🤔 Frequently Asked Questions

Me, with balloons, on set at Graveyard Swing 2016
Mom sent me balloons for the premiere of Graveyard Swing 2016. Thanks, Mom!

What are you doing?

I’m designing and building themed attractions: for now, seasonal pop-up walkthroughs; in a few years, a dark ride and more.

Themed attractions? Walkthroughs? Dark rides?

Walkthroughs are like haunted houses, Sleep No More, or some particularly high-concept museum exhibits.

Dark rides are theme park rides that focus on story and environment instead of physical thrills, like Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, or Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. (There are some non-Disney examples too.)

Themed attraction is a general term that encompasses both of these ideas and some others.

Themed *entertainment* is the discipline whose labor creates these attractions.

If you want to read more about these terms and how I approach them, you’re in luck, pal.

So you’re building a theme park?

I hope so, someday! The general plan is to produce a few walkthroughs each year for a few solid years, to the point where I have enough experience to justify leasing a space in which I can experiment with more elaborate, longer-term attractions that live together in a themed space: a couple walkthroughs, a couple dark rides, and maybe a café. Somehow, I plan to do this in the NYC area. I’m pushing myself to open this place before Halloween 2020.

If you’re trying to visualize this, my two biggest inspirations right now are Museum of the Moving Image and LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester.

What have you built already?

My first thing was Graveyard Swing, the whimsical story of a fictional forgotten cemetery in New York City. It opened for Halloween 2016. I was proud to have finally done something, and my friends and I learned a lot in creating it, but it ultimately fell short of my expectations. There are photos and a video over here.

I spent the first half of 2017 working on a new one called Bobby’s Birthday. It’s about a cat, whose birthday is today, and a dog, who forgot to plan a party.

That production has been postponed until Spring 2018, and now I’m fully focused on Halloween 2017: a total reboot of Graveyard Swing; the production I would have premiered last year if I knew then what I know now.

How can I find out about your upcoming attractions?

I created a company to organize all these things called Variable Stage. That’s where I put all the show info, ticket sales, and email announcements!

If you want every last detail, I’m also blogging about the whole adventure. I call that series Building in the Dark, and I publish an update almost every Wednesday. It has its own, separate email list.

How did you get into this?

I really have no idea. I’ve always been fascinated by the Disney parks and imagined opening a dark ride in high school, without thinking too much about what that would actually mean. I have about three semesters of a BFA in Dramatic Writing but ultimately this has been a long series of trials and errors. Which is why I’m writing a book.

A book‽

I’m about 10,000 words into a first draft of a short guide to designing and building independent themed attractions. It’s the book I wish I had when I started doing this thing. I don’t know when it will be done. It’s not ready to be read yet, but if you’re 😍 at the idea, get in touch and I’ll show you some excerpts. (Most of it started in the blog!)

Is this your full-time gig?

Nah, I’m a software engineer. This is nights and weekends for now. I am hoping to make this full-time in the next few years!

I have…so many more questions.

I would be so happy to answer them! You can tweet or DM me at @johnholdun or email me at john@johnholdun.com. I’m really excited to talk to you.