Gayle Kolreg flashes a sinister smile while donning her costume Friday before Farmington Fright Fest opened for the evening’s Halloween celebration. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Jay Hutchins used to be a self-proclaimed scaredy-cat.

No horror movies, no guts and gore. Definitely no haunted houses. Until Hutchins’ Scouts troop signed up to volunteer in one. For the middle-schooler, fear turned to awe.

“The scarier aspects didn’t become appealing until I understood them,” said Hutchins, now 18.

Ever since, Hutchins has been one of the professional “scare actors” who create fear during Halloween festivities. (Believe it or not, those zombies are real people.) These performers – also called haunters – say these seasonal side gigs give them a way to celebrate their favorite holiday as adults. And even inside places with names like “The Maze of Mayhem,” they care about both screams and safety.

Jay Hutchins, 18, of Farmington, applies makeup to Phoebe Paradis, 10, of Livermore Falls on Friday before the Farmington Fright Fest opened for the night. Both performers dressed as clowns and worked in the Clown House. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“Our main priority is to scare people, but honestly a better umbrella term is entertain,” Hutchins said. “We don’t want them to walk out traumatized. We want them to feel like they survived, they conquered.”

America Haunts, a national association, estimates there are more than 1,200 haunted attractions charging admission fees across the country, as well as 300 Halloween-themed amusement parks and more than 3,000 charity haunts raising money for nonprofits. It isn’t clear how many people work in this industry nationwide or in Maine.


At the Farmington Fairgrounds, Darlene Patrick was contracted last year by the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area and Titcomb Mountain to work on a Halloween event. This year, she hosted the event on her own in the same location: the Farmington Fright Fest. Patrick, who has been running haunted attractions for more than three decades and has a day job at the Maine Labor Department’s Wilton Career Center, also participates in the Maine Renaissance Faire in Acton and the Odd and Unusual Show in Augusta.

She saves all her vacation days for October because she loves the sense of community among haunters.

“Especially way up here in Franklin County, there’s not a lot of community for kids and young adults that may be on the edge of society, the gothy kids or the ones who may not want to play sports,” said Patrick. “That’s one thing that I am really passionate about, people coming together and finding out that they’re not alone.”

Darlene Patrick, right, owner and designer of Farmington Fright Fest, gives a pep talk to performers before opening the gates to the fairgrounds on Friday night. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“You have blue hair and no eyebrows? That’s awesome,” she added. “Come on in.”

The 30 performers at Fright Fest call Patrick their “haunt mom.”

“We’re like this tight-knit little group that just sticks together from the day that we start building the sets,” said William Durie, one of the haunters.



Patrick said anyone who signs up is welcome to participate. She hosts improv workshops to figure out who might be best in what role and trains everyone in safety protocols. The actors make $60 a night, but many put in volunteer hours during the year to help design the three tents, build sets and install them at the Farmington Fairgrounds in the weeks before Fright Fest opens. The haunters said they appreciate the pay at Fright Fest but would have joined the cast anyway.

Brody Powers, 14, of New Sharon checks his costume in the mirror on Friday before Farmington Fright Fest opened for the night. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

For a haunter, there’s nothing scarier than when Halloween is over. So Patrick will host a party for her whole crew a couple weeks after Fright Fest closes.

“They’re going to be down after being so high on the energy,” she said. “We’ll start planning for next year.”

Despite the illusion of danger, safety is top of mind for haunters. At Fright Fest, for example, the actors never block the path to the next room or touch the guests. Hutchins said guests should also remember not to touch the actors.

“They are still people,” Hutchins said. “They may look like scary demons or zombies coming after you, but what’s really in their hearts right now is trying to scare you so you feel like you conquered the world. We want safety.”


Jay Hutchins applies makeup to Chris Graves of Jay before the start of Farmington Fright Fest. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Hutchins, who lives in Farmington, was part of Fright Fest for the first time this year and also did makeup for many of the actors. Hutchins graduated from high school this year and hopes to start college for cinematography in the spring.


Developing a character is particularly important to the haunters who are roving among the crowd as they wait to enter the tents. Hutchins plays a circus snake-woman who has eaten the ringmaster. William Durie is “Mr. Marbles.” He made his own clown costume and developed an elaborate back story that informs his performance.

