Fast-forward to nightfall. That's when the field turns cold and misty, when the corn seems higher and painted faces lurk just out of sight.
That's when visitors occasionally pee their pants.
Keith Stocker isn't a horror fan. He says that often, seeming almost amazed that every October his cornfield spawns a nightmarish trail traversed by groups of shrieking teenagers and adults — all of whom paid an entry fee to be terrified.
They call it Field of Screams. It's a money-maker for Stocker Farms, an otherwise tame and family-friendly destination farm that sports a pumpkin patch, a corn maze and a red-barn produce market.
“As a business owner, I would never have guessed this,” Stocker said one afternoon last week, pausing during preparations for next month's events.
He and his wife moved to Snohomish from San Francisco 12 years ago to take over the family farm when his parents retired. Back then, there was a produce stand and a pumpkin patch.
Then the farm grew up. It grew up to be a fright show.
Now, there are more than 100 employees every October. There are actor auditions. (Good ghosts and ghouls aren't as easy to come by as you might think.) And there are thousands of visitors: Some come for wholesome family fun, some come to be scared.
“There is a segment of the population that is absolutely enthralled with the adrenaline you get from being scared,” Stocker said.
But Field of Screams would be rated PG-13, unlike some more hard-core horror attractions, he said. Still, he doesn't recommend the tour for children younger than 12.
The self-guided tour starts out at a spooky family farm, then leads to a circus tent. Eventually, visitors have to escape through the cornfield on a meandering path lined with. … Well, wait and see.
The story goes something like this: Before the Stockers, a family named Slasher lost the farm to the county. To generate some extra revenue, the county rented the land to a circus.
Angry, the Slasher family set fire to the circus tent and forced the performers out into the corn. Then, well — you know how ghost stories go.
The business of scaring people isn't just a fall-time gig. It starts with conferences in February, a core staff of six people working on marketing and implementation year-round and finally culminates with details in the fall.
This month, there's actor training, make-up artists, event security — everything a theater production might have and maybe a little more.
Today through Sunday, Stocker Farms is holding auditions, looking to hire roughly 20 actors to round out their cast of characters, including members of the Slasher family and circus performers. Their job? Be frightening.
Dan Orme-Doutre started at Stocker Farms as an actor several years ago, and now handles marketing for Field of Screams. The business has grown since he came onboard; it's not “just guys in the field with masks” now.
“There's a lot of skill and art involved in scaring,” said Orme-Doutre, a horror fan who poses as a mild-mannered Microsoft employee by day. “It's an entertainment business.”
Stocker Farms isn't the only century-old farm that's traded traditional farming for a more experiential business known as agritourism. There's still planting and harvesting, but the export process tends to end at the roadside with direct-to-consumer sales.
For many small farms on the edge of suburbia, it's the only way to survive.
“It's pretty hard to ride the commodities market up and down,” Stocker said. “And as much as people need food, they're actually more interested in how to entertain themselves.”
Stocker Farms has scheduled auditions today and Friday from 7 to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. The auditions are at the Old Carnegie Library and Art Gallery at 105 Cedar Ave. in Snohomish. For more information, e-mail email@example.com.
Field of Screams
Opening night for Field of Screams is Oct. 3. Standard cost is $15.
Stocker Farms is located at 10622 Airport Way in Snohomish. Field of Screams is nearby at 8705 Marsh Road.
For more information, go to www.stockerfarms.com or www.stockerfarms.com/fieldofscreams.
Read Amy Rolph's small-business blog at www.heraldnet.com/TheStorefront. Contact her at 425-339-3029 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Buzz: Take your chances 9/10/09
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