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The City Journals

Only enthusiastic spooks need apply at Castle of Chaos

Oct 01, 2019 11:44AM ● By Jenniffer Wardell

The rooms in the haunted house are divided into different things, with killer hospitals (above) and murderous clowns both being a common theme. (Photo provided by Castle of Chaos)

By Jenniffer Wardell | [email protected]

Becoming a ghost, ghoul or monstrous fiend isn't as complicated as some people think.

At least, it isn't at the Castle of Chaos. The haunted house, which is open now through Nov. 2, held auditions for their cast of scarers this past August. Interviews required applicants to groan, scream, shuffle menacingly and try their best to startle someone enough to make them jump. According to the Castle of Chaos directing team, however, a willingness to try is far more important than acting experience or the ability to deliver convincing scares. 

“I look for people who are free and open with their body and voice,” said Castle of Chaos Director Nick Justice. “If you’re coming in here and you’re going crazy, even if it makes no sense, you’re better than half the people who come in here.” 

He also said it’s important that people be able to take direction and follow guidance offered by one of the directing team. Justice and Castle of Chaos Casting Director Kelly Drabik spend most of the audition asking applicants to show off their ability to do things like zombie walks or predatory stalking at low heights. They’ll also ask if the applicants have any special talents, such as a particularly good creepy laugh or the ability to twist your arm in a disturbing-looking way. 

“It’s really laid back,” said Castle of Chaos General Manager Dalton Brown. “You don’t have to have anything prepared.”

Another part of the audition process involves the directing team figuring out how each applicant would best fit into the haunted house. That includes several factors, from a map of the planned rooms for the upcoming season to asking the applicant whether they have a particular role they want to do.  

Though he’d turned most of the interviews over to Justice and Drabik, Castle of Chaos Owner James Bernard offered some guidance on this part of the process. 

“After 19 years of running a haunted house, it’s second nature to see someone, get to know their personality, and see where they’d have the most fun and be the most effective,” he said.  

Though he said having fun is the major factor in where an actor gets placed, elements such as the actors age will determine whether they can take on certain roles.

“When you’re in an authority role, for example, it’s tough to scare someone older,” he said, explaining why he tends not to cast younger actors in roles such as murderous doctors. 

Sometimes, how you look can also be a factor in where you end up. 

“For our Hollywood roles, we do look at physical appearance,” said Drabik. “Jason (Voorhees) needs to look like Jason. But we also like 4-foot-tall little girls, because they’re scary as heck.” 

No matter where the actor ends up, however, it’s important that they know how to scare responsibly. Midvale’s Castle of Chaos (7980 S. State Street) offers several different levels of scares, with higher levels including more physical contact. Level three involves touching, level four includes pushing and dragging, and higher levels involve even more intense experiences. 

Given that level of interaction, the directing team looks for actors who keep the safety of both the guests and their fellow performers in mind. 

“We look for people who can be safe with it,” said Mike Harmon, a Castle of Chaos acting coach who runs classes on doing hands-on scares. “A lot of the stuff we do at level four can get dangerous unless you do it carefully.” 

For Justice, making sure no one gets hurt is far more important than being frightening. 

“In my mind, it doesn’t matter how scary it is,” he said. “If you get hurt, that’s all you’re going to remember.” 

Besides, the people who are selected to become scarers for the year will get a chance to hone their scaring ability. In addition to the hands-on classes, the haunted house offers other classes, dress rehearsals and an orientation meeting that allows them to get more in-depth with their roles. Some years, they even give them a chance to help each other master their roles. 

“We send other actors through the haunted house to give them a chance to practice,” said Drabik.  

In the end, the willingness to put in that work is the biggest thing the directing team looks for during the auditions.

“We look for enthusiasm,” she said. “If you come in with a passion for haunted houses, we’ll find a place for you.”