Step into Sleepy Hollow, If You Dare

A new interactive performance at Old Sturbridge Village will be one for the (Washington Irving) books.

sleepy hollow old sturbridge village

Photo by BreeAnne Clowdus, courtesy of Serenbe Playhouse

Instead of cracking open a copy of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow this Halloween season, a few lucky locals will be dropped into the heart of the story. This month, a sold-out experiential performance of the chilling tale comes to Old Sturbridge Village.

By day, the village will continue to operate as a living museum, where a historically accurate representation of life in the 19th century unfolds in front of visitors. But by night, the countryside will transform into a living storybook of the same time period—the Sleepy Hollow of Washington Irving’s imagination. It’s the first time Old Stubridge Village has embraced live theater on a grand scale, despite the many years of employing actors in costumes.

Visitors, guided by storytellers, become citizens of Sleepy Hollow, attending class with the bumbling Ichabod Crane, singing and noshing with fellow residents, and ultimately witnessing Crane’s ghostly run-in with the headless horseman. While Crane, a Connecticut native, met his fate in New York state, the Massachusetts version of the haunted valley is as real as they come. 

“It’s going to be on its feet and immersive. We’ll be using all of those incredible structures because, you know, the great thing about Old Sturbridge Village is that it feels like Sleepy Hollow,” says Brian Clowdus. He’s the founder of production company Brian Clowdus Experiences and executive director of Georgia’s Serenbe Playhouse, where his Sleepy Hollow Experience has sold out for three seasons. Clowdus’ productions create live theater experiences that take advantage of outdoor spaces. His list of past performances includes Charlotte’s Web and Carousel, which featured a real Ferris wheel and merry-go-round on the set.

After years of pondering incorporating theater into Old Sturbridge Village, senior strategist Darin Johnson got the ball rolling by scouting Clowdus’ production last year. Johnson headed down to Serenbe, Georgia, saw the Sleepy Hollow Experience, and was blown away. Not long after, Clowdus arrived at Old Sturbridge Village to start planning the New England version of the production.

“When they flew me up there to visit I just freaked out,” says Clowdus. “I was like ‘Oh my God, you have everything you need here. You have a school house, you have a covered bridge, this is Sleepy Hollow.”

Johnson says the success of the Sleepy Hollow Experience will determine the future of theater in the village, where it will hopefully tap into new audiences while delighting longtime members. Based on a total of 31 sold-out shows, it’s safe to say Old Sturbridge Village has discovered something new.