By Grethel Muralles
Senior Zaria Ramirez was a special type of employee at Six Flags Magic Mountain’s Fright Fest; Ramirez was a scarer. In other words, at Fright Fest, Ramirez was one of the many actors who brought to life some of people’s worst nightmares.
Originally, Ramirez was not looking for a job as a park scarer. She had wanted a job as a photographer for Magic Mountain. The very same day that she went in for the interview, they informed her that there were no more positions left for her intended job. Yet, they would still give her an interview to put her on a waitlist for another position. After a few days of waiting, she finally got a call from Magic Mountain letting her know that there was an open position for Fright Fest.
“I initially thought I got the job right off the bat, but it turns out that I actually had to audition for it. The audition process involved being in groups of four. Then, we had to just kind of make a character in our minds and perform it full out. After doing that, I felt that I was in my home in a way and I felt comfortable because I’m in drama,” Ramirez said.
There is an everyday process for being a scarer. Ramirez says that as soon as she arrived at Magic Mountain, she had to report to the Employee Services Office (ESO) to clock in as a “Temporary Employee” and had an ID number that was assigned to her. Once checked in, Ramirez had to go to the costume room where she had to inform the people in charge of costumes what maze she would be in that night.
After setting her costume, she needed her makeup done. However, because there are so many other people who also get their makeup done, she had to wait for some time. When she was ready, she was allowed to go to the transportation area, where they would take her to her assigned maze and her specific location.
“It was kind of difficult at the beginning because I was hired as a standby. As a standby I get different jobs every time I go in, meaning a different maze every night. So it was hard for me to tell them what type of costume to get me. Sometimes it would take hours upon hours until I found the right costume because I didn’t have a set costume every day. They had to find a different one every time. Sometimes the costume was too small or it was just too tight or it just did not work as a whole. It took hours to finally get the right costume,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez added that different workers have different styles of costumes. Some have more makeup than others. “Walk-Arounds,” for example, have more makeup and detail put into their costumes. This is because as their name entitles, they have to walk around and scare people.
Walk-Arounds are jobs that can only be given to people 18 years or older because they have to interact with people a lot more, and they are a lot more prone to harassment from the public.
“If you were to ask them, I bet you they have a lot of different stories about their interactions with guests because a lot of them are either really mean or weird. I do know that a lot of my coworkers were punched in the face. They were either slapped or backhanded. It’s usually a reflex that people have. As a minor, I go home at 10:00 p.m, so all of us minors travel in a group back to the ESO and occasionally I would see a non-minor on the bus with us holding an icepack to their face because they had gotten hit and needed to go to First Aid and then go home,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez had to be at Six Flags from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on Fridays and 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on Saturdays.
Towards the end of her time at Six Flags, she was able to have a permanent spot in a maze called “Red’s Revenge.”
A typical Friday night consisted of a smaller group than Saturdays. But no matter what day, the environment that Ramirez and her co-workers were able to establish was always good because everyone was in their own world, in their own characters, and costumes. Backstage, however, everyone was out of their characters.
Since there were less people in the park on Fridays, Ramirez says that there were not always people passing through. So in those moments when they did not hear people coming into the maze or there was no one passing through her section of the maze it was a whole other picture that transformed.
“As soon as it is empty, we sometimes turn around and say,’Hey, as I was saying…’ because a lot of us have conversations that are cut off by somebody walking through and we have to go back to acting in our character. In that time, when there was nobody around, I would get to know my coworkers a lot more and maybe get their number or SnapChat. It’s hard to see that when you’re a guest and walking through because you think people are constantly moving around the maze. But really, as soon as you’re gone they’re out of character,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez recalled that there were times when her or one of her coworkers were caught out of character, either because they were really into the conversation or side-tracked. She mentioned that it was a really weird experience because they had to pop back into their character really quickly.
According to Ramirez, one of the best aspects of being a scarer was seeing people’s faces and reactions when she scared them. She originally thought that she was going to break out of character, but she soon realized that she was so into her character that laughing just was not something she could do. Yet, although the attention felt good, it was not always that way.
“There was this one time that I was walking back from lunch with my coworkers, and somebody pushed me in the back with their fingers so that it not only hurt, but also pushed me forward. I think that after that, there were also people coming at me and yelling things out. All this attention that people give you can also be negative. You have to kind of deal with it and you can’t directly say anything to them because you’re working; you have to be professional and you can’t interact with them in any way. I have had people cuss me out in the maze just for scaring them. I think it was more of a reaction to being scared, but they still, after being scared, continue to say stuff to me. Rude people are the worst part of the job,” Ramirez said.
Younger teenagers can also make bad guests. Ramirez realized that a lot of the cursing came from young teenagers who wanted to call her and other workers names.
If scarers ever felt that they were being threatened, there was a certain procedure that they had to follow. The scarers were allowed to break character, follow the person out the maze, and tell a security guard, chaperone, or supervisor at the end of the maze.
Yet, aside from that, she never treated people differently. She tried to scare every person the same way. But she always had fun when she saw young kids because they were easier to scare. Of course, there were people who got scared very easily and had panic attacks. For those people, Ramirez says that the employees were not allowed to do anything. They simply had to let it be.
“It feels so amazing to see someone get scared because of you. And I don’t want to sound sinister, but it’s my job. When people are scared I feel like I’m doing my job super well. And when I get people who are straight-faced and aren’t enjoying their time, it makes me feel like I’m not doing my job correctly. So when I see people that get super scared, it is just amazing. I’ve definitely had times when I laugh a lot. I’ve had people that get weak in the knees and fall to the ground, or fall onto the person behind them, which can be a complete stranger, “ Ramirez said.
Because she takes a drama class on campus and a lot of the things they do are very open to personal interpretation, it has helped her with her acting. However, it was still a learning process.
This is mainly due to the fact that she was only able to know about her character once she arrived at work due to her being a standby most of the time. For her it was all about testing things out in order to see what worked and what did not. For that reason, she did not really have the chance to prepare, which is why she had to constantly be improvising.
It helped her more that Magic Mountain gives their employees the freedom to use their imagination in order to bring the mazes to life. They never tell them what they have to do. Instead, they give them a small description of their character, the theme of the maze, the story behind the maze, where the character is located within the maze, and then they send them off.
Ramirez loved her job while it lasted and would like to do it again next year. But she said that she might want to try to get into Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios, just to experiment with different places and different work environments.
“This was the first year that Magic Mountain was hiring minors for this job and that’s why a lot of my friends and people I talk to didn’t know about it. I definitely encourage people to try out for this job. But it is hard work. It is so painful. I would wake up Saturdays with sores on my arms, my legs, my stomach, my neck. My voice was sometimes scratchy, though I never lost my voice. But it’s definitely really hard work. You have to be committed because if you’re not you could get fired. When you commit, you have to make every scare worth it. Every scare is with a different person and therefore, a different experience,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez looks forward to making more of people’s nightmares come true next year.