Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with one of the most kind and amazingly exuberant people. The man behind the Ringmaster character at The Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor, Andrew Diego. He’s a person who is just as intriguing out of character and costume as he is in it. Dark Harbor is one of the most coveted events to attend during the Haunt Season which began Sept 26 and will run through November 2. With the beautiful and mysterious backdrop of the historic Queen Mary, Dark Harbor, this haunt uses every nook and dark cranny to bring our fears from the deep depths of the water to the surface!
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today. I’m so very excited to get out there to see all of you bring these amazing characters to life!
Andrew Diego: Oh, it’s my pleasure! And I’m so excited to see you and hang out with you again! That’s one of the best things about doing this, is that you really meet some amazing people who you keep up with and stay connected to. It becomes a tradition and that’s very special.
That’s one of my favorite parts of it all and I’m sure it’s one of the reasons why people come back year after year. That connection that you make with people in the lines or outside the mazes. I know it keeps me coming back year after year.
Andrew Diego: Oh my goodness, thank you so much. Those lines can be so treacherous, I feel like my job is to make the situation a little better and keep people entertained.
How did you find yourself in this role of the Ringmaster, who is one of the integral characters at Dark Harbor?
Andrew Diego: Well, I began my time at Dark Harbor working in one of the mazes called Containment. My first season was in 2012 and I worked in that position for a couple of years. Then it was 2013, I believe, when they introduced The Ringmaster and The Circus as a new theme to the event. My dear friend Peggy, who originated The Ringmaster character, performed the role for the first season and I became her understudy during the second season. I was in that position for a couple of seasons and then started to take it over more full-time as she became busy with other things. Peggy is no longer with the event this year so the boots have been passed on to me so to speak (laughs).
How do you breathe new life into a character that is so familiar to everyone?
Andrew Diego: It’s an interesting challenge to sort of walk the line between being what I know people expect of The Ringmaster and want to see in the character, but also keeping it fresh, exciting, invigorating and creatively interesting to me as a performer. As I gain more experience, not just as a performer, but in life in general, I find new ways to bring layers and colors to the character. It’s such a playground! The Creative Team, the Talent Directors and everyone we work with are so supportive of the artistic choices that we make. I’ve never felt like I had to limit my artistic approach to just one thing. I always feel the freedom to push further and find new things. That’s what keeps it exciting for me.
I’m always amazed at the time I’m sure it takes the team behind the scenes to get you all into character as far as physical transformations. What’s the process like to sit every night and transform into The Ringmaster?
Andrew Diego: It’s definitely chaotic, there’s a million things going on with monsters and makeup artists. It’s like being in a very busy airport (laughs). Everyone’s running around to get where they need to be. By the time I finally make it to the makeup chair, and it’s just me and the artist, it takes about 20-35 minutes to get me to transform. It’s a meditative process that allows me to take that time and disappear into the role. Let all the outside noise quiet away so that I can prepare for my night. I really look forward to that moment because I can just focus, calibrate, and take my artistic temperature for the evening to see how to approach it.
How did you become acquainted with The Queen Mary? What were your thoughts when you first stepped onto the ship?
Andrew Diego: I was always very interested in the history of the ship. I think it’s such a unique and beautiful space and we’re so lucky to have it so easily accessible to us. It’s such a special place with such special energy. Any chance I have to be on board and explore the history, it has a profound effect on my relationship to the event it’s legends and the significance of bringing to life all the history here. All the hauntings and ghosts add a layer of significance. It’s not just a haunted house for the sake of being a haunted house. It really has more to it and that makes an incredibly lovely experience for all of us.
I’ve always found it to be so special. Most haunts are put in an empty space that requires a story to be brought to life, but when you step foot on The Queen Mary, you’re physically touching things that so many faces from history have touched. Any time I am on board the ship it’s such a privilege to walk in the footsteps of so many others on an amazing vessel.
Andrew Diego: Especially the mazes on board! They make use of all the incredibly preserved architecture and it’s amazing to see how the production designers will so beautifully marry what is already there and what is already on board and what they will bring thematically and dramatically to heighten the experience. The smells and the temperature, all these elements add to the experience that’s unlike anything at any haunt anywhere.
Being on The Queen Mary, with such a rich history, as well as a deeply rich paranormal history, have you, or your fellow cast mates, been lucky enough to be counted as those folks who have had experiences on the ship?
Andrew Diego: I am oblivious, personally, to that sort of thing. It’s very possible I have been in the same space with a ghost and just not noticed. However, many of my cast members and many people I have spoken to have had hand to God paranormal experiences. Seen things, felt things, heard things.
What scares you around this haunting time of year?
Andrew Diego: Crowds (laughs). Not being able to move from the break room to where I need to be is pretty terrifying. I think what scares me, I’m kind of old-school, I’m afraid of the dark and of being by myself. So even when I’m all done up and I am maneuvering through a part of the ship that’s particularly terrifying, I’m like, “Please get me out of here!” And it’s funny because I play this larger-than-life character who’s not afraid of anything but in those moments I feel Andrew is very small and is very vulnerable and it’s kind of a funny experience.
Maybe the ghosts are just so used to you that they’re like, “Let him through!”
Andrew Diego: (laughs) I hope so! The ghosts and I are on good terms, maybe that’s why they don’t bother me. They leave me alone, I’m an old friend at this point. When no one’s looking, the ghosts and I do each other’s make up and talk contouring tips (laughs).
In regards to this season, what should we be keeping an eye out for?
Andrew Diego: We have an all new maze called Rogue which is where Deadrise used to be, out on the midway. It tells the story of The Captain before he became The Captain that we know today. Before he and his crew met their fate. It’s a pretty wonderful before and after situation with everything we know about The Captain and some amazing tech elements. It’s an incredible experience and I don’t want to give too much away but when I saw it for the first time it was a really beautiful experience. You also have to check out our old favorite, Lullaby, with our favorite Scary Mary because there’s a whole new paranormal element that’s being introduced this year that is quite remarkable.
Growing up, or even now, what was your favorite Halloween costume?
Andrew Diego: Growing up I think I liked to be a witch. Gimme a big ole hat and I was good! (laughs). I loved Halloween and setting up little haunts for my friends to go through in my room at home. I grew up outside Boston with such strong ties to Salem and folklore. Halloween as a culture was really strong growing up, then coming to Southern California it was amazing to see what a strong culture it is here.
Last question, what is your wish for all those arriving at Dark Harbor?
Andrew Diego: I just want the audience to come ready to play. Have a good time and literally, with the amount of chaos and strife going on in our lives and the world, let Dark Harbor be the escapist playground where you can enjoy the costumes and makeup and this fantastic backdrop of The Queen Mary. Just forget about the world for a little while. Be respectful and have fun, it’s a special thing we get to do once a year so let’s savor and enjoy it. And always do something that scares you!
There’s no one quite like The Ringmaster or Andrew Diego, who brings his character to life. He, along with the incredibly dedicated team of fellow actors, technicians and production staff behind the scenes, work tirelessly each night to bring all of your fears to life. The Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor is not to be missed. See it once, twice, three times or until it becomes a tradition for you and your family. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.queenmary.com/calendar-of-events/dark-harbor/2019/.