'Prince of Terror' not about darkness, it's theater
Although Raycliff Manor Victorian Haunt director Tony Grat would love to become known as "The Prince of Terror," he says horror for him "is not about the dark side."
"People like to be entertained, and Halloween is one of my favorite holidays."
Grat, who grew up in New England and first moved with his family to Eureka Springs in 1993, was one of the first Lane House students.
Lane House is an after-school arts program for teens.
He had always been involved with theatre and the arts in church and in his various schools, he said.
"I knew this was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I really have to give a lot of credit to (Lane House teacher and local director) Janet Alexander because she was one of the first people to give me a major role."
He was involved last year with the production and casting of Chrystal, an independent film produced by Ray McKinnon and Lisa Blount and starring Billy Bob Thornton.
Also last year, Grat and co-producer/writer Kerry Leigh Pittenger won the Filmmaker Spirit Award at the 2003 Fayetteville (Arkansas) Film Fest for their short, black-and-white film, Reunion: A Vampyrical Love Tragedy.
And Grat produced and directed Phantasmagoria last year, a series of short plays out of the Paris Grand Guignol theatre during "La Belle Epoque."
The Grand Guignol ran from 1897 to 1962 and was the foundation for modern horror and suspense movies.
"Scenographers in the Grand Guignol would try to create a visual picture," he said. "If a play required a chicken, they would get a real chicken onstage.
"The plays were very 'naturalistic,'" Grat said. "Writers would get play ideas from stories in the Paris newspaper, La Petite Parisien. The police logs would have sketches because they didn't have photographs in those days.
"People were going to the theater several times a week. It was before cinema. People were always looking for something new."
Grat's directing of Raycliff Manor has elements of this tradition.
"I've been a horror fan all my life," he said. "I love the old classics -- the psychological fear and terror, much more than the gore and blood. Raycliff Manor has a Victorian theme to match the history of our community."
Grat said the "story" aspect of the haunted attraction started to develop when the website was created.
"It came out of one guy -- a mad genius -- doing experiments in his house. In each room of the house there is a different experience. Some of the characters include his own family members, and the maids and butlers. He is a doctor who went astray."
He said the attraction is not just walking through rooms, as in a traditional "haunted house."
"It's more theatre -- you're going to leave there with a story you can tell your friends."
Grat said he is trying to establish himself as a professional theatre producer.
"I think I've shown people that. I'm really moving on this."
He is excited about the possibilities and plans to stay in Eureka Springs, which is his home.
He has been in several of Eureka Theatre Company's productions and is very supportive of them.
He also notes Eureka Springs' long history of Halloween celebrations.
"But in the last few years, not much has happened. What we need is live theatre, which has become almost a lost art."
He sees a positive future for theatre in Eureka Springs as a venue to draw people from the surrounding areas as Northwest Arkansas continues to grow.
Grat sees himself devoting more time in the future to producing theatre.
"I'm willing to work with anyone who wants to promote theatre," he said. I grew up in theatre. It's what I do."
Raycliff Manor is open for one more weekend, Oct. 28-31, Thursday through Sunday, from 7 p.m. to midnight, at the Carroll County Fairgrounds.