Alison Miller loves both Halloween and Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.
So when the opportunity presented itself for the junior Fashion Design student to work in the costume department for Terror Behind the Walls, the Penitentiary’s famous Halloween haunted house, the decision was a no-brainer.
“The head of the costume department wanted to expand because they only had two people, so because of my interest in costume design they added an additional person,” Miller said. “Now I’m the assistant costume designer. My future goal is to do costume design for film, so this is a great first step.”
As a student in Moore’s Business Scholars in the Arts program, Miller was recently able to shadow an alumna in her field for a day on the job. Miller connected with Alexa O’Neill ’12, a freelance costume designer, and helped her style a music video. O’Neill had worked at Eastern State Penitentiary and suggested that Miller check it out.
Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but today stands in ruin on Fairmount Avenue, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Besides daytime prison tours, the Penitentiary is known for Terror Behind the Walls, a massive nighttime haunted house in the abandoned prison. The extraordinary theatrical production runs on select evenings from September 19 through November 8, 2014.
Terror Behind the Walls hires more than 200 performers, outfitting them in the creepiest costumes to scare visitors who tour the haunted house. As part of that effort, Miller works one day a week in the Costume Shop, fitting costumes, maintaining props, making sure each actor has the right costume, mending any tears, sewing costumes and sometimes creating a whole new costume.
“It’s a team effort,” she said. “We constantly hear of people being really impressed with the costumes, though. They are considered ‘Hollywood quality.’”
Although she has always been a big “Halloween person,” Miller said most people have a misconception that costume designers make the best Halloween costumes. “Most of us don’t have the time to make them for ourselves, so I haven’t had a good one in a long time.”
Miller said she has been fascinated by the history of Eastern State Penitentiary for years, since she first visited in 2012.
“It has that cool, creepy vibe to it,” she said. “I’m also excited to be working there because Terror Behind the Walls is doing something very innovative – giving patrons the option for a more extreme experience.”
When you enter Terror Behind the Walls, you will be confronted with a critical decision: should you explore the prison and watch the action, or should you mark yourself to truly interact with the denizens of the cellblocks? Those who opt in for true interactivity may be grabbed, held back, sent into hidden passageways, removed from their group and occasionally incorporated into the show. For 2014, Terror Behind the Walls has also unveiled the most interactive attraction in the history of the event – the Machine Shop.
Miller likes that her costume work plays a role in the overall experience of Terror Behind the Walls. She credits the BSA program for helping her get the seasonal job of her dreams.
“The Career Center strongly encouraged me to do the shadow day and also helped me perfect my resume,” she said. “At my interview (at the Penitentiary), they complimented me on my resume and hired me on the spot.”
The BSA program is for transfer students with an entrepreneurial bent. Miller transferred to Moore from Carroll County Community College, where she earned an Associate’s degree in Fine Arts.
“Carroll County did not have a fashion program,” she said. “I wanted to come to a small college and I really liked the idea that Moore was an all girl’s college and it seemed very focused. I didn’t want to end up in a big university where I’d feel like just a number. When I received the information in the mail from Moore, my mom said ‘if someone made a school just for you it would be Moore.’”