Working in a haunted house is an unofficial rite of passage for people looking to break into the theater biz. You pick up some experience with makeup, performance and lonely humiliation, plus make a little money between gigs. Of course, dressing up like a ghoul does have its drawbacks. We hunted down local rookies and veterans of the scare industry for some real-life horror stories.
NAME: Mark Knight
ROLE: Captain Mad Bastard at Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary, a few years back
DUTIES: Scare people so much they’d need fresh underwear
THE DEAL: Most of the people being scary that year at Eastern State were young; I was a bit older. OK, I was twice the age of most of ’em. And I couldn’t be arsed to spend hours putting on expensive makeup. I’ve been an actor for a phark of a long time, so I had some scary tricks to pull out if I needed ’em. I just slicked my hair back, sprayed fake blood in my ear and let it trickle out.
I wandered around, mean as fuck, glaring at people and barking at them in a voice like Jack Nicholson chewing on speed and broken glass. It was a hit — too much so. One scenario I developed involved me telling scared young women to stand in a dark corner and “Do not, by damn me, move. Because I will find you, honey.” And off I would go to threaten another group. After a while, I began to find these women where I’d left them, facing the wall, quaking. Several women. Every night. If I came across these little lost lambs, I’d usually tell ’em to “Get out of my sight, girl!” and stalk menacingly after them as they ran off, crying. Or doing the pee-pee dance.
One night I was confronted by a Terror site manager, accompanied by a group of one young woman’s friends. They’d had to leave their friend behind — she wouldn’t move. They were too scared to approach me, so they’d all squealed their way through the frightening maze until they found a friendly zombie. They cried their story to Mr. Zombie (who had a hole in his head), and then back they all trooped to ask me to please, let Suzanne go? And please, could I not be so scary?
✚ Mark Knight is currently working as the director of the 2013 Shubin April Fest at the Shubin Theatre, facebook.com/shubinaprilfest.
NAME: Michael Tomasetti
ROLE: Dead Colonial tour guide at Spirits of ’76 Ghost Tour, last few years
DUTIES: Recounting horrifying tales of historic Philadelphia
THE DEAL: I once had a husband and wife that were completely trashed on my tour. They were fighting and arguing the entire time — degrading each other and screaming obscenities. It was like something out of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Everyone on the tour was rattled and I didn’t know to handle it — especially because the husband was a cop. When we stopped at a cemetery I saw something out of the corner of my eye, and I must have been on the defensive because I jumped and screamed. It ended up being a glove stuck to a fence, and everyone had a good laugh about it. The husband and wife laughed about it, too, and it gave them something else to make fun of, besides themselves.
✚ Michael Tomasetti is currently a senior associate at ChatterBlast Media, chatterblast.com.
NAME: Emilie Krause
ROLE: Virginia Poe at Haunted Poe, a haunted house put on by Brat Productions in 2009
DUTIES: Portraying Edgar Allen Poe’s wife on her deathbed in a four-hour-long nightly improv
THE DEAL: The grossest acting job I’ve ever had. She died of tuberculosis, which meant I had to cough up a lot of blood. Every 20 minutes, Edgar would bring me a cup filled with peanut butter, corn syrup and red food coloring. I would take a sip, hold it in my mouth for a bit so the audience wouldn’t suspect, and then dramatically cough the blood all over the bedspread, my handkerchief and anything else I could find to stain. Of course, the audience members, drunk college students buzzing with Halloween-y excitement, delighted in these outbursts and would holler, “That’s gross,” “I’d still do her,” and “Hey, hey, hey, is that swine flu? Ha ha ha.”
✚ Emilie Krause’s will play Lucrece in Lantern Theater’s production of The Liar, Nov. 1-Dec. 1, lanterntheater.org.
NAME: Carmen Martella III
ROLE: Manager at an area historical-landmark haunted attraction, more than a decade ago
DUTIES: Managing 30 actors
THE DEAL: I had a phenomenal time, but this type of work attracts all sorts of crazy. It’s like a Renaissance faire on crack. I got to hear the greatest, most unbelievable call-out-of-work-forever stories. One of the actors limped up with a cane that looked like a lopped-off shepherd’s crook and said he couldn’t work anymore because he injured his leg while carrying a friend up 40 flights of stairs. He was fine from that, but going back down the stairs — I’m not making this up — a watermelon fell on his leg, thus giving him the injury and he couldn’t work anymore. Then he limped away, leaving me to find a replacement.
✚ Carmen Martella III is the host of the Karaoke Gung Show at The Trocadero, facebook.com/KaraokeGongShow.
NAME: Brooke Rogers
ROLE: Actor at The Fright Factory, present
DUTIES: Scaring people
THE DEAL: We have four different “haunts” inside our location in an old warehouse. I work at the final haunt, Amygdala. Myself and three other “look-alikes” scare the bejesus out of customers. I’m new to the haunted-house gig, and so far I’m loving it! However, there are definitely some drawbacks. I’ve almost been punched, kicked and spit on. I have been smacked in the face, screamed at and felt up (accident, of course). My favorite part of haunting: People fleeing from me in terror and saying they’ll be seeing me in their nightmares. Awesome. Least favorite part: drunk men/teens. They don’t scare, and then get annoyed when you attempt to. Hey — you’re the one who paid to be here!
✚ Brooke Rogers is currently scaring the bejesus out of people at Fright Factory in South Philly, frightfactory.tv.
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