Tiffany Rice – Spirit Medium

Written by: Francesco Vincenzo Iacono


Throughout the years, Spirit Medium Tiffany Rice has always had a sense of “knowing”. Upon becoming a Reiki Master, a person who chooses to manifest the will of Divine energy here on Earth, Tiffany became aware of her senses and abilities increasing with each life event.

Being able to identify with fellow colleagues, Tiffany realized her gift of being a Medium was accelerating rapidly. At that time, she began to embrace this awareness and studied under her colleague and good friend (Spirit Sister), Maureen Hancock.

Today, Tiffany is a renowned Spirit Medium and former talk show host of Spirit Connections. She dedicates her life sharing her uplifting and enlightening gift with those that are going through various stages of grief.

Tiffany is highly intrigued by the paranormal and takes a very special interest in this field. She knows the paranormal is an extension of the Spirit World and finds this area captivating as it is still a continuation of our loved ones. Spirit simply chooses to have an uncanny connection to certain locations. The subject of paranormal activity spans over a wide range of topics and theories which she loves exploring!

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, we caught up with Tiffany Rice and we talked about her work as an evidential spirit medium, her work on Kitsie Duncan’s new show Paranormal Crossroads, her partnership with Dune Jewelry, her volunteer work with Aruba Animal Shelter as well as her short and long-term aspirations.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: What is your earliest memory where you realized you were gifted as an evidential spirit medium and how old were you?

Tiffany Rice: I’ve always had a sense of “knowing”. I can remember having conversations with people and as I looked at them, I could see information pop up about them around them in my mind’s eye. It took me years to realize that it was spirits trying to come through with information. I thought I was just weird. I took a class that I actually teach now on how to open up your own intuition. That’s when it really hit me with the connection to spirit. It was then when I knew had to continue to provide validations, messages and healing.

Tiffany Rice Spirit Medium

TCS: For the benefit of those who are not familiar with Tiffany Rice or your specific profession, please share with us how you first started out and how you have cultivated your psychic abilities?

TR: I’m a Spirit Medium. That means I’m able to connect to your loved ones in spirit whether it is family, friends and even pets can come through. I started with becoming a Reiki Master/Teacher learning more of an understanding about energy. I started telling people about my readings and it spread quickly. I was giving my friends readings and then their friends readings. I would go to people’s homes and do a reading of their home. The local historical societies started to hear about me, so they would have me go to their locations. I was able to connect the emotional side to the factual side for them. I never said never to an opportunity of connecting to spirit. I had found my passion. The healing modality of being able to connect and bring peace of mind during grief is priceless.

TCS: How did you know being an evidential spirit medium was the right career path?

TR: That’s simple, I had no doubt.

TCS: Please describe for us the different types of readings that you offer? Additionally, can you provide any advice on what someone should do to prepare themselves for a reading?

TR: Mainly people will contact me for my Medium readings which is connecting you to your loved ones in spirit. I also offer intuitive readings as well with a focus on clarity on current situations. To prepare for any reading, be open to the information being provided. Take notes. I can’t stress that enough! There’s always so much information coming through that when receiving the information, we may forget. It’s great to come back to put the puzzle pieces together. Also, it doesn’t hurt to set your intentions on the person you want to connect with or the question you want more insight on. I always say it’s the information that you need to hear not the information you want to hear. Be open!


TCS: Besides readings, do you offer any other services?

TR: Yes, I also teach guided meditation sessions to help clients get back to the basics. Today, more and more people are looking to get back to feeling focused and grounded meditation helps bring one that sense of clarity. Additionally, I’ve also created workshops to help hone in on your intuition and align with your own empowerment in order to live your true authentic self.

TCS: In 2008, you investigated the legendary Lizzie Borden House in Fall River, Massachusetts along with members of the then paranormal investigative team named SPIES. What can you tell us about your experience, especially since it was your first paranormal-based investigation and how it impacted/changed your future?

TR: It was my first investigation alright. Go big or go home! I had a group of friends that would go to all different locations whether it was well-known or even residential. They brought me in as their Medium. This experience was my first overnight investigation. I definitely felt a presence in Andrew Borden’s room. I wasn’t scared it was enlightening to actually feel energy that heavy. Since then I’ve done multiple gallery readings at that location. I do feel like I have a connection with Lizbeth since being familiar with her energy all of these years.

