As All Hallow's Eve approaches, it seems fitting to interview a progeek who specializes in scares. Cailyin Leigh is a set decorator who works year-round in theatre, but most notably, she is part of the team that creates Canada's Wonderland's Halloween Haunt. In the weeks that lead up to the event, she designs and decorates scary mazes and haunted houses. During the Haunt itself, she dons gory makeup and scares the bejeebers out of the park's patrons. All in a night's work, right, Cailyn?
1. What kind of portfolio or qualifications did Wonderland want to see before hiring you? Did past hobbies/jobs/other activities help prepare you for this?
When I first applied for the Halloween Haunt all I brought with me was my resume. My technical theatre resume. They already knew what my previous jobs were due to the online application so I brought with me the jobs I had done in the theatre world. As for qualifications; I would say having studied something artistic is what they were looking for.
Past hobbies I'm almost certain came in handy. I have always been interested in the arts be it theatre or fine art using paint or whatever else I could get my hands on. I was one of those that while in high school, my jeans were decorated with pictures in permanent marker. Halloween has also been a hobby you could say. The idea of dressing up and changing who you are fed the theatre person in me while the decorating the outside of my house fed the artist in me.
2. Talk about how the job combines your talents.
When it comes to Halloween I have always been able to visualize a scene needed to be done. Colours that needed to be used and how to place certain props to make the fake situation look more real. Being a set painter/proper for the Halloween Haunt has me going around making rooms look real and helping my coworkers in placing the wide variety of props in all the scenes.
3. Of you and your co-workers, do you all come from similar backgrounds? How is everyone’s background utilized to do Halloween Haunt?
The majority of us have studied for degrees in theatre. Some that I work with have studied graphic design and interior decorating. Those of us who have studied in the theatre department, have then split off into the different areas that make up theatre. There are some who handle the spooky lighting in the mazes and around the park. A couple handle the music and sound effects that are needed to heighten the scare factor. Within the creatives some look to strictly do paint and some strictly to do props. We try to have everyone work both so that they get some experience.
4. What did you learn from the job? Has this led to future opportunities?
While working with the Halloween Haunt, I have been re-taught colour mixing. It has been awhile and it always helps to have the memory refreshed. I've learned different techniques to create different textures on the paint and also have been shown a few things by other departments to make my project just that much easier. My first year had me scumbling (which is taking 2 or more colours and blending them together so that you can still see the separate colours but at the same time see how they blend well together.) and creating simulated bricks on 4'x8' wall flats. That was during the summer. The following February I was working on a theatre production where I needed the set to look like it was a brick balcony on some apartments.
5. What was your best experience in doing this job? Did you discover any new passions?
It is hard to pinpoint one experience that could be the best. I'm working with incredible people. One might be working back in February and watching as one of my coworkers cleared a stage of snow using a crate. Another might be during roof days where every section of Haunt comes together to put giant canvas pieces over the mazes to block out natural light. It may be work, but it's fun. I didn't discover new ones but I sure did have fun remembering old ones.
6. This year, you’re also doing Camp Spooky, the children’s section. What are the differences and similarities in entertaining a young audience as opposed to adults?
Camp Spooky is similar in the idea of mazes, Halloween and fun. The difference is that during the Saturdays and Sunday the point is for the kids to enjoy themselves and have fun and not to be scared. We have three mazes that are geared towards the children. A cornstalk maze(which a child of any age can enjoy), a Barn/Hay maze where we have scenes set up that they can walk through and lastly a Vampire's home. We do have 'monsters' either in the mazes or walking around the Kids section of the park but their goal is to have the kids smile not to be scared.
7. Halloween Haunt is, of course, limited to this time of year. Has doing this job led you to other opportunities for year-round work?
Having worked Halloween Haunt has helped me get a few back stage positions on shows and added more to my resume. It helped a little in getting my winter time job at a theatre but I enjoy coming back every year to set up these frightful nights.
Thanks, Cailyn, and happy haunting.