina a little on the story writing. But for the most part, Christina took ownership of that.
And now, I’m just filling in here and there where they need some extra hands on deck. I’m building props and spending hours and hours plastering skulls. It’s fun to have a reason to be playing with silicone and plaster and coffee grounds and all kinds of creative stuff like that.
Speaking of that reason, this is a huge fundraiser for RCHS. What does that mean to you?
I think that’s probably the only reason we’re helping out with it and why we’re willing to spend so much time with it. It is a big fundraiser for RCHS, and that’s why last year we killed ourselves doing it. At the end of the day, the cause was there. It’s the same thing this year. We’re doing hardly anything this year. Craig and Karen and a lot of other people are really pulling a lot of weight with this. Even just staying up until one o’clock in the morning putting plaster in the oven on my wife’s cookie sheets (that she isn’t happy about me doing), I think the cause is worth it.
As far as this year’s preparation of the house goes, how is this year different?
Well, it was intended to be much easier this year. And I think there are some things that are easier, but there is still a lot of preparation going into it. Last year, there were a lot of special effects; there were 4 or 5 projectors that were set up projecting different things. We built bookcases covering up windows and practical stuff, but there was a big emphasis on the projectors, filming in front of a green screen, etc. We have a lot more props this year and though we hoped it would be easier all around, it’s still a big production.
Tell me about your career background and your business?
I went to Vancouver Film School for my degree in Film Production. My wife and I own our own business, Drywater Productions. Cameron does the behind the scenes work. Until recently Cameron was our primary editor, and we now have Danial Monson-Bergum assisting with editing, as well. We are a full service video production and motion graphics company providing marketing videos, web and social marketing campaign videos, commercials, corporate videos, motion graphics, special effects, and more. With 4 young children and running the business, it’s a very busy, but wonderful life!
What do you look forward to in October after it’s all ready to go?
Sleeping! Although, I’ve gotten a lot more sleep this year than I did last year, so that’s been really nice. I think I look forward to seeing how it evolves after the first couple of shows. Sometimes the very first couple of nights we have effects that are very difficult to pull off and we realize that we can’t continue doing that the rest of the month. And other times we realize that there are effects that work better in different areas or different times in the house, so they have to be adjusted. By the end of the show, it’s become something different. It’s fun to see it evolve.
Do you think the public will enjoy this year’s tours?
I think this year it’s a totally different story and different style. There is a much bigger emphasis on the house itself being haunted, so it’s going to be more psychological. I think it will be really cool.