Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 27, 2013

Getting their scare on

BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS mdrahos@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Emily Grozenski and Chloe Schafer huddled together under the warmth of a blanket as they learned the ins and outs of “the scare.”

The best friends — and dozens of their classmates — attended an actors training night Sunday at the Ghost Farm of Kingsley. They’ll star in the seven-acre farm’s Terrorvision Haunted Walk in October. The attraction will raise money for an eighth-grade spring trip to Washington, D.C.

Around a campfire that warded off the chill, Operations Manager Desirae Dine taught the students and their parents the psychology of the scare, including “pop-up” and “character” scares. Common techniques include taking advantage of people’s natural fear of the dark and the woods, using distraction to set up the real scare, and targeting the “rock” at the front of every tour group.

“Each of us will have to do our part to break down that rock,” said Dine, whose family — including eight brothers and sisters — is putting on the farm-themed haunt for the fourth year. “Every corner he turns, every step he takes, BAM!, we have to be in his face. When the rock breaks, the group crumbles.”

Dine should know. She's a member of a growing online community of haunted house operators and completed an internship at Walt Disney World’s The Haunted Mansion, a tour through an eerie haunted estate.

She and her sister, Shanna Dine, use Disney’s guest services philosophy to train their actors.

“Pick a character and stick with it. No breaking character,” Desirae Dine told the actors. “If you have to make a trip to the bathroom, be in character the whole way. We’re asking people to suspend reality. In order to create that kind of belief, you have to buy into it 100 percent.”

Dine said the training is what helps make the eighth-graders, all students at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in Traverse City, as professional as adults in similar roles. In turn, the roles give them a sense of responsibility that translates into confidence.

“They’re hesitant now, but when they get that first scare in, there’s an adrenaline rush,” she said.

After leading the group in a series of exercises, including walking like a zombie and chanting like a clown, Dine and her sister led the group by flashlight through the haunted walk, handing out assignments along the way.

“I’d do it even if I didn’t get money,” said Schafer, 13, of Traverse City. “I live in the woods, so it doesn’t really scare me.”

Jacob Harrand, 13, brought up the rear with his parents, Laura and Greg Harrand, then staked a claim behind a eerie figure at one of the haunts.

“Hello, children,” he practiced, in a throaty voice inspired by “The Dark Knight.”

Staffing the Kingsley Ghost Farm is a favorite way for eighth-graders to earn money for the annual class trip, said Nancy Martin, an eighth-grade U.S. history and literature teacher at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. The farm, which has two levels of haunted walks every Friday and Saturday in October, attracts as many as 300 visitors in an hour and a half.

“The kids love it,” Martin said. “It’s fun, and it’s an opportunity to raise money and to be with their friends. They've been pretty dedicated.”

Martin said the haunt is just one of several fundraisers that help pay the $1,068-per-student cost of the trip. It includes visits to museums; presidential and war memorials; the U.S Capitol, Arlington Cemetery and the Pentagon; Mt. Vernon and Gettsyburg; as well as Mass and community service.

“We hit the ground running,” she said. “It’s really a great trip.”

For more information about this year's haunt, visit www.facebook.com/GhostFarm.