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updated: 10/18/2017 11:32 AM

'Like a movie set': Nightmare on Chicago Street returns to Elgin

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  • Elgin's Nightmare on Chicago Street is expected to attract as many as 16,000 visitors to the city's downtown.

    Elgin's Nightmare on Chicago Street is expected to attract as many as 16,000 visitors to the city's downtown.
    Courtesy of Patricia Wilson

  • Costumed actors and performers will fill the streets at Nightmare on Chicago Street, set for Saturday, Oct. 21 in downtown Elgin.

    Costumed actors and performers will fill the streets at Nightmare on Chicago Street, set for Saturday, Oct. 21 in downtown Elgin.
    COURTESY OF CITY OF ELGIN

  • Elgin's Nightmare on Chicago Street is like "walking through a movie set," according to event organizer Barb Keselica.

    Elgin's Nightmare on Chicago Street is like "walking through a movie set," according to event organizer Barb Keselica.
    COURTESY OF CITY OF ELGIN

  • A tank and costumed soldiers are part of the scene during last year's Nightmare on Chicago Street.

      A tank and costumed soldiers are part of the scene during last year's Nightmare on Chicago Street.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, 2016

  • Costumed participants crowd downtown Elgin during last year's Nightmare on Chicago Street.

      Costumed participants crowd downtown Elgin during last year's Nightmare on Chicago Street.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, 2016

  • An overturned car sets an apocalyptic scene during last year's Nightmare on Chicago Street in Elgin.

      An overturned car sets an apocalyptic scene during last year's Nightmare on Chicago Street in Elgin.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, 2016

 
By Mike Miazga
Daily Herald correspondent

Nightmare on Chicago Street has been anything but a nightmare for the city of Elgin.

Back and better than ever, the city's Halloween/zombie-themed festival takes place from 6-11 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, on Chicago Street, between Douglas and Villa avenues, and features a plethora -- and that might be putting it mildly -- of entertainment, bands, food, drinks, vendors, games, live graffiti artists and special guests. Individuals 17 and younger will not be admitted without a parent or guardian present. Tickets can be purchased at www.nightmareonchicagostreet.com ($12 presale, $15 at the door and a limited number of $25 VIP parking passes are available).

"It is an experience like no other," said Barb Keselica, the city's special events and community engagement manager. "Halloween always has been a big deal to the residents of Elgin."

Nightmare was born out of the now defunct FoxFireFest, which at the time was the city's biggest sponsored event.

"We needed to be innovative with creating an event on a small budget that would have a large impact," Keselica said.

Keselica noted Nightmare was put together in a mere six weeks in 2011.

"We call that year magic," she said. "It was Elgin's perfect storm. We had the right players at the right time with right trend."

The trend centers around zombies.

"We developed Nightmare on Chicago Street before (hit television show) 'The Walking Dead' hit its peak," Keselica said. "Zombies are a big trend in today's market and it doesn't show any signs of deceleration."

And neither does Nightmare on Chicago Street. In its first year in 2011, the event drew 3,500 people and, as set designer Freddrick Wimms (an Elgin High School graduate) recalls, local businesses ran out of refreshments due to the high traffic that first year. Last year, the event ballooned to just under 16,000 attendees, Wimms noted.

"It's been like a ball rolling down a hill," said Wimms, who imagines and builds all the event's set designs. "It keeps gaining momentum. The first year we blew it out and it's been a success every year. We try to build on what we do every year."

As Keselica explained, the city originally partnered with Acme Design, a local company that produces fabrications and props for major Fortune 500 companies, and discussed bringing a movie-like set event to Elgin for Halloween.

"The initial thought was to make downtown look like Gotham City with graffiti, abandoned buildings, leaves, etc.," she explained. "It was Acme that took it to the next level by bringing in the concept of zombies and turning over cars (using existing city vehicles)."

Wimms likens Nightmare to the popular Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago.

"It encompasses so many events in one," he said. "We have different band stages going all night. There is going to be a surprise performance in the street, different types of dancing will break out. We'll have a fire performance and acrobats. There will be cage dancers.

"This is a five-hour event once a year. If you go to Nightmare on Chicago Street, there is not enough time in five hours to see everything. You would have to come three years straight to see everything. That's how much is going on."

Stage 1 will feature Hairbangers Ball (6-8 p.m.), a DJ from 8-8:30 and 9:15-9:45 p.m., and 97 Nine performs from 8:30-9:15 and 9:45-11 p.m. Stage 2 has GooRoos from 6-7:30 p.m., a DJ from 7:30-8 p.m., Too White Crew from 8-10 p.m., a costume contest with Svengoolie from 10-10:30 p.m., and a DJ from 10:30-11 p.m. Stage 3 features Shagadelics from 6-7 and 7:30-8:30 p.m., a DJ from 7-7:30 and 8:30-9 p.m., and Sixteen Candles plays from 9-11 p.m.

A Svengoolie meet and greet takes place from 8:30-9:30 p.m., and the Cirq d' Freak Show goes from 8-11 p.m. Costume contest registration is from 6-8 p.m., at the YWCA at 220 E. Chicago St.

"It looks like the movie set from 'Walking Dead,'" Wimms said. "We transform downtown Elgin into post-zombie apocalypse."

Casting director and street theater coordinator Judi Brownfield said another key attraction -- in addition to the street dancing, fire performances, Silent Hill Alley and the morgue area -- will be a question-and-answer session with "The Walking Dead" background actor Skylar Felton (involved in the 2015 and 2016 season finale episodes). Inside the Z Theater on the Nightmare grounds, Felton will share behind-the-scenes secrets and stories from the show.

An event of this magnitude would not be possible without the work of six volunteers referred to as the Zombie Defense Initiative, Keselica said. In addition to Wimms, Alice Moring runs the event's social media efforts, Elizabeth Haney secures bloggers and special guests, John LaFleur attends conventions and flea markets recruiting retail vendors and promoting the event, David Metzger develops and produces graphics, commercials and short films, while Brownfield casts more than 200 volunteers for street theater entertainment. Keselica said props are built most weekends from May to October and most evening nights starting in September.

"I have never been so blessed to work with such a wonderful and talented group of people," she said.

Event organizers noted safety of guests always is its top priority, and a host of advanced security measures are in place to ensure just that. "Another unique element to this event is our city's staff is all hands on deck," Keselica said. "Our number-one goal is safety."

Wimms' advice to Nightmare attendees is simple.

"Plan ahead, find a parking spot and come early," he said. "Pick out the things you want to see and don't just check out one band."

"You are literally walking through movie sets the entire time you are there," Keselica said. "The greatest thing about this is you become part of the set. Everyone needs to come to the event and find out. Words of advice: Always expect the unexpected."

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