‘Terror Behind the Walls’ at Eastern State Penitentiary

As the spirit of Halloween comes ever closer, so does the traditions. Every year in mid-September through early November, thePhilly neighborhood of Fairmountgets a wild invasion of ghostly and grim creatures. Some are zombies, others are not so easy to describe but they are all members of the haunted attraction“Terror Behind the Walls”at Eastern State Penitentiary. As if going through an old crumbling prison in the daytime wasn’t creepy enough, let’s add scary monsters to the mix!

Every year,Eastern Statehas hired upward of 200 actors to fill various roles throughout the show, which begs the question, “What does it take to be a member of ‘Terror Behind the Walls’?”

For starters, every applicant must be at least 18 years old. Bonus if you have experience or possess such things as “immense strength,” know how to use a chainsaw or are able to make crazy noises. After all, we are talking about a haunted house. Applicants are also asked if they “are willing to shave your head or allow us to shave it if the role requires that particular look? Circle yes or no.” Who gives much ado about hair?

Next, you’re given a group audition with Amy Holloman, creative director for TBTW. Some things she looks for: “high energy, stamina, are passionate about Halloween, because of our grueling schedule. We really want people who want to immerse themselves in this role. If you’re not into it, you’re not going to perform as well. You’re not going to connect with your coworkers or scare the customers. You have to believe in this fantasy world we’re creating.”

Besides being skilled at scaring customers, some absolute musts include being a good team player and following directions. After you’ve done a bit of role playing, Amy and her team will notify you by email if you’re hired.

It should be noted that actors are divided into nine departments that include six attractions within the experience such as a Zombie Swat Team (costumed dancers) and singers for The Speakeasy at Al Capone’s Cell, so there is plenty of work to be had. Seventy percent of applicants make the cut, and people keep coming back year after year. Just ask Kenny Witter.

Now in his fourth season, his acting resume includes doing theater in high school and taking acting classes in college, but he had no experience working at a haunted attraction. One thing he’s learned from his time at TBTW is that you don’t have to rely on just your voice to frighten a customer. “You can use your body, props and proper movement so you don’t have to kill your vocal cords.” Speaking of which, his role this year is managing the zombie team to ensure that customers are “screaming or laughing.” A combination of both is best because they leave entertained.”

And no small feat is the job Alisa Kleckner does to assist in leaving people breathless. She’s the costume and props director for Terror and her responsibilities include costuming 200 actors every show night. This season, she’s been able to churn out 50 new complete looks bringing concepts to reality. “I get to create the story of the character and actualize them visually while exploring endless possibilities.” And with the addition of 3-D modeling and laser printing, the folks at TBTW will hopefully be able to look the part and frighten you for years to come.

As Amy would say “ Go big or go home!” Indeed.

If you go:
Terror Behind the Walls
Now to Nov. 5 (select nights)
7 p.m., $19 to $45
Eastern State Penitentiary
22nd & Fairmount Ave

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