It’s 5 p.m. on an October Saturday, and Michelle Soltis is waiting patiently for a gaggle of actors to come rushing in. Once that happens, things start to get really ugly.
Soltis and Dawn Marie Svanoe, partners in the Madison-based special effects makeup firm Glitter to Gore LLC, will have just two hours to turn 50-plus amateurs, professionals and just plain hangers-on into clowns, zombies and assorted dead and dismembered people for the evening’s performance at Screamin’ Acres, a seasonal haunted house attraction at Eugster’s Farm Market just west of Stoughton.
“We tell them 5 o’clock in order to get them made up in time for the 7 o’clock opening,” says Soltis, who with Svanoe has been creating beauty and horror with makeup since 2006. “But, well, they’re actors.”
To fill the time she begins a transformation process on husband Sid Soltis, whose burly frame, shaved head and foot-long black goatee make him the perfect choice for the character of Psycho the Clown. A set of contact lenses with alternating black-and-white circles begins the process in a startling way.
Sid smiles: “Just wait. It gets even better.”
Or, if you will, more horrible.
Soltis and Svanoe weren’t always professional makeup artists. Each came to find their passion via different routes.
Svanoe, a native of Loganville, moved to Madison in 1996 and got a job at Clownin’ Around, a former costume rental store in Middleton. She began doing freelance makeup on the side to augment her costuming experience.
Her assignments involved local theater work, including creating the makeup for Z-Town: The Zombie Musical, a locally developed stage production that has since moved on to productions elsewhere in the country.
One of Svanoe’s specialties is full-body painting, an art form not seen frequently in the colder northern climates, she says. It was a logical evolution of her face-painting background and is popular among models who want to showcase different looks in their portfolios.
“I wanted to work with a bigger canvas, which meant the whole body,” says Svanhoe, who planned to spend the Monday following her Screamin’ Acres assignment painting a model who came to Madison specifically to employ her services.
Soltis, who hails from Mishicot, started out studying aerospace engineering on an Air Force scholarship while doing modeling and makeup on the side. Eventually armed with an MBA from the University of Phoenix, she was overseeing the engineering standards database for Kraft Foods in Madison until 2008, when she was laid off during the recession.
“I always wanted to own my own business and figured that it was time get serious about makeup,” says Soltis. “We’re never going to get rich doing this, but we’re having an awful lot of fun.”
Like Svanoe, Soltis does face and body paining, and the pair also do bridal and runway model makeup, airbrush and glitter tattoos, and other related services. Soltis also is one of only two Wisconsin artists with an international certification in artistically applying henna, a type of organic dye used to create temporary body art, popular in India.
But Glitter to Gore’s accomplishments have become more than the sum of its parts. They are Madison’s only body art specialists and have Wisconsin’s, if not the Midwest’s, widest range of makeup services, including online sales at glittertogore.com.
Their work involves more than making actors look spooky. This summer, they were contracted to provide makeup for a mass casualty simulation drill at Dane County Regional Airport, training federal authorities including FBI and NSA officers how to deal with a crisis situation.
On this night, however, Svanoe and Soltis were concerned with the undead and the other denizens of Screamin’ Acres — including Svanoe herself, who planned on joining the artists for the night.
“Stop by later,” she says. “I’d love to scare you.”
The idea for Screamin’ Acres, a horror complex on a family farm, was hatched three years ago by Jacob Eugster, just 14 years old at the time. Since then, Eugster’s haunted house has grown to a three-facility complex that this year raised $5,000 for Madison’s Henry Vilas Zoo and is attracting record crowds.
“We had 850 people through here last night,” says Michelle Soltis, whose firm has become a Screamin’ Acres sponsor. “That’s a really big crowd for us.”
For $20, or $30 for a line-hopper fast pass, visitors wind their way through three distinct environments, as well as a “haunted cornfield” with no end of surprises.
Each environment comes with a backstory. The Slaughterhouse offers the story of a possessed butcher who takes his frustration out on those around him, complete with the sights — and smells — of his carnage. The Last Resort contains the remnants of the country home of a doctor imprisoned for his experimentation on human beings, with examples still haunting the corridors.
The attraction’s most interesting building may be Side Effects, a unique 3D experience where, thanks to black lights and 3D glasses, the images jump off the walls and (thanks to special makeup) the actors as well.
Screamin’ Acres is open 7-11 p.m. each Friday and Saturday in October, including Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. For details and directions, visit screaminacres.com.