TCS: Can you provide us with some highlights from your 2015 appearance at the Rhode Island Comic Con, where you moderated a Ghost Hunters and Ghost Facers panel?

TR: I love being a guest at Comic Cons all over. I was given the opportunity to host the paranormal panel in Rhode Island. It was fun. I love my Ghost Hunter/Ghost Nation family. I’ve known them for quite some time. Ghostfacers was based off of the show “Supernatural” so their take on the Q&A was a little different than the guys that actually do the “hunting”.

TCS: Can you elaborate on your collaboration with our mutual colleague and paranormal researcher Kitsie Duncan on her new show, Paranormal Crossroads?

TR: Kitsie and I have been friends for years. I actually gave her a reading in a hotel room at one of the Comic Cons. I consider her another one of my “Spirit Sisters”. We connected. That girl puts her expertise at work when it comes to knowing her paranormal stuff. I’ve helped her with opening her intuition and we would always talk about our own personal spiritual experiences. She’s done her share of film with Oddity Files, which I’ve helped on a couple of cases remotely. Knowing that spirit comes through regardless of being present in the room together we figured we would put it to the test. She asked me to help with a few of her cases through giving a reading or I would say putting the puzzle pieces together and it seems to mesh really well.

TCS: Can you share some details with us about your partnership with Dune Jewelry and the creation of the spiritual Cardinal Necklace?

TR: I love women supporting women. Dune Jewelry is owned by Holly Daniels Christensen a total no nonsense business woman who knows how powerful keeping the memories alive are. She also has a heart of an angel. That’s all we have is our own personal life experiences. She created experiential jewelry to help keep those memories alive. We collectively are working on multiple pieces of jewelry that are currently in production. They symbolize mind, body, spirit.

The first piece that came out was the cardinal. Why the cardinal? Well, our loved ones in spirit show us signs to let you know they are with us. The Cardinal being one of the most common signs that hold a place in your heart. People have shared that they filled their piece with sand from all over, abalone shells, even roses. It really is beautiful to see how they keep their own personal memory of their loved one alive.

TCS: Do you have a professional or personal mantra? If so, what meaning does it have for you and how does it apply to your life choices?

TR: My trademark is “We Are Never Truly Alone.” I feel like we are connected to spirit all of the time. I also am a firm believer that the Universe will always provide you with what you need for your highest and greatest good. What’s meant for you will not pass you by. You have to remain in a love base of positive mental attitude releasing all doubt. There really is no other option. I know sometimes it might be difficult to see the whole picture at once, however, when you make that commitment the abundance will flow.


TCS: What is the most rewarding aspect of your volunteer work with Aruba Animal Shelter?

TR: I help give them a voice. There are animals neglected, abused and abandoned. Some countries I work with don’t have the funds to spay and neuter. I help create the awareness. I’ve gone to Aruba on a special mission to help local shelters care for these animals and get the word out to adopt. Most recently I created a fundraiser to help raise funds for food, vitamins and total care for these fur babies. Since posting we collectively have been able to get around 20 dogs adopted so far. I will always have a soft spot for animals. I have three dogs of my own.

TCS: Can you describe for us both your short and long-term aspirations?

TR: I would have to say being grateful to wake up every day healthy being surrounded by some pretty amazing people in my life. As far as career, I want to continue to provide healing and validate that your loved ones in spirit are here with you. It doesn’t matter where you are located, energy is energy. Your loved ones come through regardless. I want to be that connecter. Essentially,  reaching as many people as I can through spirit connections and total inspiration connecting you to your full alignment of mind, body and spirit.

To stay connected with Tiffany Rice, please join her on the following:

About Francesco Vincenzo Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Since 2012, Francesco Vincenzo Iacono has served as the President and CEO of The Creative Spotlight, the ultimate destination for unearthing a wealth of undiscovered musical talent, reading exciting interviews, releasing new music and sharing exclusive videos.

Every good story needs a good storyteller. And, The Creative Spotlight has truly provided a quality forum for revealing those great stories. Through the years, the online publication has featured national and local musicians such as Ash Costello from New Years Day, Williams Honor, Stacey David Blades, Screaming For Silence, Ages Apart, Roxy Petrucci, Peter Beckett, We The Kings, Everything Falls, Rod Black, Derek Crider, Daniel Mason Band, The Rockin’ Krolik, Michelle Leigh, Jessie G., Karen Mansfield and Hillbilly Vegas.

