The Electroshock Spotlight is a series focused on presenting an inside look into the world of those who dedicate their lives to the haunt industry. Each piece will focus on owners, actors, and staff who have a deep passion and love for haunting. With this edition, we bring you the biographies of some of the most talented individuals that are responsible for the rise of Reaper’s Revenge Haunted Attraction. Located in Scott Township, PA, over the past ten years owner Paul Kotran has assembled a team of passionate, creative individuals who each bring to the table their own perspectives and unique backgrounds in the creation of what may be the best overall attraction in the country. In this special edition of the Electroshock Spotlight, we proudly feature the careers of Michael Belardi and Kelley Michael.
Electroshock Entertainment (EE): Describe your career and experience in the haunt industry.
Michael Belardi (MB): I have been working in the Haunted House/Horror industry now for over 6 years. If you include my background in the film industry (which can be similar), I have there for almost 8 years.
In my 6 years with Reapers Revenge I have become and currently hold the positions of Casting Director, Cast Scheduler, Social Media, and Sector 13 Attraction manager. These positions come with the responsibilities of hiring/firing the talent, training, auditioning, teaching and training the staff and cast. I also manage a lot of Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat account activities
EE: What makes Reaper’s Revenge stand out from other haunted attractions?
MB: Reaper’s Revenge is so great because it has a unique feel and energy, its growth is a representation of that talent being received by our fans who come and enjoy our show year after year. Some even more than once a year. We have some of the coolest fans I have ever seen at any events, haunts, touring bands, celebrities, etc.
EE: Can you elaborate on your time with Reaper’s Revenge? What makes the show stand out among other projects you have worked on?
MB: We have a family of friends who is building this together year after year. We get through struggles together, we fight like family, eat together like a family, and think of this show as a representation on who we are as people for the families and friends in our area. We want Reaper’s to be that place that strikes fear, brings entertainment, provides joys, expands the mind, brings people together in the avenues of having people really show who they are when they are in fear. I have a philosophy that when you push a person into an emotion, Fear, joy, anger, rage, peace, etc. it opens up doorways for people to get to know you or someone else more. I always see couples walking out of “Sector 13” frazzled as could possibly be and while there may be tears, laughter, or shock, there friend’s family or significant others are all in it together with them. They BOND over those moments as they are walking to the bonfire, or walking to their cars. I can’t tell you the number of times that I have met a couple out somewhere and when they find out that I have something to do with Reaper’s their faces usually (but not always) light up with smiles or complete shock as they run into a rambling and often stammering dialogue about their experience with us at Reaper’s Revenge. Each significant other getting teased or laughing at one another telling stories about the clowns in the carnival and what not. What makes us unique is out astute detail to everything from sound, lighting, and sets, to wardrobe, makeup and of course the most prominent importance in my eyes… The Acting.
EE: Can you briefly describe your philosophy on the industry?
MB: My philosophy on the industry varies a bit because I apply in too many variables. Location, Demographic, etc. (From a business standpoint) some things don’t always work in certain areas and demographics. But overall I see the industry is moving in a direction that really places you in an environment that seems real. We see today how business-like PA Escape Rooms are building rooms that are set and putting people in real scenarios to figure their way out of that room. It’s thrilling and exciting. That attribute of placing people in rooms and sets, and surroundings with the right sounds, lighting effects, and acting immerses them into the story and elevates the fear. I think the audiences are only desiring a bit more of that as the years go on. The Biggest battle in the industry is finding where the line is with your demographic and audience. The industry is only pushing further and further to make these experiences come to life.
EE: What helped form your approach to the industry? How has your background in film/television production influenced your work?
MB: My film and stage background I believe have made me an asset to Reaper’s because I know what it takes to move, motivate, and steer a big group of talented individuals. Getting the right people for the right jobs is always hard and having a Team like Travis, Jen, Kelley, and Ty; not to mention a team of trainers that we have trained from the ground up, to lean on is what makes me capable of doing my job well. We all need each other out there to get the cast right. But my ability to tell stories, improv-comedy, and lead and support my team is what I think makes me a valuable asset to the show.
