BIG FLATS, N.Y. — Screams erupt from nearby. A chainsaw sounds and the screams intensify. Just then, a group of teenagers throw open the door and jostle through the opening as a clown chases them from the final room of the Jerkus Circus. Once free, the teenagers collapse in a shivering pile and catch their breath.
“Feel my heartbeat!” one girl cries.
“Mine’s beating faster,” the other girl yells back.
Their voices quiver as they try to talk to one another. The terror is still in them. But, that’s why they came.
For 10 years, Tagsylvania has been terrifying young and old alike with a continuously growing array of attractions. The venue at 3037 State Route 352, in Big Flats, N.Y. is transformed into a horror fan’s paradise with four main sites where customers can enjoy a hearty scare. Whether it’s a trip through the swamp, a night at the haunted Motel 666, a terrifying walk through the Jerkus Circus or the all new Orphan House, Tagsylvania has something for everyone looking for a good fright.
From the beginning, Tagsylvania has tried to do all the setup work in-house.
“We consulted with a few people when we were first starting out, but after the first year it’s really just been 100% us. We go to the trade shows in St. Louis and Philadelphia. We take notes. We see what’s interesting and what’s working in other areas and we bring it home and make it work for us,” said Jesse Reib, general manager of Tag’s.
Tag’s offers a wide variety of entertainment options throughout the year, including: a restaurant, banquet room, summer concert facility and Tagsylvania. With so many different events, the staff at Tag’s are busy throughout the year.
“We are doing a lot of different things here and sometimes it’s a bit of a time crunch to get everything changed over for the new season. But, we start planning months ahead. We put together what we can in advance. It’s a balancing act of what we can fit in and in what time. We might have a week in between concerts where we have time to focus on adding something new to the trail through Psycho Swamp or working on a different attraction or enhancing something in some kind of way,” Reib said.
Reib, who has a bachelor’s degree in art, said he enjoys building the sets by hand because it gives him an opportunity to flex his artistic muscle along with the rest of the Tag’s full-time staff.
“Getting into the painting, designing and set-building is really fun for all of us. But, what really excites me about this season is seeing it come to life with all the actors. We can build the best sets, we can do cool lighting and great music but it’s the actors that make it. They are what make it come to life and really bring the intensity. That is what our customers leave remembering is the actors,” Reib said.
Finding and arranging a rotating staff of actors is one of the important steps in the setup of Tagsylvania. Every night there are 88 actors on the grounds. Tagsylvania relies on a list of around 300 actors to fill every position during the season.
“We are very lucky to have a lot of strong acting groups in our immediate area. We have actors coming from as far away as Hammondsport to work with us from acting groups up there like Lake Country Players and Keuka Lake Players and some of the local players too contribute as well,” Reib said.
Some of the actors are returning staff such as Scotty, or as he is known at Tagsylvania, Jerkus the Clown.
“I’ve been doing this for nine years. Once I get the costume on, I feel like Jerkus. I get into character. I get to be weird and loud, it’s a good time,” Scotty said.
Backstage, Scotty said the staff is like a family goofing around taking pictures and having a good time. Then when the time comes, they get into character and the show begins, he said.
Once into character, how do the actors know if they have really scared someone?
“Well, screams obviously. But, you want to get into their head a little bit. The ones that hide their faces, the ones that try to act tough like they are not scared, if you can get to them a little bit and honestly, if you can make them pee. We had a couple last week, it wasn’t me, but we had a couple and that is always good,” Jerkus said.
As for the crew that spends Friday and Saturday’s throughout October scaring customers, what is it scares them? For Jerkus it’s spiders.
“Clowns do not like spiders. That and really hot food, I will leave out why, but you can figure it out, right?” he said with a laugh.
Tagsylvania is open Friday and Saturday nights from 7-11 p.m. throughout October and the first weekend in November. For more information visit www.tagsylvania.com or call 800-650-TAGS.