In October of 2016, 200 human beings gathered on a large parcel of property in rural Wisconsin for A-Camp 7.5, a smaller and shorter version of the traditional A-Camp event, which historically has been hosted in California and usually takes place during the spring. It was a test-run of a new site that offered better accessibility and more programing options than our old site in the San Bernardino mountains.
Many exciting experiences took place over the course of this weekend: we made herbal tea, canoed, competed in Nerdcred Jeopardy, hung shelves, tied each other up with Shibari rope, mingled with bisexuals, tasted Boxed Wine & Artisan Cheese, improvised, made tacos… listen, I could go on forever, that’s how many incredible things we did. The vast majority of these activities were widely acclaimed by all who participated. But we’re not here to talk about those activities.
We’re here to talk about the night-time activity that a meager 28% of campers rated as “Excellent,” a wee 23% of campers found “Very Good,” and a whopping 32% reported feeling merely “OK” about. In fact, six entire campers declared this activity “Not Very Good”! For comparison, 100% of campers found our “Variety Night of Variety: El Sanchez, Jenny Owen Youngs, Brittani Nichols & Be Steadwell” to be either Excellent or Very Good, and 95% of campers felt those same two positive adjectives about the A-Camp Family Band Concert.
We’re here to talk about the Dead Lesbian & Bisexual TV Characters Haunted House.
It was the best idea I’ve ever had and also the worst idea I’ve ever had.
Part One: The Big Idea
As soon as I learned that this new site offered “hayrides,” I knew we had to do one. Plus, it was taking place in October! What an opportunity to discuss one of Autostraddle’s pet issues: the slaughter of lesbian and bisexual TV characters. So I emailed our team with my plan.
Basically, if you were on A-Camp Staff and you had not previously exhibited an aversion to public speaking, you were cast.
Needless to say, everybody was very much on board with their destiny.
Love for my brilliant idea was in the air.
Laneia, “Dana Fairbanks / The L Word”: I felt like, “Ah yes, another stroke of Riese Genius (Rienius)! I hope I make her proud.” I was cast as Dana Fairbanks, presumably because of my unassuming brownish hair and dorky way of standing around.
Heather, “Charlie Bradbury / Supernatural”: I have spent the past ten years writing exhaustive and exhausting recaps about all the dead lesbian and bisexual characters on television, so to learn I was going to be part of reclaiming that trauma for a fun and spooky “hay ride” at a queer camp in the middle of Nowhere, Wisconsin was a dream I didn’t know I even know I had coming true!
Yvonne, “Emily Fields / Pretty Little Liars”: When Riese told me I was gonna be Emily from Pretty Little Liars, it was like getting to be the Pink Power Ranger when I was a kid. I use to be a devoted PLL fan but I kinda stopped watching the last season because I was like ~over it~. But I think I could watch Emily Fields aka Shay Mitchell forever, she’s so hot!
Stef, “Jenny Schecter / The L Word”: When she told me I would be playing the role of Jenny Schecter, I felt enormously honored – like I had been offered the starring role in the school play.
Laura, “Lexa / The 100”: I was assigned Lexa from The 100, a show I had never watched before, and so I binge-watched it with my dad in the weeks leading up to camp. Not only was Lexa the badass post-apocalyptic warrior I’d always wanted to embody, she also had great outfits.
Kaylah, “Camilla / Empire”: Because Riese knows me so well, I was cast as Camilla Marks-Whiteman, the thotty supermodel scammer from the show Empire.
Sam, “Maya / Pretty Little Liars”: I was excited because I love a good theme!
Part Two: Prep
I spent a great deal of time ordering wigs and buying various lighting situations at various discount outlets, while my team gathered various costume bits themselves as well.
Mey, “Tara / Buffy the Vampire Slayer”: I haven’t really watched very much Buffy, and Cecelia has watched absolutely none, but because we’re both witches, we got cast as Willow and Tara (I was Tara, Cecelia was Willow). We had to look up the death scene on youtube and watch it on the way to camp because we didn’t know what it was like.
