It's Not Easy Being
words by Jolene Polyack• image by Frankie Leal
Compared to elsewhere, Hobb’s Grove has the perfect recipe for a good old fashioned Halloween destination. And while there have been many articles written about this place, we thought it would be interesting to talk about the people who make it happen. We wanted to know about those characters who keep guests screaming, laughing and running during their visit.
It’s a hot day in August when over 100 people come to Hobb’s Grove to interview for a coveted 15 openings for this year’s haunting season. Norma Acker of Reedley is dressed in costume from head to toe as she walks into her interview with the panel of five interviewers. Acker gets high marks from the panel for her ability to wear appropriate shoes – which are boots because they’re good for running and not white tennis shoes, which everyone knows make no sense at all if you’re a monster. She also scores for applying stage makeup to her neck as well as her face. Apparently some candidates don’t take the time to ‘dress for success’ for this macabre job interview. She was asked if she could make a good zombie sound. She could. She was asked what other creepy sounds she could make, and she delivered a spine tingling gurgle while not loud, did make some of us shudder a bit. She is asked about her energy level, and whether she has ‘good night energy.’ If hired, Acker will be paid $10 an hour, or up to $15 if she has to carry a chainsaw or do something requiring a higher degree of difficulty. They just don’t teach these interview skills in school these days.
Elias Bonomi of Squaw Valley is the next candidate. He’s asked what would be his dream character. Followed by asking if he is a ‘loud in your face’ ghoul or a ‘quiet and creepy’ one. The next question asks if he can verbally interact with guests and then what would he be if he were thrown into the forest. They want to hear his redneck accent. They want to know if he would prefer being a human character or an animal. When he says he wants to be a human character the panel appears delighted stating that a lot of people want to be zombies but there aren’t a lot who want to be red necks. Elias appears to have made an impression.
If you are one of the chosen few, you are invited to attend Hobb’s Grove Ghoul School where all actors meet to be assigned their roles. There are over 90 in the cast and most of them have been returning for years which is why there are so few available spots each season. They will be assigned to either the Hayride, House, Forest or Midway. Everyone walks through and the various scenes are described that will be played out for the guests. The cast members are trained on the spot by senior staff who have all had plenty of scare experience.
Maverick Cadaverick (he only wants to be referred by his stage name) has been in this line of work since 1998. While he does have a business in the Tower District completely unrelated to his seasonal nightlife, Mr. Cadaverick admits that after the final night on Halloween evening he experiences a sense of mourning he terms the ‘Halloween Blues.’ As most of the returning cast will tell you, they are like family and take joy at the beginning of the season at coming back together for several weeks of horror antics. Yet, by the end they’re also exhausted and ready for a break. After all, being scary is a lot of work.
Ryan and Devin Carter of Kingsburg have been Slappy and Sparkles the Clown respectively for decades. They are not actors, like some of these monster are, they are just lovers of the Halloween season and all that it entails. Slappy is the loud, in your face type who takes great pride in his ability to make guests shriek. Sparkles prefers to make guests laugh. When asked what some of the more memorable responses are to their antics Slappy reveals that guests will literally climb over each other to get away, or, guys will grab their lady and use her as a shield without realizing it and that it happens more times than you think. While Slappy is a scary clown, it’s quieter Sparkles who ended up with a concussion once due to a frightened guest who flattened him while frightfully fleeing. Both clowns say that most of the monsters have been punched, spanked, kicked, etc. all in the name of good fun. It goes with the territory.
Bottom line, some of the cast are here because they like to act, some are here because they’re Halloween purists, but all of them are here to scare you. As Slappy explained, “It’s in your face non-stop. We take people out of their normal reality and bring them into ours. We make every single year different than the last and it takes months to set up all of the new scenes. We want our victims, I mean customers, to enjoy the new experience each year. Without them, we have nothing.”
Hobb’s Grove is located at 14265 E Goodfellow Ave in Sanger, CA. It’ll be open for guests beginning on October 2, 2015. Go to hobbsgrove.com for operating days, hours and for more information.