The corrugated steel walls resonate with each blow from Matthew Rairden’s scuffed-metal baseball bat. Every inch of the bloodstained Rairden and the maze he stalks is designed to terrorize.
But these haunted halls at Seventh Avenue SE, which Rairden and his Circle of Ash cohorts inhabit, are receiving a fresh infusion of creativity this Halloween season.
For the first time, Circle of Ash is attempting three different performances: a classic show “The Haunt,” a costume-less interactive feature it is calling “Halloween Homicide” and a lights-off heart-stopping thriller dubbed “Lockdown.”
“It should be a lot of fun, because we are not doing the same thing every night,” the 25-year-old Rairden says. “We get to change things up, scare people different ways, be different people. That is why everyone comes here to scare, because they want to be something they can’t be in every day life.”
Since the Circle of Ash crew migrated to its current location on just south of downtown in Cedar Rapids two years ago it has been performing a version of its classic haunt.
“It’s our bread and butter, it’s the one that we know, that we know how to do,” says Mark Fuller, a Circle of Ash veteran.
Fuller — who donned a blue wig and inflated suit to transform into Bubbles, an overbearing, boisterous clown who “just wants to play” — said he has been tweaking his characters for many years, and that fellow actors are given the freedom to explore their creative side during the haunt.
This freedom was a surprise to Circle of Ash newbie Alisha Wright who has since chosen an old prom dress as the inspiration for her “demented fairy” character.
“They just asked me what kind of character have you thought of? What do you want to be?” says the 19-year-old, who is just one of the dozens of volunteer actors who will take part in the classic haunt.
On Sunday a premeditated murder will take place in downtown Cedar Rapids, and the onus will be on patrons to discover whodunit.
Masks will be removed and actors will perform as themselves. Visitors can interact with the characters as they explore the facility and solve the mystery.
“It is a little more involved, interactive. You actually get to explore the haunt, find clues and solve the mystery,” Rairden says. “It is kind of like a murder mystery dinner.”
And for visitors who feel confident in their pick, they can submit their answer at Halloweenhomicide.com to see if their hunch is correct.
Smiles. Malevolent, unnerving, deranged smiles crept across the lips of every actor who uttered the word “lockdown.”
And for good reason.
“We’re just going to scare you,” says Brad Peterson, his face obscured by a mutilated pig mask. “You don’t know what’s coming, it is 18 or over only, you have to sign a waiver, you’re going in alone in pitch darkness. We’re going to do what we want to you.”
In lockdown, patrons will be separated from their companions and will begin the haunt physically restrained, plunged into complete darkness. And with the waiver, actors are provided freedom for physical interaction.
However, for those who are overwhelmed, there will be a safety word in place.
“This is for the person who says, ‘Haunted houses aren’t scary, they’re not enough,‘ ” Rairden says with a smirk. “We are pushing the barrier. We are going to the extreme. Everything we can think of and imagine, the things you can’t do in a haunted house, we’re doing.”
Why they haunt
Chelsea Haugh arrives at Circle of Ash by 5 p.m.; she applies makeup and costumes to her fellow actors for the next four hours and then spends the rest of the night haunting the halls.
The 22-year-old doesn’t pocket a single dime for her work, but she says she wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“We reinvest all of our profits every year,” she says. “Nobody sees a penny for doing this. This is just our passions and hobbies. We love to do it, you get addicted to it.”
For others like Fuller, the addiction has not only provided him a creative outlet, but he says it has improved his confidence and ability to speak in public.
“Stage fright goes away when you can be somebody else,” Fuller says of Bubbles. “And this is about as somebody else as I can get.”
But once the night of a haunt has arrived and the fake blood begins to flow, each actor said they haunt for one reason: To scare.
“My adrenaline, it’s off the wall,” Peterson says. “We wait all year for this, we are all Halloween people. We get excited in July for Halloween. We’re ready to go.”