Too Boo or Not to Boo?
You might think that dressing up as a creature of the night and scaring folks at Tweetsie's Ghost Train and Halloween Festival would be the perfect job. What could be easier than wearing a vampire or werewolf costume and frightening the bejabbers out of people?
Well, the truth is that the characters at Tweetsie's Ghost Train go through a rigorous training process known as "Boo School." There they learn how to be entertaining, a little scary, yet non-confrontational. with the paid customers at the annual Halloween Festival.
Approximately 60 Ghost Train characters went through the last stages of Boo School this past Monday to learn the tricks of how to treat the festival's visitors.
"We get an older crowd for Ghost Train than we do for the regular theme park," Boo School instructor Scott McLeod said. "You might have to deal with some obnoxious individuals who are trying to prove to their friends or their girlfriend that they aren't scared of you. They might even threaten you because you are in costume. Remember, you are not security. If you need to call security, we're there for you."
McLeod emphasized that characters are forbidden to touch the public and that it is a good idea to keep two arm-lengths distance from them.
"Do not get in people's faces," McLeod said. "You're going to have people make rude comments to you. You just have to be a professional and keep any unpleasant situation from escalating."
According to Ghost Train director Joe Clark, each year there are a few people who are removed from the theme park for unruly behavior.
"I don't know if it's because of the full moon, or because it is September and October, but we seem to have more instances around Ghost Train season," Clark said. "But you've got to remember that even though it's a party, you're the host of that party. This is your job."
The young employees who come out each year to work as Ghost Train characters are a mix of Tweetsie's Wild West theme park regulars plus theater and dance students from Appalachian State University and Lees-McRae College.
Before the end of Boo School, they have all been assigned characters and areas in the Halloween Festival where they will perform, such as the Haunted House, Freaky Forest or on Main Street.
In addition to learning how to deal with the public, the employees at Boo School were given lessons on being safe around the locomotive and train cars, and how to properly care for their costumes and makeup.
Before each night of Ghost Train, each employee will be made up by professional theater costumer Gordon Hensley and his crew. The results of the airbrush makeup and costumes transform each performer into his or her own frighteningly unique character.
During Boo School, Tweetsie Railroad director Martin Michie reminded the class that you should always look for signs on whether someone wants to be scared or not. If they are not into it, the characters should back off immediately.
"We had a situation a couple of years ago where a dad wanted to sue a Ghost Train character just for scaring his daughter," Michie said. "When they found out the employee didn't have any money, then they wanted to sue Tweetsie. The point is, know when to scare and when to back off. Follow your gut."
Despite the serious tone of some portions of Boo School, the directors urged the characters to have fun at their jobs.
"You've got to have fun, and you've got to be committed," Michie said. "It shows in your performance. All of the rest of Ghost Train is a prop. It's static. You guys are what make it come to life. Everybody's here to have fun. We don't want anybody to get hurt."
Tweetsie's Ghost Train and Halloween Festival is open each Friday and Saturday evening in October from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. Advance tickets are suggested, as the popular event regularly sells out. For more information, call Tweetsie Railroad at (828) 264-9061.