In Fall 2013, Shocktoberfest, located West of Reading, in Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania, made international headlines by offering guests a chance to strip down to their birthday suit and walk through a haunted house. The Naked and Scared Challenge gave brave souls the chance to walk through The Unknown haunt in either a nude or prude (just underwear option) in the late hours of Shocktoberfest’s nights of horror last year.
At least, that’s how it was supposed to go. Once word got out, this story went viral in a matter of days and everyone from the Associated Press to late-night talk show hosts got in on the action, making jokes and headlines with great water cooler talk for offices around the country.
Unfortunately, for the town of Sinking Spring, they weren’t laughing like the rest of us. They asked Shocktoberfest owner Patrick Konopelski to not go ahead with part of the event. At the last minute, the nude option was nixed and guests were only given the “prude” option. I recently got a chance to catch up with Konopelski to learn about how it all went down, the aftermath and if he thinks the nude option will ever come back to Shocktoberfest. Enjoy!
Josh Young: So what happened with the Naked and Scared Challenge last year? After all the hype, why did it get cancelled?
Patrick Konopelski: First of all, as you know, this was inspired by the “Naked and Afraid” TV show on the Discovery Channel. Two people get stranded on an island with nothing and try to survive. There is nothing sexual about it, nor was there anything sexual about this event.
We had a private, secured area where guests could disrobe and leave their belongings and clothes in a locked bag. When they exited, there was also a secure area we set up for people to put their clothes back on. You had to be 18-years-old or older to go through and it was only you and your group entering at one time. We hired extra security, plus all actors in the house for this particular event were females over the age of 18.
Our lawyers also made sure that this was perfectly legal and it was. We took as many precautions for this as we could. However, there were a few people who lived within the municipality that Shocktoberfest resides in that saw those headlines from everywhere and weren’t exactly comfortable with us having people get naked. Keep in mind that this was not the majority of people who live in the town, just a vocal few. And as elected officials do, they felt like they needed to try and keep their constituents happy.
The powers-that-be called and strongly urged us not to do the event. You know what they say, “you can’t fight City Hall,” so we scaled back and offered only the prude option where participants could go through in their underwear.
JY: What was the reaction of people who already booked tickets?
PK: Let’s just say we handed out a lot of refunds. We sent out an e-mail to everyone who booked saying that the nude option wasn’t going to be available. People were upset, but somewhat understanding of the situation we were put in. That said, there were still plenty of people who came through in their underwear.
JY: What was the reaction like for the guests who tried it?
PK: Extremely positive. We heard a lot of, “We would have much rather gone through naked!” but they still loved it. You’d be surprised how much it changes your comfort level and how protective your clothing can seem when you aren’t wearing as much of it. People also loved the intimacy of it. You didn’t go through in a conga line, so it was just you and your friends which is a rare treat for haunted houses these days.
We had all kinds of groups come through. People of all shapes and sizes. It was amazing how many people wanted to do this. Also, we didn’t have a single issue. There were no groups picketing, no riots or anything like that. I have been doing this for 23 years now, so it was really important that I prove to my municipality and the world that this was all good, clean fun.
JY: Do you think if you were in a bigger city, instead of a smaller town, that the nudity wouldn’t have been as big of an issue?
PK: Absolutely. As an example, just last week in Philadelphia they had their annual naked bike ride. They have been doing this for the last few years and it’s not a huge deal. People ride their bikes through the city during a pre-set time in crazy costumes or body paint. Similar events happen every year like Fantasy Fest where people are naked or close to it and it’s just accepted.
JY: Maybe you were just a little too ahead of the curve in terms of public acceptance?
PK: Definitely. You know, last year when we announced this there was only one “naked” show on regular (cable) television and that was “Naked and Afraid.” Now, in 2014, there are two more shows: “Naked Dating” on VH1, where people go on blind dates in their birthday suits, and “Buying Naked” on TLC, where nudists go out and shop for new homes.
The perception of nudity is changing in America and this is just one example. The “Naked and Scared” challenge at Shocktoberfest sparked a great debate: Should people over the age of 18 be allowed to do this naked? Or should the few people who don’t agree with it have the right to tell them they can’t? This is America, and ultimately I think individual freedoms will prevail.
JY: So you’re only offering the prude version in 2014 for “Naked and Scared,” but will you ever consider offering the nude option again?
PK: We debated about it a lot during the off season and ultimately decided against the nude option this year. I think as society becomes more accepting of nudity, we will definitely look at offering it again in the future.
JY: So what is new for Shocktoberfest for 2014?
PK: We are rebranding the Naked and Scared Challenge to now the “Almost” Naked and Scared Challenge again allowing people to go through the Unknown haunted house in nothing but their underwear. Also new this year we are introducing our Zombie Paintball Hayride. Think of it like being in Jurassic Park and you’re put on security patrol, but instead of dinosaurs, zombies are on the loose and out to get you. We are going out into the darkness and arm guests with paintball guns so they can shoot the zombies from the hayride wagon. Zombie shooting games are huge on Xbox right now and this will be like a gamer’s dream come to life.
JY: Sounds awesome. Anything else?
PK: We also run our Zombie Mud Run throughout the year. Runners go through a course where zombies chase them and they wear these detachable flags on their belt like flag football. Each flag represents a vital organ and if runners lose all their flags, they “die.”
This year, we are doing the Zombie Night Run twice a night. It will be along our mile long hayride route, but in the darkness. It’ll be pretty thrilling because you won’t be able to see the zombies coming for you like you can during the Mud Run. It will be the same concept though, a “capture the flag” style survival game.
It’s important to me, being in the entertainment business, to always keep moving forward and trying new things. If you just keep doing the same thing, you become stale. Look at roller skating rinks. They were huge back in the ‘70s and ‘80s and now they are hardly around anymore. You have to keep innovating.
Editor’s Note: Many thanks to Patrick Konopelski of Shocktoberfest for taking the time to chat. Nothing fascinates me more than themed-entertainment pushing the needle forward in terms of what is “acceptable” in society. What he’s doing is slowly changing the way America thinks about entertainment, nudity and personal freedoms. That broader conversation is a fascinating one and no doubt, we will be discussing it again at Theme Park University.