With ‘no filters, no restraints,’ Terror Behind the Walls puts Eastern State at center of Halloween

What does it take to be hired as an intimidator or a creeper at one of the nation’s top historic haunted attractions? A lot of energy and stamina, said Terror Behind the Walls’ creative director Amy Hollaman on the opening night of the 2017 season.

Of 300 employees, 200 of them get gorey every evening to frighten visitors. Hollaman said the casting process starts in August, when the actors are asked to give it their all in a group audition. The key is variety. “It’s an hourlong experience,” she said. “We don’t just want people popping out from behind a wall. You get bored!”

Jenny Tomczack was dressed like a ninja with only her eyes showing, the left one obscured by a milky white contact lens. She’s been part of the show for 14 years. During the day, she works as an insurance agent, but she said she transforms when she walks through the prison gates. She credits her time as an actor for Terror Behind the Walls with making her more creative — and a leader, which led to a promotion at her day job.

Scaring people night after night can be exhausting, and Tomczack said the actors need to take care of themselves.

“Keep your mind full of evil intentions,” she said, “and also be able to balance family and doing your laundry.”

Attraction manager Kenny Wittwer was in charge of getting a group of zombies hyped up for the night. They start by getting into makeup and costumes, then doing stretches and screaming to get loose. It’s unlike any other job opportunity out there, Wittwer said. His best advice for being scary is to find the darkness in your soul.

“Any kind of weird energy you have, just let it out! No filters, no restraints. Just go big, or go home,” he said.

He’s also happy that the money raised by the attraction goes to restore the historic Eastern State Penitentiary site and keep it open for the daytime tours that focus on education around the American criminal justice system.

Terror Behind the Walls runs selected nights through Nov. 11.

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