“Hang up the babies, bloody up the nun, and move the body”
ScareHouse scenic coordinator and show manager Heather Heitzenrater doesn’t have your typical work to-do list.
“‘Hang up the babies, bloody up the nun, and move the body,’” Heitzenrater says with a laugh. “It’s ridiculous.”
And yet, she wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, maybe it was even written in the stars. Heitzenrater’s older sister—a ScareHouse fan—had always encouraged her to work at the entertainment venue, because of her fine arts background and degree from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. So when Heitzenrater was frustrated with her job situation in 2017, she sent an email to ScareHouse, asking them if they needed anyone to paint for them.
Nearly four years later, Heitzenrater now divides her time between working for ScareHouse and selling her own paintings during the off-season.
“Things that we do or say here are things you’d never do or say at any other job. You get to create this whole new world for people to enjoy.”
In 2020, Heitzenrater got promoted from scenic artist to scenic coordinator, which involves delegating tasks to the team of scenic artists at ScareHouse. She says something that people might not realize about ScareHouse is that everything is handmade.
“We make everything. Even if we do outsource something, like animatronic, it’s still handmade from someone else.”
Another misconception is how much time it takes to put up the sets.
“People think now that we’re at the mall, once haunt season is done, we just tear it down and build it all up. No, it’s a year-round process. And it takes a lot of time, because everything’s handmade. A lot of people think we just put it up in a week.”
Heitzenrater’s role as scenic coordinator involves everything from telling carpenters what sizes/dimensions are needed, to “grunging” up, or “aging”, the sets, the latter of which Heitzenrater uses Pittsburgh as inspiration for.
“I’m always taking pictures of rust on bridges or dirty bricks on some buildings. [Design and Operations Manager] Nicole [Conniff] and I are always sending pictures of mold and gross things for reference. How things get dirty inside versus outside or how certain metals rust, they’re very different from each other, so we’re looking up these pictures to make it as realistic as possible. There are a couple of different techniques. Most of it is paint or wood stain. We’re always looking up YouTube videos and seeing what other people are doing and always learning new techniques to make things look like they’ve been weathered and aged as realistically as you can.”
When she’s not dirtifying sets, Heitzenrater’s favorite medium is fluorescent paint, with some of her work on display at Kennywood, since ScareHouse remodeled The Old Mill ride in 2020.
“I’m super proud of The Old Mill that [ScareHouse] did at Kennywood. That was so fun and that was such a crazy experience. That was a dream project.”
When it comes to talking about her career and portfolio of work, it’s one of many good icebreakers to tell strangers. “I love telling people that I work at a haunted house for a living. They’re like, ‘Wait … what’?”