School of Design & Production producing “Hilloween,” an interactive Halloween experience in Mitchell County, NC

The School of Design & Production (D&P), in partnership with Mitchell County, N.C., is producing a multiday interactive Halloween experience that has been dubbed “Hilloween.” The project is part of a long-term multiyear plan by organizers to boost tourism in the western part of the state while highlighting Blue Ridge history, mystery and culture. More than a dozen students, several alumni and a number of faculty members are working hands-on with organizers for the spooky, educational and festive event in three areas of the county including Bakersville, Buladean and Spruce Pine.

“The goal of this initiative is to introduce people in Mitchell County to UNCSA, boost tourism, develop the county as point of destination, and provide exposure to the arts in that community, all while giving our students real-world, hands-on experience,” said School of Design & Production Dean Michael Kelley, who serves as an adviser and helped conceptualize this event. “This is full-scale project: establishing, executing and taking it down. It’s a turnkey process giving students a learning experience that’s centered around global entertainment,” he continued. “Students are introduced to the variety of careers that can emerge from our program and have the chance to connect with established alumni.” 

Hilloween events with D&P involvement run from Thursday, Oct. 27, through Saturday, Oct. 29. Mitchell County organizers have events that run all month long including a yard and home decorating contest and community trick-or-treating on Halloween. All events are free and open to the public.


Hilloween Bakersville/ Photo: Mariedith Appanaitis

Overseeing the design and equipment for the Spruce Pine portion of the project, also referred to as Act I, are alumni Rob Ross (B.F.A. D&P ’10) and Maggie Turoff (B.F.A. D&P ’22). Additionally, the UNCSA Lighting Department and Rob Ross Design, Inc. have provided lighting services and equipment to illuminate the Riverside Park’s pedestrian bridge and a small portion of the forest and riverside. Ross and Turoff are working with D&P students for the installation, programming and uninstall of this leg of the project.

Alumni Lina Renkel (B.F.A. D&P ’15), Michael Kohler (B.F.A. D&P ’09) and Alex Bright (B.F.A. D&P ’10) are working on Act II, the Bakersfield location. Act II consists of a programmed projection show on the historic county courthouse that will feature six minutes of repeating content. Students are not only working on the electrical installation on-site but have also helped develop the one-of-a-kind light-and-sound show including animation for this portion of the event.

Hilloween Bakersville

Hilloween Bakersville/ Photo: Mariedith Appanaitis

Act III consists of a haunted house in Buladean that D&P will begin scouting and planning this year for full realization in 2023.

Hilloween Founder and Executive Producer Gina Phillips credited attending a prior UNCSA production as part of her inspiration. “I would love to give my local students some examples of jobs in the arts and let them know the possibilities of going to a high-level institution like UNCSA someday,” she said. “I want the university to be known in extreme ends of the state,” she continued. Phillips is a former member of the UNCSA Board of Visitors.

Hilloween Director Chandler Arnold said, “We’re excited about this being an ongoing project with UNCSA and are already talking about next year and what we can add. We’re hoping to discuss opportunities to expand the project to different programs at the unviersity for next year's event.”

Hilloween Bakersville

Hilloween Bakersville/ Photo: Mariedith Appanaitis

Students working on the Hilloween project include lighting students Taylor Gordon, Jacob Grebbor, Evie Nootenboom, Grey Nicholson, Tyler McKinnon, Trevor Kirschenheiter, Lauren Lee, Bill Nowlin, Justin Seithel, Eli Thomas, Petko Novosad and Stephen Smart; sound design students Matthew Kupferer and Jaedon Harpe; scene design students Maya Batshoun, Tierney Brennan, Audrey Harms and Gabby Nunez.

Faculty and staff involved in the project include D&P Director of Lighting Eric Rimes, lighting design faculty member Clifton Taylor, lighting technology faculty member Josh Selander, lighting shop supervisor Justin Feimster and sound design faculty member Lindsay Putnam.

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October 28, 2022