Making Mischief

Every evening in October, guests at Harvest Nights get to peek inside Mischief Manor and watch a spectacular party rise and fall, only to be saved again by The Three Graces in the end. Ghosts, goblins, and a Carrara marble statue come alive after dark. It may look like magic, but in reality, it wasn’t magic at all, it took good old-fashioned teamwork and creativity to pull off the spooky grand finale to Harvest Nights. Newfields worked with Blockhouse Productions out of Bloomington, Indiana and The Indianapolis Ballet to bring the story to life in three dimensions on the façade of Lilly House. 

The idea to enchant Lilly House came from Jonathan Berger, Deputy Director of Marketing and External Affairs and Executive Director for Harvest, who wanted to honor the history of the home, as well as the art that is a fixture of The Garden, and incorporate local creative partners, all while awing guests in a typical Newfields fashion. He said of this lofty goal, “Newfields is the place to experience fall in Indiana. There is something beautiful around every turn at Harvest Days, so when we developed Harvest Nights I wanted to bring that same level of wonder to the after-dark experience, something that would captivate everyone who saw it.”  After some travel and research, Berger knew that projection mapping, which consists of images projected onto a three-dimensional surface, would have a mystical feeling no other medium could. With a new collaboration with one of Newfields’ closest partners, the dancers at The Indianapolis Ballet would be able to bring charm, beauty, and creativity to the show. 

Using projection mapping technology and nine 20,000 lumen projectors, guests get to peer inside a 3D model of Lilly House as if looking into a life-sized doll house. Kevin Winkler, owner and production mapping designer at Blockhouse, took incredible care and detail to create the vision. He designed a three-dimensional model of the exterior of Lilly House to serve as the frame of the story, and even went as far as to use photogrammetry, which is the process of reconstructing physical environments by stitching together large collections of overlapping photographs to create a hyper realistic representation of a space. Winkler and his team took 40,000 images of the interior of Lilly House to accurately replicate the actual interiors of the rooms in the home, so what guests see is not an artistic representation, but a three-dimensional photorealistic version.  

But what makes Mischief Manor truly special and unlike what anyone else is doing, Berger and Winker noted–even in major markets like Los Angeles, New York, and Las Vegas–is the incredibly thoughtful storytelling that accompanies the high-tech production. In partnership with Newfields’ production team, Blockhouse produced, filmed, and edited the show. Six dancers from The IndianapolisBallet—Yoshiko Kamikusa, Sierra Levin, Jessica Miller, Filipe Aragão, Greg Goessner, and Chris Lingner—play the roles of ghosts, ballroom dancers, and The Three Graces. Victoria Lyras, Founding Artistic Director of the Indianapolis Ballet, took the lead choreographing all three scenes, designing and making costumes, and even helping Newfields’ production team fabricate a dancer-friendly greenscreen floor in the Toby Theater.  

This kind of meticulous detail and passion for the project is evident in speaking with Berger, Winkler, and Lyras. In my interviews with them, each individually noted that the project was a welcome creative outlet in the middle of the first year of COVID-19 when the art world had slowed nearly to a halt. Lyras poured herself into the project, going above and beyond on a tight deadline, spending hours sourcing period–specific gowns for the ballroom scene, and designing and making entirely gray costumes to replicate The Three Graces, reflecting, “It was a challenge—it was weeks of an intense artistic endeavor...and a lot of gray spray paint!” Winkler spent every night in October at Newfields making sure the show went off without a hitch and enjoyed getting to watch guests 8 years old to 80 years old experience the magic.  

From idea to pre-production to finished product Mischief Manor took about six months to complete and made its debut at last year’s Harvest Nights. It was intended to take guests by surprise, so we didn’t share much about how it came to be, but as expected guests young and old loved it and wanted to know more. In addition to this article, the short behind- the-scenes video will give you a glimpse into the magic. 

​​​​​​​Harvest is presented by JPMorgan Chase. Lead support is provided by Corteva Agriscience, The Hagerman Group, and Sun King Brewing. Additional support is provided by F.C. Tucker, Mays Chemical Company, and Sunbelt Rentals. Harvest is made possible by a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. through its initiative, Strengthening Indianapolis Through Arts and Culture Innovation.