Budding actors try out for zombie roles at Six Flags

Jennie Meltzer, 18, of Hamilton, N.J., screams in an attempt to scare an unsuspecting Antonio Dast, 17, of Bayville, N.J., during zombie tryouts at Six Flags Great Adventure on Sunday.
Jennie Meltzer, 18, of Hamilton, N.J., screams in an attempt to scare an unsuspecting Antonio Dast, 17, of Bayville, N.J., during zombie tryouts at Six Flags Great Adventure on Sunday. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 05, 2014

Asked to mime her idea of how she might like to die, 22-year-old Jackie Wainwright gave it her all, writhing and clawing at her skin as she imagined herself being devoured from inside by parasites. By the time her brief audition was over, the college student from Toms River, N.J., had red scratches from her fingernails raising up on her arms and legs.

"I forgot I was growing my nails out again," she said. "I got kind of carried away."

Wainwright was one of a handful of men and women who auditioned Sunday to join the army of ghouls and zombies that takes over the grounds at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, N.J., each fall.

All summer the park has held regular casting calls for its annual Fright Fest, which company representatives said has become the park's most popular event. Each year from late September through early November, costumed monsters and ghosts populate the grounds on weekend nights to jump out at vulnerable parkgoers and add to the atmosphere. The pay ranges from minimum wage to $12 an hour, said public relations supervisor Kaitlyn Turi, and the perks include a season pass to the park and free guest passes for friends - benefits that make it ideal for teenagers, college students, and other young adults.

The best ghouls and zombies exhibit a lack of inhibition, the ability to think on their feet, and, perhaps most of all, creativity, said Derek DiPasquale, an entertainment supervisor.

For instance, when it comes time to scare people, they don't want zombies making the same grunts over and over.

"We're not going to be there to tell them what to do," he said. "We look for people willing to go outside of their comfort zones."

The park hopes to hire about 185 ghouls this year, Turi said, a number that has grown as the park has expanded over the last 20 years. Each year the park also hires makeup artists to transform the hires into sunken-eyed monsters with airbrush makeup and, sometimes, prosthetics.

During auditions, park employees asked prospective zombies to shout out their favorite horror movie, to demonstrate a dramatic death, and to show how they would creep up on an unsuspecting victim.

"It gives a sense of how they'll be able to act in front of our guests," Turi said. "If they feel shy here, in front of just a few people, then they're probably not a good fit."

Brendan Morrison, 17, of Maryland, auditioned on Sunday with hopes of returning as a zombie for his second year, gleefully shouting out Stephen King's It as his favorite horror film. Last fall, he spent about 15 minutes a night getting his makeup put on, then shambled around near the park entrance.

"It was the best experience I've ever had," Morrison said.


asteele@phillynews.com

610-313-8113

@AESteele

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