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'Surprise House' to Offer Non-Scary Twist on the Haunted House

By Irene Plagianos on June 3, 2014 6:52am 

'Surprise House' on Governors Island
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Surprise Industries

GOVERNORS ISLAND — You've heard of a haunted house, but what about a "surprise house"?

Surprise Industries — which has previously amazed clients with unexpected activities like ice-sculpting, helicopter–flying classes and unicycling — has some shockers in store for people who visit Governors Island this summer.

The company will run a “Surprise House” on the island with free admission in August and September.

“We see it as kind of like a haunted house, but delightful and not scary,” said Tania Luna, a 28-year-old Brooklyn native who co-founded Surprise Industries with her sister, Kat Dudina, in 2008.  “We want to create an interactive place full of wonderment, a place that leaves people feeling joy, feeling re-energized.”

The company is setting up shop in one of several empty houses on Colonels' Row that were once home to military officers and their families when the island was an Army and Coast Guard base.

Surprise Industries is receiving the space rent-free, but the group is running a Kickstarter campaign to help repair the old house and finance the activities inside. As of Monday, the group had raised more than $5,500 of its $10,000 goal, with two weeks left in the campaign.

The exact details of the “Surprise House” are, well, a surprise, but Luna promised “it won’t be like a museum where things are just pretty to look at — it’ll be an actual experience." The house is slated to be open to the public on weekends, from Aug. 16 through Sept. 15.

There will also likely be planned (not surprise) events on the second floor of the house, including talks from psychologists about the science of surprise and performances by musicians and artists, said Luna, who teaches psychology, related to surprise, at Hunter College. Those events may have a small charge.

The idea for the Surprise House, Luna said, came from wanting to bring the joy of the spontaneous to the public — something she and her business partners have long loved to do.

"We want to spread that feeling of awe to everyone, but as a business model, working with companies to create events for their employees is what has sustained us financially," said Luna, who's worked with companies including Google and Whole Foods. "This is a chance to go back to the spirit of why we really started the company in the first place."

Depending on the amount donated, those who chip in to the Kickstarter campaign will get special experiences including tours of the "Surprise House" before it's open to the public, picnics on Governors Island or simply a surprise sent in the mail.

For more information about donating to the Kickstarter, visit the website.

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