Fright Fest puts the scream in Halloween
AGAWAM – At any given time, more than 150 monsters roam the ground of Six Flags New England (SFNE
) as they create the terror-filled atmosphere of Fright Fest. A total cast of nearly 350 is needed to haunt the SFNE premises and staff the 24 Fright Fest attractions and this reporter had the good fortune of working alongside them.
This is the third of three articles where I go behind-the-scenes to unveil the fun behind the scares of Fright Fest.
In the first, I was transformed in a “make under
” by Alex Squiers, makeup captain, during the SFNE Scare Fair
hiring event. Then, I attended Ghoul School
on Sept. 7 to learn how to put the “scare” into Fright Fest. This time I joined the ranks of the undead Scream Team, haunting guests that dare cross my path.
Milta Vargas, of Springfield, was my mentor as I worked the event on Oct. 5. She is an 11-year Fright Fest veteran, whom I first met at the Scare Fair. At Ghoul School she cautioned that I would become a “scare junkie” and she was right. Once I had my first scare out of the way, my nerves calmed and I settled into character.
First stop, the makeup room where an impressive assembly line of makeup artists prepped the creatures for their shifts in an organized, timely fashion. True artists indeed.
Brett Kelley, filling in as makeup captain that shift for Squiers, transformed me into an undead Victorian lady who had met a tragic death by the hands of a Jack the Ripper copycat killer.
Kelley has been part of the Scream Team for more than 10 years and is the one who invented the term IGOR (Interchangeable Ghoul on Reserve). After the makeup is complete, Kelley gets ready to join the team in the “scaring” fun.
Then it was off to “the bin” where I was fitted with a long wig of red curls and a regal-looking black dress. Vargas donned a multi-layered cape and prosthetic demon face that she could manipulate individual parts of by changing her expression.
Together, Vargas and I worked in the “scare zones” of the “Main Street Graveyard,” “Tombstone Territory” and “Undead Alley.” We also joined our fellow “scarers” in the “Haunted Mansion” and the “Wicked Woods.” To my delight, I was also allowed to work in “The Aftermath,” the opening number where Mayor Slayer calls forth his children of the night.
Vargas’ talent and creativity is such that she serves as an IGOR where she works multiple locations in one night, sometimes changing character multiple times in one shift. I couldn’t have asked for a better guide. Not only did she provide scaring tips such as mannerism and hiding spots suggestions, but she also shared her literal bag of tricks, which consisted of every costume accessory imaginable.
Most surprising about Vargas is that underneath the Fright Fest pageantry lies a friendly, energetic person who loves to have fun. The Scream Team is lucky to have her and I consider it a privilege to have been under her tutelage. I learned a great deal in a short amount of time.
As I mentioned in the last article, the staff is trained not to target children, but the adults are fair game. However, we still gauge the guests’ reactions to ensure we are scaring, not traumatizing. Most importantly, we never break character. Vargas had to remind me of that as we entered the park – I was so excited that I was grinning ear to ear.
Working the “Main Street Graveyard” was my favorite part of the evening. Guests enter and exit the park through that “haunt zone” so there is a never-ending stream of people to interact with. I was surprised by the number of people that wanted to take a picture with my pet rat “Fluffy,” who had absolutely no fur whatsoever, and me.
I enjoyed comforting the scared little ones by giving them a smile and a high-five. That really seemed to ease them, some even wanted a picture afterwards.
I fell victim to Vargas’ warning and have indeed become a “scare junkie.” I made one guy jump off the ground and shriek, scaring the rest of his group as they traipsed through the “Wicked Woods.” It was awesome! He definitely got his money’s worth despite my being a newbie.
Watching people jump with fear inspired me to fall deeper into character. It was like playing a grown up game of hide-and-go-seek where the guests is hoping they find me before I come at them.
Sometimes I would jump out and scream, but I found that more subtle gestures such as snapping my teeth could be more effective. For one group, I bent my back and twisted it so I was staring at them upside down and sideways, snarling and biting the air as they passed through the attraction.
Vargas and I would also run team scares where I would engage guests, asking if they wanted to pet my rat, providing the distraction, and she would jump out from behind, scaring them out of their wits.
Unexpected movements always caught guests off guard. I glared at one couple as they passed by, standing still until they least expected it and then lurched forward, stomping my foot and hissing. They nearly broke into a run. What fun!
One of the best tricks I learned was the use of guests’ names. At one point, there were six or seven characters calling out a guest’s name in varying scary voices, following her and calling to her as she went through the “Wicked Woods.” She probably didn’t fall asleep right away that night.
By far, this was some of the most fun I’ve had. The staff is friendly and upbeat despite the hefty task they are faced with. I can’t thank the Scream Team enough for letting me horn in on the fun. Alas, if I were staying in the area, I would apply to become a permanent addition to the SFNE Fright Fest.
The 2014 Fright Fest runs through Nov. 2.
For more information about Fright Fest, visit the “Events” page at www.sixflags.com/newengland