Haunted house brings financial nightmare for former employees


by MORGAN CHESKY / KVUE News and photojournalist MATT OLSEN


Posted on December 4, 2012 at 12:19 AM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 4 at 12:21 AM

AUSTIN -- It was a new idea that turned into a financial nightmare.

Dozens of Austin performers say they're still waiting to be paid for their work at a haunted house back in October.

It was dubbed the first of its kind. A haunted house featuring no ghosts, goblins, or even a grim reaper. Instead it was a journey into a post-apocalyptic wasteland where scares came as disease, food shortages, and anarchy.

It was called Ecopocalypse.

"I mean artistically or haunted house wise it was unlike anything I had ever seen," said former employee Joel Ausanka, who landed a gig as an evil prophet.

"They put me as an audience plant so at the end I was murdered which was a really cool twist," said fellow actor Amber Stensrud.

Now both Ausanka and Stensrud face a serious twist of their own. After a month's worth of work and close to $1,500 each, they have nothing to show for it. And it is a problem shared by dozens of others.

"It just makes me sick," said Ecopocalypse founder Matt Sparks. "I'm going to be paying this back for a long time."

The situation facing Sparks is far from the excitement he felt when he put all he had, about $20,000, on the line to create Ecopocalypse.

Take the cost of the rented space, add it to the actor's paychecks, not to mention thousands in building materials and the $200,000 cost of Ecopocalypse quickly became a frightening thought of its own.

Opening week brought customers but little profit as most used discounts like Groupon.

"Nobody came," said Sparks. "That's the simple answer."

What was not so simple was how to payback nearly $150,000 in debt.

Sparks said he won't file bankruptcy. He wants to make sure everyone gets what they're owed.

In the meantime, former workers are left waiting while some are forced into debt themselves.

"I don't really know what I can believe from them," Ausanka said. "Time will tell, but I don't have that much faith."

Some of those former employees are holding a fundraiser this Saturday at the Green House on East 53rd Street. There will be yoga, drinks, art, and a silent auction all to benefit the people who are still waiting to be paid.