Hey Haunt Daddy
James “JJ” Byers laughs when asked what it means to be ScareHouse’s “Haunt Daddy.”
“My official title as far as I’m aware is assistant show manager.”
The “Haunt Daddy” moniker came about based on behind-the-scenes lingo ScareHouse uses to refer to liaisons between the actors and the management, those who address quick fixes like a prop breaking or a scheduling issue.
“Our previous haunt managers identified as female so the cast started calling them the ‘Haunt Moms,’ and this year we initially thought about calling Krista and myself ‘Haunt Parents,’ … but the ScareHouse crew gets a kick out of saying ‘JJ is the Haunt Daddy,’ even if my official title is assistant show manager.”
Whatever title he goes by, Byers worked his way up to this role after starting with the haunt in 2015, when he was hired as an actor despite his limited acting resume which included performing at Chuck E. Cheese.
“I’ll never forget the look on the manager’s face when she asked me if I’d ever been to a haunted house. I said, ‘Nope.’ She asked, ‘Have you ever been to ScareHouse?’ I said, ‘Nope.’ She asked, ‘Why are you here?’ ‘Because, why not?’ They gave me a shot, and I’m really glad they did.”
The next year, he auditioned for The Basement.
“I remember the look on Scott’s face during my improv audition. It was like, ‘Oh boy. He’s doing a puppet [thing].’ Then they gave me this monologue to read, and I actually made him jump. And then I was a Basement actor up until being asked to be assistant show manager.”
Of his favorite things about his new role, he enjoys being able to diversify his duties, dealing with both the actor-y issues that come up while also technical aspects of working at a haunt, like if a prop breaks.
“One of my hobbies is being a shadetree mechanic. I love working on cars. I’m rebuilding the engine of one of my cars, but I don’t get paid for it. People are always like, ‘Why don’t you become a mechanic?’ ‘Because I want to keep working on cars.’ If something breaks at ScareHouse, we don’t have time to reach out to everyone who built it, so we fire up YouTube and put our knowledge together and see if we can fix it ourselves, which has been awesome.”
Byers attributes ScareHouse team members Nicole Conniff [design and operations manager], Heather Heitzenrater [scenic coordinator and show manager], Scott Simmons [co-founder], and Wayne Simmons [co-founder] as helpful fixtures in tackling COVID challenges.
“My first year doing this, I don’t think I could have come at both a worst- and best-case scenario for everything.”
But even though he plays Mr. Fix-It behind the scenes, he still occasionally gets to put on the costumes and get to act in ScareHouse—but in a new way.
“Once we get the day going, Heather, Krista Ivan [costume manager], and I will don cloaks and what they call witchy makeup—and we do wellness checks on the actors. We’ll walk through and wait for them to scare us, and then we’ll give any quick in-the-moment critiques. We love finding when they do something completely unexpected, that we didn’t even know would be possible. We’ll go, ‘That’s awesome. Run with that.’”