Liz Castle, “Sara Harvey / Pretty Little liars”: thought this was the best idea ever and the opening track was AMAZING but there were a few things that prevented me from appreciating Riese’s genius in its entirety…mostly the fact that I’m largely unaware of anything/everything that happens in pop culture so the L-word was the only scene where I had any idea what was happening (or even what the show was!)! I didn’t even know who my character was because I’ve never seen Pretty Little Liars (who was I again?!) BUT I heard she was a skinny white girl with my hair cut so I was pretty sure I could handle it (in fact, I was a DEAD RINGER…get it?!). ANYWAY, I did some research (i.e. made Heather tell me everything she knows) and found out that my character loved black hoodies and died in a bath tub. Since it was going to be dark I went with the tub idea and transformed a box into a deluxe cardboard bathtub.
Kaylah: I immediately went to Amazon and found a mesh two piece get-up and faux fur coat to complete my transformation into a fierce kept lady.
Stef: Within days, I had assembled the perfect Jenny Schecter dress (Hot Topic sales rack), the perfect Jenny Schecter wig (Amazon) and the perfect creepy Jenny Schecter stare (genetics).
Laura: I gathered cardboard and a few rolls of duct tape and went to town making myself some Trikru armor.
Sam: Being Maya was pretty easy as far as costuming because I love Maya and her clothes are not difficult to find (hobo chic is the style right now and it is everywhere).
Laneia: My thrifted tennis racket got lots of attention at the airports. And Riese had bought a skeleton cat to be Mr. Piddles, which was like, hilarious.
Basically what I was putting together was a “dark ride” but uhhhh without a budget or technology. 10-12 campers would board the hayride, which’d follow a path through the woods, stopping periodically to witness scenes between dead lesbian & bisexual TV characters. I wrote a detailed script, and got to the camp site early to walk through the course with the site’s designated Hayride Guy. I was drawing my map when the news came down from on high: it’d almost definitely be raining the night of the “hayride.”
But too much planning and money had gone into this already for us to abandon it altogether. Luckily genius never sleeps, and neither do I (at camp). I re-conceptualized the experience to take place inside the gym and be a “haunted house.” But because we’d have to split into four large groups instead of twelve small groups, we couldn’t exactly walk them from stop to stop. So instead, we’d bring in each group to the middle of the gym, where a ring of hay bales were set up.
Instead of walking from scene to scene, they’d stay in the middle but be guided from scene to scene by the Ghostbusters, accompanied by the soundtrack I’d meticulously prepared. Like “theater in the round,” or something. Each scene had a combo of its own lighting and lighting provided by Ghostbusters. You follow? Not all of the campers were able to, so I’m just checking.
Part Three: Pre-Show
The evening arrived, and Sarah and I dipped out of the Variety Night early to set everything up in the gym. It was pouring outside and Variety Night was running over, but gradually staff was making their way over to get in costumes and makeup.
Sarah, “Shaw / Person of Interest”: We set up the whole thing while everyone listened to Be Steadwell sing “Pony” by Genuwine. Like, thank god the campers were all probably in a complete daze after that and had trouble getting to the gym because I think we ran through it a total of 3 times (?) before the show went on?
Laneia: We had limited rehearsal time and all kinds of weird setbacks, but we pulled through because we all believed in this project.
Sarah: Stef was practicing her terrifyingly accurate impression of Jenny Schecter. She kept finding me and getting two inches from my face, blood covering her face, and growling “WHO. KILLED. ME. WAS IT YOU? WAS IT YOU?!!?”
Cecelia, “Willow / Buffy the Vampire Slayer”: I was the makeup artist for this whole shebang, which is a job I was deeply unqualified for. Riese gave me the challenge: “Can you make a bunch of people look dead?” and because of my experience in show business I know that the only good answer to the director is, “Yes, of course, happy to please.” So I had a line of people allowing me to delicately sponge oily white stuff onto their face, which honestly? Was one of the best trust exercises I’ve ever participated in, and this wasn’t even theatre camp!
Laneia: Cecelia’s great, wonderful makeup artist, you should go to her if you ever get the chance — and we all looked so good, so dead.
Laneia: Laura’s whole situation was just… remarkable.
Cameron, Makeup Artist: I ran over from Crown Hall in the rain mid-Variety Show to do Laura’s Lexa make-up which is probably the dramatic height of my artistic career. As someone who loved The 100 and what it could have been, it was a honor to turn flower fairy Laura Wooley into Lexa, Commander of the 13 Clans. And it wasn’t hard. They look very much alike and Laura spent nine hours making camera-ready costume accessories from duct tape. Throw some streaky war paint on her and she’s ready to go take on the physically manifested defensive protocols of a rogue AI (maybe? I stopped watching before that episode). The most trying part of the whole make-up experience was probably for Laura. I apologized every time I touched her face. While painting her face. I know. Anyway.
