ALTAMONTE SPRINGS – It’s that time of year, when brave souls head to a field on State Road 436, to take the terrifying walk down a “Haunted Scare Trail” known as A Petrified Forest.
Located on SR 436 in Altamonte Springs just before the intersection of U.S. 17/92, this attraction has been scaring people every Halloween season for years, inviting in large crowds to brave the haunted house and the terrors that await behind it.
Freeline Media just caught up with Sylvia Katherine Viles, the director of A Petrified Forest, for her thoughts on why folks love getting scared, what she does to motivate her performers to be their scariest, and why this is truly a must-see event this month.
Freeline: Fear is big business in October. What is it that makes fear so irresistible to so many?
Sylvia: There are actually a lot of studies about this and why people enjoy fear. This type of fear — haunted scare trails, houses or horror movies — is controlled fear. We love to get scared because we know nothing can actually harm us. Personally, I like the excuse to grab hold of someone when I’m scared.
Freeline: When it comes to being a performer in A Petrified Forest, it seems like a truly good scare requires more than just jumping out and yelling “Boo!” What does it take to direct your actors and get a truly chilling performance out of them?
Sylvia: There are a few different styles of scares in a haunted attraction.
It depends on the room and the feel we want out of it. I attend classes at various conventions; the biggest one I go to is Midwest Haunters Convention in Columbus, Ohio. Leaders in the haunt industry gather to share their knowledge with Haunters from all over the country. We have training days at APF before we open to the public.
This year a haunter friend of mine gave a clinic to my actors — the same seminar he gave to those of us who attended MHC. I have a great group of haunt actors who step in as actor trainers for the new hires. Each one has a special scare, and they help the new hires learn how to best scare our guests.
Freeline: Attractions like A Petrified Forest often draw in groups of friends, including many teens, who seem to love to huddle together, screaming in sheer delight. How does Petrified Forest evoke this kind of camaraderie among friends?
Sylvia: Safety in numbers, or so they believe (lol!) It’s fun to get a group of friends to go see a haunted house. My actors go to Halloween Horror Nights on their off nights. We love to get scared, too.
Freeline: Has A Petrified Forest grown this year, and if so, in what ways?
Sylvia: This is our second year of running two trails. We had two-thirds of our cast return, and an amazing group of new hires. Our show is an actor-driven haunt, so I am proud of my cast and their dedication to providing guests with a creepy good time.
Freeline: Can you tell even longtime fans/patrons of A Petrified Forest that this year, they can still expect … the unexpected?
Sylvia: Every year the owners of A Petrified Forest build the trails from scratch. We do have our school bus, which is always a staple on APF’s trails.
Freeline: While directing A Petrified Forest, does it sometimes feel like you’re directing, say, a stage version of a Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft play?
Sylvia: Funny you should say that. I’m in love with immersive theater. Running a haunt isn’t quite the same, but the desire to have the guests suspend belief while on our trails is similar. We tell a story from beginning to end on each trail. Of course, when guests are screaming, jumping and running, they might miss a bit. My advice — come back for a second time.
Freeine: If you were going to advise all of Central Florida that they absolutely, positively had to visit A Petrified Forest this month, what would your message be?
Sylvia: Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year. We at A Petrified Forest love scaring people for the haunt season . My actors have freedom to create their own characters, and therefore each time you visit it’s a unique experience. We offer backstage tours where you get to see how we make it all happen. You even might get to be part of the scare.
This is my fourth season working with APF; we’ve grown ever year, striving to bring the best haunted scare trail to Central Florida.
A Petrified Forest is at 1360 E Altamonte Drive. It’s open for scares from 7:30-11 p.m., and ticket prices vary. To learn more, call 407-468-660.
Michael Freeman in an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..