Haunted Forest actors unmask normal lives behind the scenes

Actors in the Haunted Forest enjoy normal socialization before the attraction opens to the public by eating pizza and applying makeup. 

Sydney Novak

The Ames Haunted Forest is an attraction many Iowans visit every year to celebrate Halloween and to feel a rush of adrenaline from jump-scaring creepsters such as hospital gown clad women and chainsaw-revving maniacs.

The 30 minute long immersive experience is made possible by the work of many people, including actors; prop and technical directors; and makeup and costume designers.

Behind the scenes of a haunted house isn’t as scary as one might think. The actors socialize while applying their makeup, which takes about an hour and a half for most actors. There is candy, music, chainsaws and a generous supply of latex adhesive.

Behind the masks and makeup are student employees who enjoy normal activities when not in their abnormal attire. 

Lauren Gearhart, junior in animal science, said some activities she participates in outside of work include eating pizza and talking with friends.

Gearhart said she works every weekend in the month of October for the Haunted Forest and is responsible for designing and performing in the clown room. 

Gearhart has acted in haunted houses for five years now. Although acting is something the performers may enjoy, there can be issues with scared guests.

Gearhart said she has witnessed problems at haunted houses where she was formerly employed.

“People would get hit, punched or touched inappropriately,” Gearhart said.

All of the individual performers are interested in acting for the Haunted Forest for various reasons.

“Halloween is my favorite holiday,” said Bradley Tyrell, a performer at the Haunted Forest. “Why not scare people for the hell of it?”

The aspect of acting intrigued Tyrell because he enjoyed participating in theater as a kid. This is the first year acting in a haunted house for Tyrell, and he said he has had a great experience so far.

Every actor of the Haunted Forest is positioned in and is responsible for a specific area in the forest. The actors aim to scare the guests and help with production design. 

Some actors said they prefer to make all their own props while others find buying costumes and props from second hand shops and online to be the better option.

Leaving the design elements up to employees allows room for creativity with the creepy components incorporated into their costumes for the forest. 

It’s not uncommon that guests scream, cry or turn around because they are scared of the haunted forest setting and actors.

The Haunted Forest is family-run attraction, run by Lee and Lynn Ballard. Lee and Lynn are brothers whose father started the haunted house. They have been open for 21 years, and now, their own wives and kids work there as well.

The Haunted Forest currently employs about forty actors, and includes enclosed aspects as well as an outside feature.

The Haunted Forest is open every weekend in October from 7 to 11 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with select Saturdays having extended hours. On Halloween, the Haunted Forest is open from 7 to 10 p.m. 

Admission is $20, cash only. There is a $2 off admission for the Ames Haunted Forest valid through Oct. 20 only. One per party per visit is allowed for the discount.