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CAMP CREEPY

South Boston News
SoVaNow.com / October 30, 2013
Each year around Halloween, the Lake Gaston community enjoys a taste of Hollywood — the blood-soaked, slasher flick variety.

The production is called “The Plague” and “Camp Nightmare,” and it can be found at Americamps in Bracey. Residents and guests of the private campground celebrate Halloween by enacting a gruesome, Hollywood-style horror adventure that is the brainchild of Travis Russell and his family, and their Big T Productions.

It is a dread tale of a world ravished by a deadly disease and the unhinged Dr. Yorick, who develops an experimental serum to cure the effects of the plague, using the body parts and DNA of unwilling human subjects.

The story unfolds in two parts: first with a tour of the house where Dr. Yorick lives and conducts his experiments, followed by a tractor ride through the camp on the banks of Holly Grove, where garish characters called harvesters — characters sent out to collect specimens for Dr. Yorick — sneak up on visitors. Throughout the campground, horror movie staples — chain saws, bodies, that sort of thing — hang from trees, with screams and eerie sounds piercing the night air.

Starting last year, the Russells, Americamps, and the cast shared the tale of “The Plague” and “Camp Nightmare” with local residents brave enough to make the trip to Bracey.

The cast includes computer marketers and engineers, scientists, and teachers, who for three weekends in October become the survivors, and in some cases victims, of “The Plague.”

Russell calls his production the “scariest haunted house and hayride in all of Virginia and North Carolina,” designed and built using self-made props or else props purchased through professional prop houses. The show also includes a lot of special effects and professional audio and lighting, relying on skills Russell developed while serving as chief electrician for the Walnut Creek Amphitheater in Raleigh, N.C.

Within days of breaking down “The Plague” and “Camp Nightmare,” the Russells will begin planning for next year. In February, they travel to St. Louis for a “prop convention” where they purchase or order many of the items they use.

Russell’s wife Deby said, “For us, Christmas comes in July. That’s when all of the props and things we ordered start to arrive.”

The show that visitors see today has been under development for nearly a decade. In 2004 Russell, an Alfred Hitchcock fan, and his wife Deby, who managed nightclubs, decided to create a haunted house at their home in Clayton, N.C. In addition to their home, Russell’s haunted house required the garage, two tents and the front yard. “We were doing all this work for 20 kids,” said Russell.

They quickly realized that a larger space was needed, as was a broader audience. “My kids grew up camping at [Americamps],” said Russell. Therefore, during a 2007 visit, he approached the owners of Americamps about using the park to stage the haunted house.

“We started in a small rec room,” Russell explained, before taking over the entire old clubhouse building the next year. Campers at the site paid $1 or $2 to tour the haunted house.” Last year, Russell added the “Camp Nightmare” story line. It was also the first year the show was offered to the public.

A performance of this size needed a cast far larger than the five members of the Russell family. They recruited campers and nearby residents, who by day are teachers, scientists and computer engineers. Russell calls himself a computer marketeer who works for Oracle.

It costs between $30,000 and $50,000 to design and build the sets, which he and others start laying out in June. After they recoup their costs, the Russells donate the balance of the monies raised to an orphanage in Honduras.

The cast is especially excited this year because the Virginia State Lottery has chosen them to help promote one of the lottery’s new $5 scratch off game, “Zombies.” The lottery plans to film on the set of The Plague and Camp Nightmare on Nov. 2.

It is not too late to visit The Plague or Camp Nightmare this year. The show continues Thursday, Friday and Saturday, from 7-11 p.m. Tickets for The Plaque are $10 and for Camp Nightmare are $5, and are available online at http://www.theplaqueonline.com or at the gate, 9 Lakeside Lane, Bracey.

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