Get ready to scream, or just have fun!
Gary Bingham, known around Horry County as Dr. Scream, will use his experience from creating haunted events throughout the area to give a chill to thrill seekers beginning in less than seven weeks.
And it won’t be long after that before his focus will move to a Christmas event that Conway Parks and Recreation Director Ashley Smith has promised Conway City Council will be of a caliber that will give competition to similar light shows in North Myrtle Beach and James Island, and promises to put money in the city’s coffers.
That’s different than the way the finances have gone for Conway’s Christmas light show the past couple of years.
It’s drained city staff preparing for and working it, and has lost money for the city every year Smith told council as he promoted the idea of hiring Bingham to take over the task.
Smith called the Halloween show “Casperish” and links the Christmas show to the spirit of Norman Rockwell, adding that they’re going to Hallmark “the heck out of it.”
Bingham said this past week that he was ready to sign a five-year contract with Conway, but wasn’t sure, due to the coronavirus, that his group will make much money this first year.
He said he decided to come to Conway because, “They coaxed us. I have always wanted to come to Conway to do this event simply because of the nature of Conway and being a small town…”
He, too, uses the wholesome image of Norman Rockwell.
Bingham has been drawing as many as 10,000 people to his Halloween productions, and information he provided to the City of Conway says he expects about 1,000 participants each night.
Bingham started his Halloween festivities in 1994 at the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base before it was transformed into the Market Common. He’s built a following and a team that helps him create new shows each year and in different places including Broadway at the Beach and Socastee.
“That was the first big one here on the base, so I have a following, and the City of Conway likes that following. I bring the people. I already have a built-in clientele that will follow me wherever we go,” Bingham said.
After he spoke with Conway officials, the Halloween guru consulted his team about the new challenge and when they agreed, he accepted the challenge on their behalf.
His agreement with Conway calls for five years of Halloween and Christmas shows. Bingham says this first year his Halloween show will be in the Riverfront Park where he’ll try to keep large crowds from gathering at any one spot. He expects to have a walk-thru haunted house for kids, plus some other activities like a train ride, corn maze, games and more; however, due to the COVID-19 he isn’t sure exactly what they’ll have in Conway this year.
He does expect to have a house for kids, and a scary house for older folks.
“I’m a Christian and have been since I was a kid. I had always felt like I had an issue with it (Halloween) being sacrilegious…We design them to where they’re fun, not satanic,” he said.
The Halloween event will begin Oct. 15 and run through Halloween.
The group will then get busy on the Christmas event that will follow the same path along Marina Drive that it has for several years now. There will be much more to do at Riverfront Park where there will be as many as 10 vendors and other activities.
“My focus was always on the haunted park. This gives me a way to do both in one spot,” he said of the Conway shows.
The Christmas show is expected to run from Nov. 26 to Jan. 1.
As for coming to Conway, “It just seemed to be a good fit and then as we got to talking further they said would I be interested in the lights and the Christmas deal,” he said.
He says he expects a good show this year, but better ones in year two and three when he hopes to see COVID-19 in his rearview mirror.
Bingham said his goal is to create a family fun atmosphere for both seasons, with a little haunting thrown in for Halloween.
“The goal is to bring people together as a family, and you can do that with Halloween because Halloween is fun. It’s going to be a challenge this year, but we’re up for a challenge. We always seem to be,” he said.
Maybe not this year, but by next year, he says, “It’s going to be the talk of the town.”
After that, it’s going to turn into an annual event that families will eagerly anticipate.
Bingham says he expects to hire a staff of locals for the River City’s shows. He’ll need actors, parking attendants and more.
He says once his team gets things lined up, they’ll put out the call for workers. He suggests people keep an eye on Facebook for postings about the jobs.
“We’re excited about doing this for Conway. I really am. That small town feel is what I was looking for for my event…I’m really excited about it, and I’m kind of anxious about it due to the COVID,” he said.
Bingham’s efforts to help people have fun enjoying Halloween and now Christmas, too, is just a sideline for him.
In his professional life, he is owner of The Bargain Warehouse in Myrtle Beach.
He believes in helping his community and has given away 10,000 Easter baskets to needy families, and this past weekend, in a drive-thru event they gave away school supplies.
In Conway, Smith is expecting things like a rock climbing wall and various vendors.
“This will bring lots of people to the City of Conway…The city can make some money off of it,” he said, adding that he doesn't know what the price will be yet, but promises that it will be affordable for the citizens of Conway.
He says Bingham’s crew will start with the lights that Conway has used in previous years and has already started to build new displays to add to the show.
Smith expects the Christmas show to compete with North Myrtle Beach and James Island within two to three years.
“It’s going to be amazing,” he said.