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Final days of 'Terror on the Trail' at Suwanee park

SUWANEE -- In her first professional acting gig, Stacey Silverman spoke the words of a true actress.

"It's fun," Silverman said. "Who doesn't want to get paid to be a zombie?"

Silverman is not just a zombie in the second installment of the Aurora Theatre's "Terror on the Trail" at Sims Lake Park. She's the Zombie Queen, and the only zombie who talks to attendees.

The story Silverman is in the middle of comes from creator and director Cynthia Rintye, who set out to create a fictional, but highly plausible history for the area. The finished product is something between a haunted house and a ghost tour.

"What sort of gruesome manner of nightmare could happen?," Rintye said.

So Rintye created a mythology that the park was so evil, the Cherokee Indians wouldn't settle there. At first the water was a creek, but after it was dammed, a lot of bones were found, and the first story, set in 1922, tells how zombies emerged from the water.

And with some tweaks from actors involved, Rintye has added more zombies -- from 14 to 34 -- since last year's edition, and their stories are all woven back to the queen.

The creative license is unique for an Aurora Theatre production, said Al Stilo, the director of sales and marketing at Aurora. A typical show comes with a licensing fee from a playwright and the director is contractually obligated to follow the script. But since this is an original piece from Rintye, there is freedom to tweak things.

Because they're performing 13 times per night -- every 10 minutes -- Stilo said actors have a vested interest in their characters.

"We want to feel like they're contributing something artistically," Stilo said. "It makes the story really great. You have the performer playing to their strength still by maintaining the integrity of their character. Anytime an actor's in a play, they love the opportunity to shine as a solo part."

And in the second year, Silverman said she's made the queen a "very vain character." Rintye calls Silverman's character, "sexy and beautiful in a grotesque way."

"I've gotten more into it and I'm able to respond quickly to people," Silverman said. "I've had a lot of people talk back to me, which is different from last year. I have to figure out what to say, which is in character. The other actors really don't get the opportunity to talk back to the audience. Since my role is so interactive, I've had a lot of fun with different things to say."

Stilo said the Sims Lake Park setting helps the presentation of the event.

"There's an effect that it has on you that's not a special effect, but gets you in that spirit," Stilo said. "Playing on that and using it to our advantage has been keys to our success."

Stilo said the first weekend of "Terror on the Trail" saw about 400 people attend, which was about half of last year's total. But last year's success also caused Stilo and city of Suwanee officials to add a weekend to make it the last three weekends in October.

The balance the event must strike, Stilo said, is to achieve a scare factor on a path in the woods, that's different than a haunted house.

"We can't necessarily have things startle you so you run into the woods at night," Stilo said. "We have to have some scariness that we can control."

Rintye said she recommends parents make the decision about bringing their children to the event, but children who are middle-school age and up, or are at least 10 years old should be OK to attend. The tour is wheelchair accessible, but strollers and flashlights are not permitted.

Rintye was one of the three original guides of the Lawrenceville ghost tours eight years ago, and was a director for five years. But she said the only thing that's the same between "Terror on the Trail" and the ghost tours is they're both storytelling.

The tours, which last about 75 minutes, have their final weekend this week. Tours begin at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and the final tour starts at 9:30 p.m. There are about 65 people involved in the production, including seven storytellers.

Tickets are $15 in advance and available at terroronthetrail.com or by calling the Aurora Theatre box office at 678-226-6222. Tickets also may be purchased for $18 at Sims Lake Park on tour dates. Sims Lake Park is located at 4600 Suwanee Dam Road.