As anyone who has read this fine publication over the last decade should know, I’m always in search of the spooky — especially at this time of year. Despite my roles as part-time reporter and full-time mom of a frisky four-year-old, I decided to take on my most challenging Halloween project yet this year — to become a Haunt actor at Worlds of Fun. We’re called Screamsters, and the process of becoming one started with the strangest job interview I’ll ever have.
We sat around a conference room table in mid-August, a motley crew of folks including some teenagers, folks with rainbow hair, and me looking like a soccer mom. The Worlds of Fun human resources staff noted that this was the time of year when they were looking for the unusual with nods to that rainbow hair and the facial piercings in the room.
I decided I was probably out of luck, but then we were assigned groups and given little index cards. It was time for improv!
Apparently my take on a traveling salesmen of body parts: “Check out our baby toes; they’re especially fresh!” impressed them and probably got me assigned to the Bloodshed.
Perched on the highest hill in the park (more on that hill later), the Bloodshed’s premise is that something has gone terribly wrong with the Old MacDonald’s Farm slaughterhouse. It’s somewhere between Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Beverly Hillbillies — so basically Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3.
As Screamsters in the Bloodshed, we’re meant to be funny along with our menace. I’ve had a couple of roles in the Bloodshed this season, both with their ups and downs, but first … that hill.
Every night starts with a show featuring the Haunt Overlord, who summons the creatures forth to terrorize the park.
Yes, I’m paraphrasing his speech. I have it almost memorized.
Then, we parade through the park, in character, singing our house song: “Old MacDonald’s Slaughterhouse, EIEIO…” Since we can’t go through the kids’ area covered in fake blood (which by the way, attracts more bees than I previously thought possible), we have to go in the back way, which involves scaling Mount Worlds of Fun. Okay, I exaggerate, but that hill has a pretty good grade on it, and as a chubby middle-aged woman, I’m puffing by the time we hit the top.
It’s OK. I wheeze. Just hit me with the defibrillator, and I’ll be good to go.
I do feel a bit mollified that most of the teenagers are just as winded by the time we reach that summit.
Ahhh, the teenagers. Everyone knows teenagers can be challenging, and working with them is doubly so. I end up either wanting to shake them or pat them on the head and make them a sandwich, both of which would be frowned upon by HR, I’m sure.
For the first few weeks of my run, I was posted near the front door and had to work out some schtick to deliver to guests as they entered the house. We’re encouraged to develop a character as fully as we can, so Junebug Cleaver came to life, welcoming folks in and ringing the cast iron dinner bell. There’s nothing like repeating, “Howdy, y’all! Yer just in time for dinner!” in a loud, exaggerated hick accent a few thousand times a night.
This part, as you may imagine, was not fun. Except for the few times people got my jokes about long pig on the menu, of course.
See, I’m at my best when I just jump out and scare the snot out of people and then vanish, and this post was entirely too visible for my liking. About halfway through the season, I decided to change things up, and Junebug got a little … weird.
For the first time in my 20-plus years working at haunted houses, I decided to wear a foam latex facial prosthetic. So, now, due to the confusion of some hapless makeup artist who painted a crow’s skull prosthetic to look like a chicken, I’m a hybrid bird creature — a hybird!
You’ll laugh later. The teenagers did.
With this change, the scares started rolling in and the job got infinitely more enjoyable. Now, I won’t lie. It’s physically demanding with long hours on your feet and lots of jumping around (and that hill), but when a grown woman tells you that you made her wet herself, it’s all worth it.
Those patrons are definitely the best part. People have hilarious and unpredictable reactions when startled, and I’ve been amused to see several familiar Platte County faces among the crowds (and half-hoping I wasn’t recognized, although I suppose I’ve blown that cover now…). It’s the most fun when you startle someone and they laugh and admit, “OK, you got me!”
Everyone laughs, and the guests are as in on the fun as the actors. It’s great.
Sometimes, patrons manage to get the most amazing offended look on their faces, like they’re shocked that they went into a haunted house and got startled. This, also, is highly entertaining.
What isn’t so entertaining are the incidents where patrons throw a punch at an actor for startling them, or steal props from the house.
Luckily, those incidents have been few and far between.
The season ends on Halloween night, and it’s been quite the experience. After wondering what in the world I signed up for in the first week or two, I finally hit my stride and have even earned Screamster of the Night honors once and 11 Kill Bills, which are little kudos handed out by the supervisors when they spot you being particularly scary.
I have to hand it to Worlds of Fun. After years of attending Haunt as a patron, it’s been fascinating to see what goes on behind the scenes as they put together the biggest Halloween event in the Midwest.
It’s something to see, so come on out for dinner, y’all!
Jeanette Browning-Faubion is a long-time reporter at The Citizen. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org