Additionally, The Creative Spotlight has also focused on historic Pennsylvania-based paranormal venues such as the Eastern State Penitentiary, Pennhurst State School and Hospital, Paranormal investigator Kitsie Duncan, Spirit Medium Tiffany Rice, the Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride, well-known actors and actresses, published authors, professional artists, local businesses, consultants, trainers, speakers and more…

Frank earned a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he also received a Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.


Donna Melanson: Azul Yoga

Written by: Frank Iacono


Donna Melanson, ERYT200/ RYT500, is an experienced yoga teacher who teaches weekly classes and special events in collaboration with businesses and corporations in the Boca Raton, Florida area. She has studied yoga principles for years but has been fully teaching since 2011.

Donna is the founder of Azul Yoga and Azul Yoga Institute. She recently graduated her inaugural class of yoga teachers who have been trained in the Melanson Method, which is an amalgamation of the best parts of her training in several yoga disciplines including Vinyasa, Restorative and Yin Yoga, Yoga Nidra, Pranayama, Vedic Thai Yoga, and Meditation.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Donna Melanson and asking her a few questions about her educational and professional background, her perspective on yoga, her wellness philosophy, her daily live video streaming Sunrise Beach Yoga and Meditation on Periscope and Facebook Live, her newly released book A Yogi’s Path To Peace: My Journey to Self-Realization and her podcast “The Silent Bit”.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: How and when did you decide to embark in your profession as a Yoga Instructor and how many years have you been teaching?

Donna Melanson: I became a yoga teacher after years of pursuing all the things that I felt that I should be doing; Go to college, start a family, provide for that family, keep your head down, sacrifice, and work. Divorced, single for ten years, raising children as a single parent, while being self-employed left me feeling very empty. I was very successful in business and then I wasn’t, life happened, as it always does and I found myself reinventing my life. This time I told myself I going to recreate my life in the way I want to live and be in this world.


At the time I was reflecting and making my decisions I owned 100 acres in the mountains of North Carolina I would go there often and hike the land and commune with nature. It was the first time in many years that I would do something for myself and I felt truly happy and at peace. As I walked in the silence of nature I kept hearing the chant “Yoga! Yoga! Yoga!” in my head in the way they said, “Toga! Toga! Toga!” in the classic movie Animal House.

I wanted to practice yoga at the top of the mountain for some unknown reason. I didn’t know anyone who practiced yoga, and really didn’t know much about it. I must have talked about it a lot because a friend gave me a 30 min VHS gentle yoga tape and a too small too flimsy yoga mat. I started practicing every day and it left me in a deeper state of peace. A state that I could be in without having to go into the woods. I knew then that this was the path that I wanted to go in. This is how I wanted to live in this world. I’ve studied for years and have been fully teaching since 2011.

TCS: In your own words what is yoga? Additionally, please discuss for us some of the benefits yoga has for children, teens, and seniors?

DM: Yoga is the uniting of the body, mind, and spirit, and it’s this union that allows us to live in a more effortless state of being. When our body is settled, our minds become settled, it allows us to see clearly. In this clarity we connect to the spirit not only within ourselves, but we begin to see this divinity in everyone else as well.


Yoga is perfect for children, teens, seniors, anyone, and everyone at any age, at any level of fitness, or any ability to stretch. We all have to start where we are with what we have. The first yoga sutra states that yoga begins now. Meaning now in every present moment. Our yoga practice is about introspection, so we’re tuning in to ourselves discovering more about yourself. Noticing habits and patterns while connecting with the true nature of who we are. We practice these things on the mat doing the best that we can in that moment even if the best we can do is just show up and imagine doing the postures in our head that day. We show up, we practice, we get stronger in both our mind and body, and we practice these things on the mat so that we can take them off the mat and into our lives.

TCS: For the benefit of those who are not familiar with Donna Melanson or Azul Yoga, please share with us your education, certifications, training, and/or additional qualifications that you possess?

