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Imagine that feeling right before waking up from a nightmare, when the heart palpitates, the spine tingles and the stomach drops—all before the jolting scare.

Walk through the Haunted Hotel and you’ll come face-to-face with the people whose job it is to ensure that your time there feels like a living nightmare.

  The Haunted Hotel in Louisville is one of countless fright palaces across the country that will be chock full tonight and tomorrow.

The work that goes into a haunted house like this one starts back in July. The preparation for Halloween is similar to that of a theatre company getting ready for a production; with actors, rehearsals, costuming and set design. And come October, it’s time to hit the stage.

The Haunted Hotel, a walkthrough on South 4th Street, features 30 actors, who fill a variety of ghoulish roles, from a murderous butcher to a creepy elevator attendant, said Kelly Warf, the general manager.

She heads up the auditions that take place every August.

“During auditions, we set the scenario for the actor and give him or her a few minutes to develop a character,” Warf said. “Members of management and veteran actors then walk through the scene just as the patrons would and the actor gets the opportunity to show their techniques.

Warf and others offer some criticism, while letting the actor have multiple chances to show their skills.

So what makes a good haunted house monster? Individual attitude and enthusiasm, said Warf.

“Creativity to develop a character is also a huge requirement,” she said.

Once accepted—a lot of individual work is done with the actors. Warf said it is necessary in “a full-contact and extreme attraction” like The Haunted Hotel.

“I tell the staff that if they aren’t ready to take a fright-punch or two during the season, this probably isn’t the job for them,” Warf said. Full-cast rehearsals then take place in costume, with props and house lights.

People have different reasons for auditioning.

Shannon McDonald, an actor with the Baxter Avenue Morgue in the Highlands, became involved with the attraction after a stint with the Louisville Paranormal Investigators, ghost hunters who had investigated the morgue several times.

McDonald went through an audition process similar to one described by Warf.

“It was quite fun, I’ve never acted in a haunted house before so at first it was daunting thinking about how to work in an environment where the audience is involved,” McDonald said. “I’m lucky, though, to be surrounded by very talented actors who are more than happy to give pearls of wisdom on how to scare the willies out of people.”