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Crazy scary

The Asylum in Nowata rocks

The Asylum, 304 W. Cherokee Ave., Nowata

It was dark when my husband and I reached downtown Nowata. The town’s empty streets and darkened shop windows looked ominous. I saw a young man standing alone in the dark on a platform in The Asylum Haunted Attraction parking lot. Trey Bishop, The Asylum’s founder, is conscious of presentation, even when presenting himself.

Bishop, who grew up in Kellyville, started his spook house career when he created one for a high school fundraiser in 2007. Seven years ago, he started The Asylum. It was supposed to be a one-off thing, but it seems to be his calling.

As my husband and I drove north earlier that day, we mused about not knowing what to expect, other than the theme of “mental hospital.”

Inside the building, in the dressing room area, we met a few of the associate directors. Russell Rhodes, 21, has been with The Asylum five years. Alexis Mader, 20, and Evelyn Miller, 19, have both been around since the get-go—seven years. Everyone’s dedication to the craft is intense.

As we entered the first room, Rhodes took over the tour. It’s a simple room with water fountain, two metal chairs chained to the floor, and a few mirrors. A spooky portrait of another director and actor, Robbie Smith, hangs on the wall.

If someone wishes for the nightmare to end, they can say a predetermined safety phrase. Our guides told us many grown men opt out in the first room. Even with the lights on and no actors waiting to pounce, the place is creepy.

In the boiler room, salvaged metal tanks are mixed with pieces of wood disguised as rusted metal. Though most people will be too distracted to notice such details in the dim light, they hold up even in bright light. We proceeded with the set lights on and the main lights turned off. The soundtrack was also on for effect. We entered more rooms, each more horrible than the last. I won’t go into any more detail so as not to spoil the fun, but real medical equipment is mixed with innovative make-do in a seamless fashion. Attention to detail is what this crew does best.

It’s obvious why word of mouth has made The Asylum a success. They have never advertised outside of Facebook, and they play to packed houses every night they’re open. Security and safety are priorities, and they spend several months working with the actors in order to train them for any scenario.

The building is a two-story brick structure and is on the small side of haunted attractions. Bishop said many haunt enthusiasts drive hours to visit and, upon seeing the size of the building, become worried it will be too tiny. But they have made inventive use of the space they do have. The walkthrough takes about the same amount of time as much larger haunts. Customers exit happy and blood-spattered, gushing about how the space may appear small, but the terror inside looms large.

A few nights later, we went through the haunt for real. Even the line to get in was fun. Costumed actors stood outside teasing and scaring the customers. One woman was so startled by a man in a butcher’s apron and burlap mask that she rolled down a hill to get away from him, laughing and screaming all the way.

Before we were allowed inside, we were warned that the actors would be able to touch us. But that’s why we were there—for the interaction. Everyone was told the safe words to stop the theater macabre in its tracks. We were also warned that we might get some “blood” on our faces and clothes, but that it washes out easily.

With a final buzz, the red light above the door blinked on and in we went.

The actors were dedicated and convincing. A 14-year-old girl gave a realistic performance as a well-intentioned but crazy hillbilly to whom one must make promises in order to complete a mission. Did I mention participants have tasks they must complete in order to escape? That’s the best part. Every visitor has a unique experience inside. There’s no long winding line of customers throughout the building. You won’t trip over another person’s heels as the scares are dampened by seeing and hearing them happen to the folks a few feet in front of you.

We made it all the way upstairs and through quite a few terrifying encounters before my friend’s child said the safety phrase. Rhodes was the actor in the room with us. He pulled off his mask and left the scary voice behind as he introduced himself to the kid, reassuring him that he was just an actor. Rhodes took one of his hands and my husband took the other, as they left me and my friend to finish. Every actor between them and the exit stayed out of their way.

The Asylum hosts three haunts each year. The next one, a romantic two-person experience called Sweetheart’s Slaughter, opens in February. Actor auditions will be held in December. In June, The Asylum presents Dodsfall, an hourlong interactive experience for small groups, available by reservation only. Auditions will be held in April. Bishop hopes to open an even larger haunt soon.

My guess is that it will be amazing.

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