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Knott's Berry Farm gets monster turnout for Halloween Haunt auditions

Applicants line up to try out for the temporary, minimum-wage gigs playing ghouls, vampires and other creatures. Most say the fun of scaring park guests is what draws them here year after year.

August 04, 2009|Hugo Martin

Renee Glaze has a talent for being creepy.

She puts on a shrill voice and bugs her eyes out, pretending to cuddle a baby in her arms.

In this gloomy economy, Glaze, 47, is glad her talent can lead to a job, any job.

That's why she joined nearly 300 other applicants Monday to audition for temporary work portraying monsters at Knott's Berry Farm's annual Halloween Haunt. Most of the jobs pay minimum wage and call on the characters to don costumes and makeup, scaring guests at the park.

Despite the low wages, some applicants spent Sunday night on the sidewalk in front of Knott's employment office in Buena Park to be among the first to audition. About 300 actors from last year's Halloween Haunt were invited to try out. By early afternoon, almost all 300 had filled out applications.

"It's not only the money that brings me here, but it's being with all my friends," said Glaze, who is studying medical billing in hopes of landing a permanent job. Meanwhile, she was hoping to land the theme park gig for the 13th year in a row.

Next week, Knott's will open auditions to the public for an additional 900 or so jobs at the park's Halloween mazes. Because of California's double-digit unemployment rates, park officials are preparing to be inundated with monster applicants.

"We are anticipating a really big turnout on Monday," said Knott's spokeswoman Jennifer Blazey, adding that every park job fair this year has drawn twice as many applicants as expected. She said she wouldn't be surprised to see lawyers, engineers and accountants applying for the jobs.

"We are hiring extra staff, extra security to be prepared," Blazey said.

Halloween Haunt is a Southern California tradition that runs from Sept. 24 to Oct. 31. During that time, Knott's opens 13 mazes in which guests are grabbed and chased by costumed monsters.

But the most coveted jobs are the street monsters who prowl throughout the park, screaming, barking, howling and drooling.

Since 1997, Knott's has simply rehired actors from the previous year. This year, however, park officials decided to open up the auditions to give all former Halloween Haunt employees a shot at the much-sought-after street monster roles.

Many of the applicants already work full-time and plan to perform the monster roles after punching out of their day jobs. And though they all say they can use the extra money, most say the fun of frightening visitors is what draws them to the park year after year.

David Roberson, 52, works as a janitor for the Long Beach Unified School District. But he's been taking temporary monster roles at Knott's for 16 years, all for the joy of dressing up and acting like a tortured creature.

"A lot of us here would do it for free," he said as he waited to be called into an audition at the park's employment office.

By 8 a.m. Monday, dozens of would-be monsters were lined up outside the office.

Justin Britt, a 25-year-old warehouse employee from Fullerton, pulled up to the auditions in a white hearse.

"I like the fact that I can get away from my job and unleash on people," he said of his prospective role.

After filling out applications, the wannabe ghouls were called in to audition for Craig Harreld, area manager for the theme park, and three other staffers.

"We are looking for lots of energy," Harreld told the actors.

In the small wood-paneled audition room, the judges asked the applicants to improvise a scary scenario. Britt was told to pretend he was a vampire caught outdoors as the sun came up.

Britt put on a Transylvanian accident and acted as if he were locked out of his house. He banged loudly on the pretend door, yelling for his assistant, Igor, to let him in. He fell to the floor, writhing as the imaginary sunlight hit his body.

"So much for my SPF 1,000," he screamed.

Harreld and the other judges laughed and applauded.

Britt had played a punk vampire in one of the mazes last year but was vying for a street monster role.

"Congratulations, Justin, you made it to streets," one of the judges said.

Britt threw his arms in the air and grinned. "Oh, yes," he said. "Thank you!"

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hugo.martin@latimes.com

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