Laura: I relied on Cameron’s artistry for my makeup, and once I was in costume, I was so ready to take on the invisible beast of the heteropatriarchy with Rachel/Clarke and maybe got a little too into my role.
Look at this shit:
Rachel, “Clarke / The 100”: I was pumped to get into character as Clarke, bloodthirsty bisexual extraordinaire and conveniently from one of the only TV shows in the hayride that I’d actually seen. I was even more pumped when I saw Laura’s Lexa costume: she was truly a vision in black duct tape, which I believe was what most of her costume was made out of.
Cecelia: Truly, I love the frantic chaos of pre-show. The fake wigs, the hay, the dead lesbians who let me gently hit their faces with a sponge, all of them wishing they had gotten way drunker before this! It was so nice that all of us, together, actively and as a team, had zero collective idea what we were doing.
Stef: I spent a great deal of time dunking my head in the sink to achieve the necessary just-drowned look.
Laneia: And El’s makeup! Everyone looked great, don’t get me wrong, but those two just killed it (HAHAHAHA).
Cee and Megan wore nice shirts and ties to serve as “showrunners.” GET IT? Showrunners? Because they were facilitating the movement of campers from their previously mundane lives into this SHOW? But also “showrunners” like the term for the person IN CHARGE OF THE TV SHOW??
Sam: Hearing the music and getting the full idea of Riese’s vision made me kind of nervous because I didn’t want to disappoint, but after talking with the other people in my segment, I was more at ease.
Sarah: Pretty soon the gym was dark and it was happening.
Kaylah: The first day of camp I started to get sick, and by the Haunted Hay Ride, I was feverish and in no mood for games. My fur coat was suffocating me and the cheeky part of my mesh bodysuit rode up so high that everyone could see my entire ass and I thought “Everyone better love this.” And guess what… I DON’T KNOW IF YOU DID!!
So, here’s how it went: a group of campers was shuffled in and gathered around the ring of hay in the pitch darkness. Here’s what we didn’t realize about this situation: 75% of the campers, at any given time, could not see what was going on, because the only lighting we had was headlamps, flashlights, and tiny portable lights.
Regardless, we persisted.
Part Four: Showtime
I’ve included the tracks from our soundtrack below, but please note that none of the tracks were played to their conclusion.
SCENE ONE: INTRO (one minute, 30 seconds)
The house is pitch dark when the track starts. At 1:09, the Ghostbusters flip on their head-lamps and flashlights and welcome everybody to the show, switching to the next track within 20 seconds of the theme starting up.
Heather: The soundtrack Riese put together was literally perfect: every show’s theme song overlaid with audio of like Ilene Chaiken and Jason Rothenberg talking about killing Dana and Lexa.
SCENE TWO: DEEP SPACE NINE (45 seconds)
At :09, El, dressed as Dax, emerged from their space coffin, and roared in sync with the sound effects on the track. Having witnessed a rehearsal and having a great view of El from where we sat, we were, quite honestly, FLABBERGASTED as to why the campers weren’t laughing as hard as we were! Sarah and I could barely even stay upright we were laughing so hard.
SCENE THREE: THE L WORD (one minute)
We see Dana Fairbanks, stretching it out, looking perfect like Laneia/Dana always does, for the first ten seconds. Then, the nice L Word theme song (remember how EZ Girl made like 50 different mixes of that damn song? THANKS EZ GIRL) switches to the Klezmer L Word Theme song, at which point Stef-as-Jenny emerged.
Stef: When it came time for the L Word segment, I would stumble out from behind the caution-taped “pool” and ask the campers accusatorially which one of them had pushed me. The problem was, I kept underestimating how much time I actually had, so when I realized I still had like, a lot of time to fill, I started getting more aggressive with my questions until finally I was screaming in campers’ faces. I couldn’t really see who I was yelling at, but it seemed to work so I ran with it. If I screamed in your face, I’m only half sorry.
SCENE FOUR: EMPIRE (one minute)
We then travel to Atlanta, where Mimi is dead and Camilla is taking her very last drink of champagne. They are mere ghosts of themselves! Until :29, when both Mimi and Camilla are transported to HEAVEN, and You’re So Beautiful” by Jamal Lyon plays, and then they get up and dance! The audience liked this part more than the other parts because Kaylah and Gigler were dancing up on each other, which is a thing people like to see.
