It’s a Trav-IGANZA

by Ken Rosenberg

“I have always enjoyed Halloween and dressing up, the whole role-play aspect of it,” said Travis Ross, PhD student and party-throwing master. “Growing up, I was into D&D and that kind of stuff, so the idea of getting to put on a costume – to make a costume – it’s all really fun. So, to have an excuse to do that, I decided to start hosting Halloween parties.” With his wife, Emily, on board, Travis had his first party in 2007, the first year of his PhD program.

Things started out small but, over the past few years, Travis’ Halloween party has become a staple of graduate social life. There used to be competing parties; some people left early. Now, “we’ve earned our place,” Travis said. Word of mouth and a years-long reputation have made the party an unofficial Telecom event for grad students.

Graduate student Steve Burns and his wife have attended every party, as have Steve’s sister and her husband—who drive from Michigan to Bloomington every year. “It’s extremely flattering.” Travis said. “That sort of stuff makes my day. The fact that people would drive from Michigan for my party, it’s cool. Since they’re driving all that way, though, I don’t want to disappoint them.” Travis and Emily have been hosting for 40-plus people the last three parties. Surely, Steve, his sister, and everyone else have a great time.

The night before each party, friend and colleague Matt Falk comes over to the house to help prepare. “I always say to Matt, there are three things that make a party good: lighting, lots of people, and music. “I’m a big proponent of lighting,” Travis said. “If you want to have a good party, you should have good lighting, and so we’ve accumulated tons of strip lights for the party, as well as different colored light bulbs.” Travis enjoys selecting music and making playlists for himself and others, and the party is a great way to share his passion. Though he now uses a computer, Travis has had turntables for several years and used to play DJ with them. “Emily has always been helpful,” he said, “and we’ve collected more and more decorations each year.”

Of course, since it’s a Halloween party, there is another oft-unspoken prerequisite: costumes! Plenty of people get costumes just to attend Travis’ party. “That’s cool,” Travis said. “I make mine just to go to my party, too.” He has gone as a Rubik’s cube and Jack Skellington (from The Nightmare Before Christmas) and, this year, he’s going as the prodigal son of Gallifrey.

The scariest costume, without contest, belongs to Teresa.

“She wasn’t in the department at the time and a lot of people didn’t know who she was,” Travis said. Quickly, she made an impression. She dressed up as a nurse from the horror video game Silent Hill (as seen in the photos) and it “scared the crap out of a lot of people that year,” Travis said. “She would just stand next to people and stare at them. It was so scary, it was downright terrifying. She had a mask, so you couldn’t see her – and it looked like human hair. Creepy, creepy stuff.”

“Nic and Teresa always have great costumes, though,” Travis said. Last year, they went as Margo and Richie Tenenbaum .

The scariest music? Well …

“Every year, Bridget Rubenking always requests the worst songs, at the worst times – and then demands that I play them. And so, I play them. Sometimes, they’re okay but, sometimes, it’s the most inappropriate song at the most inappropriate times – which is, was, a good thing for the Halloween party. I guess we won’t have that this year.”

“The new class seems like they’re excited about it, so I hope it works,” Travis said.

“Every year,” he said, “I think about whether or not we’re going to have enough people. I think there’s a threshold of people that makes it feel like a party. If you don’t have that, it’s not crazy enough. I always want that. Every year I worry – except this year.” Right now, Travis is working on his dissertation. “I haven’t really worried at all,” he said. “I hope people hear about it, because of the reputation and the fact that it should, hopefully, have its own legs by now.”

“There’s a lot of buildup for me,” Travis said, “because I enjoy planning and, now, I’ve got a system in place. I think my favorite parts are getting ready for it and setting up. The party itself is great. I enjoy DJi-ing. It flies by, it happens so fast. Then, the next morning – well, everybody’s been helping with cleanup the last few years, so it’s great, too. There are a couple of spots on the floor, but that’s about it and they’re totally worth it.”

His advice: “Have as much fun with it as you can, because Halloween only comes once a year and it’s a great excuse to let go – not in the sense of losing control, but of letting your barriers down to meet people. Let yourself have a good time. Laugh, and dance – and dance! Every year, I work so hard to get people dancing.”

“I hope that people in the department can get to know each other better,” Travis said, “and reflect on having a good time spent together. I know people are already doing that on their own, but I think that this is a great opportunity to get everybody together and just have an event we can all enjoy.”

The sixth annual Spooky-Scary Halloween Costume and Dance Em ‘N’ Trav-IGANZA will be on October 26.

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