KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando takes you behind the scenes of the Scream Zone for some haunted house auditions.
Related Story: Rants And Raves: Scream Zone
HOST INTRO: Last year Halloween sales reached a record setting $8 billion making it the second largest commercial holiday, topped only by Christmas. This also means opportunities for seasonal jobs. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando takes us out to one business for an afternoon of job interviews.
Every job requires a special skill set.
AUTUMN MAIZE: Screams
Yep screaming is one of those skills. Also being certified on a chainsaw.
JENNIFER STRUEVER: That’s correct we do have chainsaws throughout our attraction and we’re always looking for folks who have a passion for wielding a chainsaw while wearing make up and costume and just scaring the heck out of people.
Jennifer Struever is the event manager for Scream Zone at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. She’s conducting interviews inside the Scream Zone’s tented maze in a room that could be Leatherface’s kitchen with a slab of meat hanging from the ceiling and impressive cutlery on the wall.
JENNIFER STRUEVER: We do ask people if they have any problems with chainsaw fumes, moving floors, strobe lights, loud noises, we need to know if they are allegoric to stage blood, or latex because they will be experiencing that in their costumes and make up.
Over at the haunted castle end of the Scream Zone tent, a huge green demon salivates over potential victims… I mean applicants, as they wait to be called into their interview. It’s so hot that multiple fans do little to help and the heat feels like it could melt the flesh off the living dead.
GERALDO FIGUEROA: Groans… groans louder.
Geraldo Figueroa reanimates for me.
GERALDO FIGUEROA: I’d like to be a zombie. It seems like it would be really fun especially with the new attraction that they are going to have.
Zombie paintball safari. That interests Autumn Maize who’s eager to display her undead expertise.
AUTUMN MAIZE: Well since zombies can’t really breath or anything there’s not really much in the way of sound that they make except for maybe some guttural gases kind of like [gives example]. But you can make some great sounds with your mouth like chewing sounds [gives example again] that don’t require breathing so I get a little technical.
Maize is exactly the type of person Struever is looking for.
JENNIFER STRUEVER: We’re looking for folks who have a passion for Halloween and any theatrical or athletic experience.
Or lung power as Samantha Topacio demonstrates.
SAMANTHA TOPACIO: You know I haven’t screamed in awhile cause no one really recreationally screams for fun, you know [screams and voice cracks] that was little.
Topacio performed better at her audition.
SAMANTHA TOPACIO: I did one that was a victim type thing…
CLIP of her scream
SAMANTHA TOPACIO: And then the other one was more like a creepy antagonist type character.
CLIP of second scream
The screams landed her the job and got her a high five from Ashley Amaral who’s been working at the Scream Zone for years. The petite, perky blond Amaral takes wicked delight in her job.
ASHLEY AMARAL: It is so awesome to see big burly men crumble to the ground, they think they’re so tough, they come in and “Oh you’re just a girl, please.” And they just crumble, they will run off and say, “Oh, blank, no, I’m outta here.”
Each time someone flees for an emergency exit, it’s a bloody feather in Amaral’s or her co-workers’ cap. There’s a scoreboard where they keep a tally of victims who don’t make it through. Last year it was 523. Owner Robert Bruce designs the scares for Scream Zone.
ROBERT BRUCE: You know who gets the most pleasure out of that are the actors. They like to keep track, you know they keep track out of how many people didn’t make it through. And it kind of gauges how scary your haunt is or how scary your actors are so the actors get great pleasure in somebody who doesn’t go all the way through or loses control of their bodily functions (laughs)
Bruce and his team give a whole new meaning to customer satisfaction.
Beth Accomando, KPBS News.