Living Every Horror Fan’s Dream
ScareHouse Design and Operations Manager Nicole Conniff is living every horror fan’s dream. Not only does she get to have Halloween and scares on the brain every month of the year, but she has made a career out of it.
“It’s a small team of us, maybe three or four that are involved year-round,” says Conniff, “but it’s definitely a full-time gig.”
Because of the fluid and collaborative nature of working at ScareHouse, Conniff and the team are always thinking about how to scare people.
“People have already started throwing out ideas for next year. Our Halloween season usually wraps early November, then we’ll do a Christmas show and then a Valentine’s Day show. In February, we usually start talking about the Halloween season.”
The 2021 Halloween season marks Conniff’s 12th year with ScareHouse. Shortly after she graduated from college in 2009 she was hired to do makeup for the Delirium 3-D haunt.
“And I just stayed,” she says with a laugh.
Twelve years later, she’s now one of the veterans, in a crucial role that might also be considered the site foreman.
“I manage our design process, so essentially when we do roundtable design conversations, I keep notes and make sure everybody’s ideas are heard. Anything we agree on, I make sure we follow through with during the build season. I make sure all of the artistic notes are carried out for our painters.”
Conniff studied special effects at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and discovered that she was able to apply the skills she gained there into her role at ScareHouse, even if a lot of her training was also gained through on-the-job experience.
“Because of my schooling, I had a lot of skills in different aspects of special effects. I had tools knowledge, build knowledge, fabrication and painting. I think it was during my second or third year that they needed painters for set. Since I was already doing the Black Light makeup when they needed help with that, I was asked to step in over the summer and help paint the Black Light sets.”
What Conniff loves most about her job is that no day is the same, which keeps her on her toes.
“I get to do a lot of on-the-ground problem-solving, too.”
Plus, just as ScareHouse adjusts according to the season, so does Conniff.
“We just opened this past weekend, so I’m kind of shifting from build management into show management. I oversee all of the managers of all of our separate departments of our show season. I just make sure everybody has what they need. I’m essentially high-level support at this point in my year.”
While most of us enjoy vacations or taking time off from work in the warmer months, the summer is just when things start to heat up for Conniff and the ScareHouse crew, in preparation for the upcoming Halloween season. It’s not until winter when the team gets a bit of a breather, with January and February not nearly as busy as the spring or fall.
But all of the hard work pays off when ScareHouse fans line up each September to experience new thrills and chills. And despite Conniff’s role being physical and exhausting at times, there’s yet another perk to her job that she likes, when it comes to all the heavy lifting she does.
“I don’t have to go to the gym, so that’s nice,” she says with a laugh. “Nobody wants to do that.”