EE: In your position, you work with diverse individuals and talents. How do you manage such tasks and get the “best” out of your performers?
MB: My approach to working with diverse talent is merely a matter of experience in dealing with all types of personalities and people. It takes a level of patience I admit I didn’t have when I started this journey. Now I always evaluate who I am talking to and what makes them work, what drives them, what does it take to light that fire and break down those barriers, of shyness, insecurity, or something Hubris and ego. It’s all a part of the show-business. You have to take time with the actors, and earn their respect as they win yours. Make them part of the team, make them work harder, collaborate, and find that ground level where you can expand their abilities as well as your own. Just for the record; It sounds simple… it is not simple at all.
EE: Any closing remarks or favorite stories?
MB:My favorite Reaper’s story… There are so many. We are so much like family to each other, and we travel together a lot that the stories just pile up. Any story that involves Paul (owner Paul Kotran) playing air guitar, Todd (Todd Fedyshyn) wearing a wig, Kelley (Kelley Michael) using his Carnival announcement voice, and or Jen (Jen Marino) yelling at me for something is always a great story. Luckily that happens almost every night. But I’ll leave you with some One-Liners that will always put a smile on our faces or strike fear in our hearts.”
“That’s a lot of Lumens.”
“Put a camera on it.”
“Get the shovels!”
“Get off my lawn.”
“Captain Chaos is here.”
“Paul’s on the brush-hog, all of us should probably find a safe place to hide.”
The best One-Liner ever: “I’m a math guy.”
Electroshock Entertainment (EE): Can you describe your career in the haunt industry? What role do you play currently at Reaper’s Revenge?
Kelley Michael (KM): The first time I had ever acted as a small haunt at a local pumping patch in Bath, PA. A 50- Cent show that was in an old hay barn that the local youth groups and swim teams would man for the weekend. “That’s where I got my first taste of scaring people.” Years after that by happenstance a friend of the family and the owner of Reaper’s Revenge (Paul Kotran) asked me and my other half (Jen Marino: Costume director and Actor Trainer and Supervisor) if we’d like to help start a haunted hayride. Fast forward 9 years and you’ll find us on the Mountain a large chunk of the year Building, painting, set dressing, training actors and making up stuff that sounds like a bad idea to most and saying, “hell let’s do it.”
EE: What impact has Reaper’s Revenge had on your life?
KM: Reapers has been an enormous part of my life for almost a decade now. I believe it has helped us all grow in a lot of ways. Not only management but a lot of actors we have kept and some who have moved on
EE: What is your philosophy on running the show?
KM: I consider myself “Vice President of Creative Thinking” which is an umbrella term I gave myself to cover all the bases of what it takes from my standpoint to make the show happen. Always Vice President, never President that’s the “show.” The show is our President. The show is what myself and the team live for. I started as a builder before, and then actor when the 1st season started. Then that turned into a career after the 3rd season.
EE: Describe what makes Reaper’s Revenge “special” and stand out from its contemporaries?
KM: Reaper’s Revenge is a large theatrical show and dependent on quality acting. We strive to give you, the costumer every dollar you spent back in entertainment. A long-standing tradition considering our carnival/showman backgrounds. The Actors are why it works, if not I’d be yelling around in the woods most nights in October to myself. These guys and gals are so talented and willing to give it their all night after night. We just build an adult playground for them to play in…..they make it come alive! Reaper’s Revenge is not from my view your regular haunt experience it’s a hell of a night out and a spectacle for all to see.
EE: What is your opinion on the current and future state of the haunt industry?
KM: The good news is anyone can join there is no cover charge, hell ya’ might get paid to be a misfit. A place for all to come and spread the wings. The bad news is it’s actually a job sometimes. “Haunts come and go it’s the ones with something special that stick around -Ben Armstrong (owner of Netherworld-Georgia)” told me once, it stuck with me. There are fantastic haunts that put on blockbuster shows with a ticket price deserving of that show. The only thing that truly bothers me are the ones that do not hold up to that standard. We have one of the best jobs in the world, and I’m glad I got invited.