Kaylah: In my scene I’m drinking poison and choking to death, and I really tried to milk it. The first go round, I chug my bottle of poison like its a warm Natty Lite and started the performance of my life. After my not-actually-fake coughing fit, I hit the cold floor and hear nothing but silence… As I lay there fake dead I wonder… Is this really happening?! No reaction?! REALLY!?! We did this 2, 3, 200? times again and it’s the same reaction. Silence. Aside from the very last group, who I think had some fun pregaming before the hayride, I did not feel enough audience love!
SCENE FIVE: PERSON OF INTEREST (one minute, except for round three when it went for 1:30)
Next up — a hotel room somewhere, Root is tying Shaw to a chair, hoping to get some info out of her, learning quickly that tying Shaw up isn’t going to get her any information because Shaw “kinda likes this sort of thing.” Then, at :35, we switch to Root’s death scene. Root dies, and Shaw freaks out!
Sarah: We did fine, everything was fine. We were on round 3 of the show, the last one of the night, and our scene was ending. It was almost over. But then it wasn’t. The music for our scene kept playing. The first few seconds, I think, were the most terrifying. I was bent over Riese-Root sobbing over her dead body and the music just. kept. playing. So I kept crying. I think Riese came back to life, to whisper “what the fuck” to me. I think we did this for about … the longest 30 seconds of my life.
SCENE SIX: PRETTY LITTLE LIARS (45 seconds)
For this scene, Emily’s just skipping along til she finds a dead Sara Harvey in a bathtub, but she doesn’t really give a shit. She’s just trying to find Maya! The music switches from the PLL theme song to some creepy carnival shit about 20 seconds in, because PLL loves creepy carnivals.
Yvonne: I looked really concerned while looking at my phone because that’s what they do in PLL half the time. And I got to fake make out with Sam who played Maya, RIP. And Liz was Sarah Harvey because they’re twins. They look so much alike! Liz made a tub out of cardboard and when it came to our scene she was dead in the tub and it was so believable. It’s a shame it was super dark that I don’t think campers appreciated it as much as I did. It was so on point.
SCENE SEVEN: TRUE BLOOD (45 seconds)
When the track begins, a Ghostbuster does Bill’s part, and shoots Queen Sophie Ann. I have to say that Sadie really stole the show here, lip-syncing like a true pro. As soon as Sophie-Ann dies, the track hops to the True Blood theme, and the spotlight travels to Alaina, dressed as vampire Tara, who is whipping Dax, played by El Sanchez, who had run cross-gym during the other scenes to be Tara’s bitch.
Stef: Once the hayride moved on, I had the thrilling task of running around the back of the campers to bring the smoke machine to Sadie, which was a lot of fun to do drunk and in heels in the dark. My ex-wife Sadie looked amazing as my current wife Evan Rachel Wood in True Blood (a television show I have never seen) and she continued to wear that wig for a lot of the rest of camp.
Alaina, “Tara / True Blood”: Did I spend every single time my lights came up giggling because I played Tara (of the True Blood variety) being a dominatrix? Yes.
SCENE EIGHT: BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (30 seconds)
This is another situation where we witness the death itself, as the dialogue from that scene begins the track. Tara is shot and falls, and Willow huddles over her, mourning, going, “WILLOW? BABY?”
Mey: Cecelia actually looked great in her red wig and white hippy dress while I looked like a horrible 90s kid with my middle part and jeans (the last time I wore jeans and will wear jeans in my life). But my bullet hole/blood wound in my shirt was pretty good. Also, I feel like I did pretty good fall when I got shot, which I had to do three times. I am a glutton for applause so when we got absolutely zero applause, I died, just like Tara did. But, on the plus side, Cecelia gave me a kiss right before it started, so it was actually the best night of my entire life.
SCENE NINE: THE 100 (One minute)
This scene was clearly our most successful, because the audience truly went wild when Clarke and Lexa began valiantly sword-fighting the Ghostbusters!
Cameron: Laura and Space Bisexual Clarke, played by Real-life Space Bisexual Rachel Kincaid, really nailed their bit.
