WSU student spends Halloween season on the other side of a haunted classic



Emerson Ross

Many people visit the corn fields of Prairie Pines in the dark nights of October, hoping to get their adrenaline pumping and heart pounding. They volunteer to be chased by masked men with chainsaws, bloodied zombies and creepy clowns, all while having to conquer strobe lights and being betrayed by their so-called “friends.”

Emerson Ross, a sophomore studying musical theatre at Wichita State University, isn’t one of the people being chased, nor betrayed. Instead he’s one of the bloody, scary characters that cause your friends to push you to the back of the group to face off against a Spurlock clan member while they flee towards safety. It’s okay, we’ve all been there.  

Ross has worked as an actor at Field of Screams since he was 16.

“Back when I auditioned, I was more shy and reserved, but I really enjoy acting and being on stage. I was really, really nervous because it was really out of my comfort zone,” Ross said. 

“I’m not loud. I’m not scary – back then I was really tiny – but as an actor, I wanted to push myself. So I was like, ‘I’ll try, but I probably won’t get in.’ 

“Then I got in. From that moment on, I’ve just continued to grow as a performer. It’s just been so fun.”

His shifts at Field of Screams begin at around 7 p.m., when he arrives at Prairie Pines in costume. Once there, most of the actors line up to get their makeup done by professional makeup artists. But after working at Field of Screams for four years and having had practice with makeup through his past theatre experience, Ross has been given approval to do his own gory makeup.

“That can help me, because I can actually show up a little bit later and I can put my makeup on at home,” Ross said. “But I am also driving all the way to Maize with fake blood all over my face and I’m just like, ‘Please don’t look at me.’” 

Once their makeup is as scary as it can be, the sun setting behind them, all the actors gather for a brief meeting where the supervisor reviews notes from the previous night. Afterwards, they’re given water bottles and start their hike across the corn field to their designated positions where they can get into character as Spurlock Clan Members.

“I think (I got creeped out) when I first started working there, because I didn’t really know the area. But now this is like my second home, basically, since I’m there for so many hours,” Ross said. “So now it’s like, ‘Wow, I’m passing by this dead corpse…and what about it.’” 

Ross and his colleagues work long hours, with the average shift lasting from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. They also don’t have standard, scheduled break times, as it’s a non-traditional job. Instead, they’re given time to recollect themselves between groups of visitors. 

 “On slower nights, it’s probably anything around 11:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. that we will get out. On peak nights it’s probably more like 2 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. It is very tiring,” Ross said, “I’m using my voice to scare people, I’m using my body to scare people, and on those nights I just feel dead— like I’ve been hit by a truck.”

As an actor, Ross must always be on his toes and be ready to jump into character at a moment’s notice. He also says that it’s easy to go all in all at once, but that he needs to remind himself to prioritize his health.

“You always have to be ready to [switch into character] and make sure that you’re in your spot, ready to go when people come,” Ross said. “I always bring like two energy drinks, three water bottles and like so many snacks. Because if you don’t then you’re not being healthy about it, and you have to be healthy about it or else you can’t continue working.”

Although the work is physically draining, Ross still comes back to play the role of a Spurlock clan member every October. 

“It’s just so fun. I’ve made a lot of friends there and I just love being able to help out in any way that I can,” Ross said. “I’ve gotten to know Kip and Jody Scott, who are the owners of Prairie Pines, so I’ve been able to form a relationship with them, and I want to continue to be able to help them out with their company for as long as I can.”

With pyrotechnics, actors, makeup artists, props, and even talent agents, Field of Screams has become one of the most popular haunts in Wichita. 

“That’s why I’ve continued to work there because it such a professional production. You can go to these dingy haunts where people have the smell of beer on their breath –– I’m not really into it –– but I think thats what makes people keep coming back, because of the professionalism,” Ross said. “I’m never there and thinking I wish I were somewhere else.”

Field of Screams is open until November 2. Gates open at 7:30 p.m. and the field opens after sunset. Purchase tickets either online or on site.