“I’ve always been the Halloween kid,” said Durie, who lives in Rumford and works as a traffic controller during the day. “It’s that one time a year when you get to be something that you’re not, and nobody can judge you for that. You can let your imagination run wild.”

Will Durie plays the character Mr. Marbles at Farmington Fright Fest while another performer, Evan Phillips, takes a photograph. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Being undead is exhausting. The haunters said their feet would be swollen, the bodies achy and their voices gone by the last performance on Sunday night. But working at a Halloween attraction for days or even weeks in a row still doesn’t break the spell for them.

Ryan Anderson lives in Mercer and works in customer service at a variety store. As a kid, Anderson started crying at a haunted house and refused to go inside. A performer dressed as the Grim Reaper started joking around to get him smiling instead. Now, Anderson dresses up as a gravedigger at Fright Fest, and can make the guests cry from fear or laughter. (In fact, he is considering getting into standup comedy because of his experience with haunting.)


“This is definitely another way of celebration,” Anderson said. “I just can’t go out at 6-foot-4 and knock on people’s doors to go trick or treating. This is my time to play dress-up.”

Ryan Anderson waits with other performers for the start of Farmington Fright Fest on Friday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The Fright Fest is a standalone operation, but some businesses transform to show a dark side for Halloween.

At Take Flight Aerial Adventure Park in Kittery, there’s the annual Zombie Zips, which took place over the weekend this year. They are the only times when the ziplines and ropes course open to customers at night. Employees dress in costume, and zombies roam the ground below.

“Just come with an open mind and know we’re going to balance being spooky and supporting you,” said Sam Stocks, director of operations at Take Flight. “If people are nervous, they just let us know ahead of time. We can shift and be regular humans.”

Stocks declined to share the hourly rate for employees and said pay varies by position.

Andii Fowlie of Kingfield uses a hairdryer to dry makeup on a performer at Farmington Fright Fest on Friday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Matt Stiles has worked at Take Flight for four seasons, ever since he climbed the course as a guest and left with a job application. He loves that this position allows him to be outdoors and active. This was his first year on the flight crew for Zombie Zips, and guests will find him on one of the platforms in the woods in zombie makeup and Jason Voorhees’s signature hockey jersey from “Friday the 13th.”


Stiles isn’t usually into costumes for Halloween. He prefers to focus on the animatronic decorations he and his parents put up at their house. This year, however, he was looking forward to seeing the reactions from guests when he emerges from the trees.

“It will be fun to do what I love doing and also scare people,” he said.


Not every Halloween attraction relies on paid workers. Many benefit nonprofits and are run entirely by volunteers.

Phoebe Paradis, 10, of Livermore Falls dances while waiting for Farmington Fright Fest to open on Friday night. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

That’s the case at the Trail of Terror at Aquaboggan Water Park in Saco. This 35-minute walk through the woods is a major fundraiser for OOB365, which hosts free community dinners and other events throughout the year in Saco and Old Orchard Beach.

Sharri MacDonald, founder and president of OOB365, prefers the comfort of the ticket booth. “When I walk in the woods, they say, ‘Let’s scare Sharri,’ ” she joked.


But she is proud of the 40 performers who create the 18 scary scenes: high schoolers who are collecting community service hours, adults who just want to support a good cause. She said the event is also a way to attract new volunteers who often participate in other events too. They were open Fridays and Saturdays through the month of October, plus the Sunday and Monday of Halloween weekend.

“The kids that are volunteering now will hopefully be taking over my position at 365 in the future,” she said.

Lily Parks of Anson, a performer at Farmington Fright Fest, awaits the arrival of guests on Friday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Russel Whitten is a local artist who lives in Ocean Park and had experience painting theater sets. He got involved with building and designing the scenes at Trail of Terror – gravestones, a castle – and then the Krampus costume arrived. He volunteered to dress as the devil who, according to European legend, scares naughty children at Christmastime.

He practiced walking up and down his street in stilts to prepare and stands more than 12 feet tall with the horns. The Trail of Terror has become a family affair as his wife and children dress up in other scenes, and Whitten said they are happy to donate their time to a community event.

“To do it and know that a lot of people are going to get pleasure from it is pay enough,” he said.

The best way to understand their work, the haunters said, is to see it in person.

“We’re going to kill it,” Anderson said.

This was was updated to clarify the history of the Farmington Fright Fest. 

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