PLAINS TWP. — A handful of area community theaters enable aspiring thespians to showcase their talents throughout the year. But there’s one area venue that’s perfect for actors and actresses who enjoy scaring as well as entertaining audiences.
And they get to do it dozens of times in just 14 nights. The production is a major fundraiser for the United Way of Wyoming Valley.
The spine-chilling set is inside an old warehouse, high on a hill in Plains Township in the Trion Warehouse off Laird Street. It’s the home of Gravestone Manor — a haunted house with a story to tell. And every year, the story is different.
One of the people likely to be helping tell this year’s story of murder and mayhem is 66-year-old Diane Knoll, of Nanticoke, who was one of about 30 people of all ages auditioning earlier this week for a part.
The potential performers were led into a small, cluttered room in groups of three and sat on folding chairs, facing director Rob Padden, who sat behind a desk, taking notes. Each actor took a turn standing and reading separately from a prepared script. Knoll, a six-year veteran actress with Gravestone Manor, was in the first group to audition Tuesday night and volunteered to read first.
Wedding to remember
“This reminds me of the first haunted house I ever went to,” Knoll said, the intensity of her tone mounting with every sentence. “It was a really scary story in which a lot of people died the night of a wedding. That haunted house gave me nightmares for months. They said the walls were awash with blood and every guest died, even the bride. The story said a child was the culprit of all the grisly murders.”
Next up was Amber Kuhl, 30, of Luzerne, who has been involved with the Gravestone Manor productions for the past three years.
Many people, like Kuhl and Knoll, return year after year, said Padden. “The first time they come, they’re a nervous wreck. Now, it’s like they’re just up in front of a family member.”
Knoll said she has been acting in haunted houses locally for more than 30 years. In 1976, when there were no haunted houses in the area, she said, she and a group of friends started one in Nanticoke at a vacant house a friend was selling.
“We only had it for two nights and charged people 50 cents,” said Knoll. “The second night, we had so many people show up, we had to call the police to do crowd control.”
And while plenty of veterans returned to audition, there were also first-timers.
Third to read was 15-year-old Rachael Reese, of Laflin — a newbie to haunted house acting, but no stranger to the theater. She’s had ensemble parts in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Avenue Q,” she said, and her work at Gravestone Manor will count toward her required community service hours at Holy Redeemer High School.
“I love doing everything theater,” Reese said.
Rachael also likes vampires, according to her mother, Nancy Reese, who accompanied her to the audition. “It’s a good experience for her. She gets to meet a lot of people and have some fun. And she likes Halloween. It’s her favorite holiday.”
This year’s theme
After the three actors finished their solo readings, they read from a conversation in another script, conversing with one another about dreams and nightmares. And that topic is the theme for this year’s Gravestone Manor, which is titled “Nightfall,” said Rick Markham, project coordinator.
“The audience is actually going to enter someone’s dreams and experience what they experience in different stages of sleep as they think back to things from their childhoods that scared them or caused them some alarm. Then, in the world of dreams, these get morphed into things that seem to be happening all around them,” Markham said.
Markham, one of the project founders 15 years ago, said the production is meant to to appeal to people at all different levels.
“So there’s a lot of things that jump out and scare you, but there are things written on different levels, where we kind of get into the philosophical question of, when you’re dreaming and you interact with other people in your dreams, how do you know which one of you is really real and which one of you is really dreaming? And we play around with that concept with the audience,” he said.