Through a Gem, Darkly

Picture, if you will, a diamond grader. Hunched. Reserved. Loop nestled in his eye. Staid. Laboring in the dark, alone. Possibly Dutch. … Spiked boots. White contacts. Bat tattoos. Subdermal implants. Definitely not Dutch.

Drew Beddow is much like Batman (right down to boots that could put a serious hurting on The Joker) in that the mild-mannered public face—gemologist, Bruce Wayne, whatever—is the actual mask, and the outré avocation reveals the deeper truth.

Every year for the last 10, Beddow has taken off a couple of months from his life as a gemologist to serve as production manager of Fright Dome at Circus Circus.

At the heart of the haunt, Beddow insists, are the actors. When Fright Dome started, it had about 80 performers to put the fear of God into guests. Ten years later, the attraction tops out at more than 300. What began with a childhood love of Nightmare on Elm Street movies—Beddow would spend summers in his grandfather’s basement making bad, knockoff Freddy Krueger gloves with hacksaw blades—developed into an academic study of fear as a psych major.

Now it pays off during the season, when Beddow monitors “scare quality control” for Fright Dome and consults for other haunts from California to Canada.

“You have to be very aware of everyone’s body language—if anyone reacts, if anyone is trying not to react. You can smell the fear,” he says. “If I can spot that one person out of 10 and give them hell, their nine other friends will be laughing, having a good time. In my personal life I took hours and hours just to get one person, one perfect moment. You learn what works, and I share that with the actors.” It’s not something that dovetails perfectly with life as a gemologist, but that gig does allow him freedom of movement and plenty of time. Beddow used to live full time in Las Vegas before getting involved with the cruise-ship industry, where he became creative director of marketing for a jewelry store that had outlets in several ports serviced by ships. (Ironically, he says the only things that scare him are large sea creatures.) In 2002, Beddow met Fright Dome operator Jason Egan, and the two hit it off over a shared vision of how to properly develop a haunt. The result of that vision has given plenty of visitors the chills—and Beddow a little subversive sanity.

“If I didn’t have the haunt as an outlet, I would go nuts,” he says. “It’s great therapy seeing a grown man run away screaming.”

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