Industry Insider: Charity Hill of The Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor

On this Industry Insider, we spend a few minutes with Charity Hill. Charity is the assistant director of entertainment for the Queen Mary and producer of Dark Harbor & Chill as well as many other events.

Charity Hill Queen Mary

Charity Hill

DF: How long have you been at Dark Harbor?

CH: Since 2009.

DF: What sets Dark Harbor apart? What stands this event out front for you personally as a Halloween Attraction?

CH:  I feel like the one thing that sets Dark Harbor apart is our sorted, creepy history. The ship, it’s a beautiful asset to us. It’s the only one of her kind left on this planet that is literally alive herself. The ship since it IS a historical asset, it can’t be altered in ways that other smaller buildings can, but at the same time, it provides a backdrop & a story that is really remarkable. The Queen Mary is one of the ten most haunted places on earth according to Time magazine… I think that sets us apart. We are also one of the only haunts that has a liquor license. To be able to serve cocktails, host private parties, birthdays, weddings, within our event, you can TRULY craft your own experience. We gotta roll with the punches sometimes though, there are certain rules, certain parts of the areas & mazes that are built the crew will not go in alone. 

Charity Hill & some Dark Harbor friends

Charity Hill & Some Dark Harbor Friends

DF:  (me interrupting) ohhhhh… Got any stories… say that set off your spook dar?

CH:  (Laughter) One of my first offices when I started on the ship was in the back corner that used to be the kitchen galley, or housing for the people that worked, in the kitchen gallery. Nobody at first wanted to tell me that my office was a place that people had experienced a lot of things, so nobody did. I had times where I would come to work, I would be the last one to leave, you know, late at night, lock the door, & then the first one in to open in the morning. Come in to find my office chair in the middle of the hallway.

Then this one there was this other instance…. (Laughter)

I went down to the archives to ask if I could have a couple photos in my office. I figured it was a great way to entrance myself in the culture. And I would find those pictures all over my office. They would literally be off the walls the next morning. The pictures would be under my couch, under my chair, sitting on the wall, on the ground, but facing a different direction, all kinds of things. 

I didn’t say anything for a month, then one morning I came in & all the pictures were facing different directions… I ran out screaming for the hills into the hallway going, “I can’t take it anymore…. Who is playing this joke on me!!!” (Laughing) So I changed offices. I brought the pictures with me & then they quickly got retired. I decided I was going to remove the pictures from the wall. I had one of my team members in the offices with me helping me as I was putting up this theming of Venice I had, & I put it up… we are talking… I’m telling her the stories of what happened with the photos before & I must be crazy. (LAUGHTER) And right then, she was sitting underneath where they were hanging, & the painting we put on the wall fell on her head. (Laughter) She looked at me & I didn’t even have words. (giggle). I had nothing to say because no one was gonna believe it. 

Designing Fear with Charity Hill

Designing Fear with Charity Hill

DF: How did you get the supreme title of Grand Poobah at Dark Harbor?

CH: They were looking for a specialist to take on a couple of our biggest events. I came on the team & was groomed with producing all year long for a couple of years just to make sure I had every facet possible. I focused a little bit on honing my skills in the 40 other events I produced onboard the ship (laughter), & just making sure I had a grasp on our audience, what the needs are of each of my team members, & also how to maneuver that within the ship. The one thing that was different when I did come onboard was, that Dark Harbor, was a production produced by a team that wasn’t here all the time. I think our company really realized the value of having someone who knows our assets & the ship really well, who has her at the forefront of the mind, as well the storyline, & as well all of the people who work at Dark Harbor… And so I was groomed into this position for 3 years. For me, especially in the production world, it felt slow.  (giggle) 

DF: Tell me some woes & concerns that run across your mind that happen during the show run?

CH:   Part of the reality is knowing you are going to have long lines, but what are you doing with their (the customers) time? Its a multitask thing ya know? So, if we can engage them while they are waiting, help them forget about the wait, it builds anticipation. If the maze is short after a long long line, that can be a let down. So how much added entertainment do we need everywhere to keep the party going. How can we maximize our guests time while they are in transit? All these things come and go.

DF: Can you let me in on some back stage secret high up Dark Harbor goodies???

Charity Hill, Designing Fear, & Dark Harbor's new spirit for 2016 "The Ironmaster".

Designing Fear, Charity Hill, & Dark Harbor’s new spirit for 2016 “The Ironmaster”.

CH:  Ok….. I love imagining an event from the start of the guest experience all the way through to when they leave, & then, I like to go tell somebody about it. Sometimes it’s good to have a fresh set of eyes on something. I think that afterwards, I can come into identify some factors of what we can improve & things we can tweak slightly, to make a better guest experience. So, what we try to do is take instances from our Queen Mary history & forge new paths without debasing what we are founded on. It can be a really tricky process when we go into concept phase. AND…. A lot of the marketing for Dark Harbor has to be a) very dynamic & b) it has to not only foot the bill of our overall universal brand, but its gotta be edgy enough to really sink into our typical haunters who aren’t in our commercial brand demographic… It’s a lot of work.

This year we are adding a brand new maze & a brand new character (Which you can read about here). It’s one I spent a lot of time on historically, researching the ship, & building the character. We went to build this new character based on something that was pivotal in the build of the Queen Mary herself. …. I am really excited about this years Dark Harbor!!

Thank you to Charity for spending a few minutes with us at Designing Fear. You can read more about what lies in store for The Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor 2016 right here.

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