Rachel: Despite the fact that it was super dark and I don’t think anyone would even have noticed, I decided to really commit to the part and take my glasses off for the role. I was wearing a jacket from Forever 21 that was a size too small, I couldn’t see anything, and I kept losing my plastic pirate sword, but I had never been more ready. Once the hayride actually started, I was surprised to find it was actually… sort of spooky? Granted, I was almost blind in a pitch-dark cement gym, so that was part of it. But then there was the eerie voiceover, and suspenseful music, and then suddenly it was Laura and my turn to fight off Ghostbusters and it was genuinely adrenaline-packed! We had to run around with swords! We kept trying to do the thing that happens in movies where we fought with our backs to each other, and it was surprisingly difficult. Regardless of our many challenges, we survived! Long live Lexa!
SCENE TEN: SUPERNATURAL
And G-d bless Heather Hogan, playing Charlie from Supernatural, a show I have never seen. Although I’d coordinated rain sounds (since Charlie died on a rainy day) to lead into the Supernatural theme song, Heather wasn’t really doing Charlie so much as she was doing us all a big favor. She yelled, with so much heart and authentic fury…
OH GOD CAN’T ANYONE MAKE A TV SHOW WHERE LESBIAN BISEXUAL AND OTHER QUEER-IDENTIFIED PEOPLE CAN STAY ALIVE?
…and then, who should appear, but heartthrob Brittani Nichols! Brittani tells Charlie that yes indeed, she can make a TV show where LGBTQ characters stay alive, all Charlie needs is to COME WITH HER! And so they tear across the gym back to the Empire set…
SCENE ELEVEN: THE END
… and the track switches to “Stayin’ Alive,” and all the other characters, alive and dead, are in this new world, full of hope and joy, dancing!
Liz: During our first rehearsal I mentioned that I thought it would be funny if the final song was Stayin Alive which made 73% of people involved immediately hate me. Since that song is only amusing once, the remaining cast also got around to hating me long before our final performance. The punishment for all my ‘great ideas’ was having to awkwardly climb in/out of a cardboard bathtub covered in fake blood dozens of times.
Part Five: Post-Show Processing
Heather: I don’t know how everyone else remembers this but it was THE BEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE. Plus everyone was perfectly cast. Laneia as Dana, Stef as Zombie Jenny, Yvonne as Emily Fields, Kayla and Giggler as Mimi and Camila. I also was perfectly cast: I played a hysterical and broken lesbian television viewer who was rescued by Brittani Nichols and taken to Visibility Heaven to dance alongside my favorite characters. Like I said, best night of my life.
Sam: I liked watching everyone else’s parts during the Hayride. The spotlight and ghostbusters were awesome. I think we did it a total of three or four times, but I would gladly do it again because it was fun! I liked seeing characters I’d watched on tv come to life, and even see scenes from shows I had not watched before because I’d heard about them. In speaking with people after the show, they had the same reaction. They liked seeing the characters they knew, and even enjoyed the segments from those they were not familiar with. Overall, it was an amazing experience!
Laneia: We performed the whole thing three or four times and it was hilarious and smart and so much fun. Some of the campers didn’t seem to really get it, I don’t think. Which is fine! Maybe the sound wasn’t loud enough. Maybe they were expecting something entirely different. I don’t know, man. Who can say. But I’ve still got my tennis racket.
Alaina: Stef played an awesome dead Jenny and there was fun makeup and I got vampire teeth that were supposed to but never molded to my teeth and some campers came through twice. It was wild and great and I’d do it again maybe.
Cecelia: I think you could really feel a collective “fuck it,” resonating from all of us, holding us together. So thank you to the third group who actually laughed at our commitment. And to those of you who responded with “???” I say: it’s okay, you’re right, I’m also confused.
It turns out that in addition to there not being enough lighting and the ring-of-haybales arrangement not being the best for visibility, the campers first had to spend a ton of time standing outside in the rain waiting for their turn, and not all of them were familiar with any or all of the teevee shows we were acting out. So it was a recipe for confusion.
As we were walking back to our rooms, Gigler was like, “that was the most interesting thing we’ve done in a minute,” and I was like, “you know what, that’s true.” It may not have been the most successful thing we’ve ever done, but it was definitely unlike anything we’d done before. It was ambitious as fuck, and that’s never a mistake.
So, I then took an entire bottle of tequila to Klub Deer and we drowned our sorrows and joys together, thinking fondly of those we’ve lost, and those who have not yet been lost, and how nice it is to be together as a family in the woods, surrounded by wigs, fangs and flashlights.
If you wanna experience similar capers this May, you should sign up for A-Camp 8.0.