A few stragglers and I joined the other students in an adjoining lot strewn with trailers and cargo shipping containers. One fellow gently stroked the human skull perched on his shoulder; another smoothed the front of his long leather apron, which was stained in the school colors: blood.
“I call my character ‘Shock Wave,’” said Richard Lanford of Austell, whose hard hat and ghostly pallor merely accentuated the evil grin on his face. “For some reason, I want to make water and electricity mix …”
Gulp. What kind of a student corpse, er, body, was this, anyway?
Since Oct. 4, Containment has been putting out the unwelcome mat as the only large-scale haunted house located inside the Perimeter. Covering 25,000 square feet, the new-to-the-scene Halloween attraction funnels visitors through nearly two dozen containers cars that — as the we-hope-it's-fictional storyline goes — ended up there when a train derailed.
Out spilled their spooky contents — maniacal woodsmen and plumbers, crazed lunatics, deadly spirits … in other words, the CCU class, who spent four nights learning “The Art of the Scare” and other aspects of the most unique curriculum in town.
I attended Night Four, held a day before Containment’s VIP preview event (aka CCU’s “final exam”), when students worked on perfecting all aspects of their performances. My role was mostly skittish observer. Good thing, too, because the others were so advanced by then, they’d have eaten me alive.
Curious what it takes to get a degree in freaky? Read on.
> The Three R’s … er, H’s
Admission to CCU was very competitive. Of the 250 to 300 people who auditioned, only 43 made it through. About 60 percent have some professional experience.
Still, these students had some different basics drilled into their heads, said Randy Kamay of Entertainment Design Group Inc., the Austell-based company that developed Containment.
“Good personal hygiene is a must,” Kamay said of the actors who’d don elaborate costumes and makeup for about 30 straight nights. “And staying well-hydrated so they don’t pass out.”
But even that had strings attached.
“Is that regular water?” Charles Bailey, Containment’s house coordinator, called out to a performer rushing by clutching a plastic bottle. After all, “hydrating” with soda or fruit juice could spill and stain costumes.
The third H: hoarseness. When you're there to scare people, "Everyone's instinct is loud," said Kamay, explaining that performers were schooled on conserving their voices. When Bailey checked in on the harlequin-clad "Container Demon" to assess her high-energy stomping and cackling, he also pointedly asked: "You brought your cough drops, right?"
> The Abandon-All-HOPE Scholars
In early classes held at “Fear 1” — a pop-up shop selling Halloween costumes and official Containment-ware that’s located in the former Pier 1 store at Atlantic Station — students worked on makeup, wardrobe and character development. They’d started being matched to characters during auditions, although some roles took longer to fill due to specialized skills or even who was skinny enough for a certain costume.
“We have every size, shape and ability level represented,” Kamay said early on Night Four as costumed actors began drifting toward their respective containers.
Soon after, Chris Belser popped out of the trailer where a team led by makeup director Matt Silva, whose credits include "The Walking Dead," worked. Belser, 24, an aspiring actor who's been in "Joyful Noise" and "The Vampire Diaries," plays a scary plumber here ("I have an exploding toilet," the Stockbridge resident confided).
At a don’t-buy-it bucolic outdoor setting, Andrew Yeager of Brookhaven was in place as an edgy woodsman (“I call myself ‘Chuck,’ for ‘wood chipper,’” he smirked). Elsewhere, his son, Winston, was portraying an equally frightful mountain man.
The Yeagers’ naturally long hair doubtless helped with their casting. But what about Jonathan Hunter, aka “The Big Guy” who strides atop grate work and uh, encourages patrons to keep moving along between containers?
How’d he get to be Big Man on Campus?
“By being big and scary!”
> Weird Science
"The No. 1 thing we talk about over and over is safety," Kamay said of the CCU curriculum, "for the guests and the actors."
That included learning about three different responses people might have to being scared:
Frozen in place.
And, uh-oh, fight.
“We train our staff to look for signs like clenched fists, people saying things to their friends like ‘I’ll punch (a performer) in the nose,’” Kamay said. “That’s not a person we want them to interact with.”
On the other hand, students learned to size up groups for positive responses: If a customer obviously enjoys being startled by something, maybe it’s worth springing it a second time. Or consider slyly slipping an overheard name into your spooky spiel.
The key was to entertain folks, not scare them to death.
That, and to keep the crowds moving along. After watching appreciatively as the “Trailer Trash Demon” (aka Bill Pacer) practiced his creepy routine — “It’s perfect head-sized,” he leered, opening a suspiciously smoky grill — Bailey decided that a bit involving a mounted deer’s head might work better at the end.
“Hey, Bill, try Buck as the ‘blowoff,’” Bailey suggested, using a carnival term for “show’s over.”
> The Substitute Teacher
Midway through Night Four, a short pants-clad Dylan Nix practiced throwing a truly terrifying tantrum in the aptly dubbed “Hell Child” container in front of a group that included Gledegbem J. Garguah Sr. A “breaker,” Garguah was training to take over in any of four to five different containers at any time.
“They can’t keep going nonstop all night,” Bailey said of each container’s full-timer. “The breakers come up and do part of the scene and come up with some other stuff to make it their own.”
Garguah would be breaking for the craftsmen types — plumber, electrician, construction workers — while a second breaker handled so-called child roles, like the “Living Doll” character and Nix’s.
New to performing — he accompanied his actor son to the auditions and got talked into trying out — Garguah nonetheless had relevant experience. Maybe more relevant than any of his CCU classmates, in fact.
A real estate consultant who’s originally from Liberia, Garguah also is a real-life substitute school teacher.
Chuckled Bailey appreciatively: "He knows how to herd cats."