DM: I’m an experienced yoga teacher ERYT 200/RYT500 and have also had formal training in Yin, Restorative and Vedic Thai Yoga. I’ve had the opportunity and benefit of being with some of the top teachers in this country, I love my training and I love everything about my job, and I will forever continue to be a student of this practice.


TCS: How many different types of yoga do you teach and is there one specific style that you prefer and why?

DM: I teach Hatha, Vinyasa, Restorative, and Yin Yoga. I prefer the mindful meditative gentle approach to any style I teach.

TCS: As a Yoga Instructor what is your overall wellness philosophy?

DM: Mindfulness.

TCS: What inspired you to write your first book entitled A Yogi’s Path To Peace: My Journey to Self-Realization and can you provide us with a high-level synopsis?

DM: Around the same time that I started practicing yoga my life was falling apart on every level and the feeling had been there for over 10 years. At the same time, I developed a yearning to share my story because I felt that deep down it would help others and in turn it helped me when the book was finally published.

This is where my story starts, in the middle of a crisis, on a mountain top where I hear a calling to practice yoga—developing a deep-seated belief that the practice of yoga would change my life.

I realized to become conscious you have to look at yourself in your entirety. I began by going back through the stories of what I had told myself through the years about life, marriage, children, my childhood and relationships. Doing this I became aware that the stories I told myself may have actually happened but then wondering did they really happen that way and do they still happen that way because we keep repeating the same stories in our mind and in our conversations. It’s as if it is a part of who we are but can we change the narrative, and do we really know what we want our story to look like. Belief is a powerful energy.

Donna Melanson Book Cover

In this book, I share my life, so you can see what it looks like to change the way you think in order to change the way you live, in three parts: Know Yourself, Love Yourself, and Be Yourself.

Part One – Know Yourself: You need to begin where you are today. Through self-study and digging deep into habits, patterns, right perception, misperception, and the awareness of all things.

Part Two – Love Yourself: Demonstrates how to clear a path to living your best life through journal entries, blog posts, positive statements and yoga.

Part Three – Be Yourself: Living your truth, which leads to peace and happiness.

TCS: While writing the book, what surprised you the most and what did you learn from the overall experience?

DM: From writing the book, what surprised me the most was that this feeling that this was something I had to do versus something I wanted to do, and that the feeling never really went away.

TCS: In your opinion, what do you think draws people to yoga and specifically to participate in your program?

DM: I think people are looking for something when they find yoga. And, I’ve often wondered what drawls people to my program. Certainly, there are many instructors who are stronger and more adept in the postures, and certainly there are people who are more well versed in every aspect of yoga. But what some have told me it’s just who I am, and I only assume that they yoga has changed me and does affect every sense of my being, and that people feel that.

TCS: What advice do you have for people who have never tried yoga? And, why do you think some people may feel intimidated by yoga?

DM: I think many people are confused about yoga and I have to admit it can be a little confusing if you don’t know anything about yoga because now there are as many types of yoga as choices in types of food. A big difference between a scoop of white rice and a meal that may be served at a fine French restaurant. Many people come to me and think yoga is about stretching, and others think it’s more of a power exercise class, where you need a prerequisite in gymnastics to attend. So it’s no wonder it’s intimidating.

Truth is, just like finding what foods you like. You may have to try a few different styles of yoga, and then once you fine a style that resonates with you may need to try like chef’s different teachers to serve that style to you. Whatever style resonates with you will all help to lead you down the same path. Many studios offer yoga basic classes to help you get started. Just remember it’s your time on the mat. Pay attention to your own body and do what’s best for you.

TCS: In a class full of people with wildly different aims, how do you strive to keep everyone engaged and motivated?

DM: There are many factors that can keep people coming to your class or keep them away. All you can do is show up and give the best class that you can at the moment. With the intention that they receive everything that they need at that moment.

TCS: Can you describe some of the safety precautions you take during your yoga class sessions to prevent injuries?

DM: I’m not a doctor, although I do know a lot about anatomy, therefore I never ask people about injuries. If, however someone wants to talk to me about their injury before or after class I’m happy to talk to them about how they can accommodate to protect themselves. During class, if I witness someone struggling I let them know that they are free to come out of the pose. I give everyone permission listen to their bodies and to not do any pose or adjust as needed. Yoga as I said is about self-awareness. We need to learn to tune in and trust our innate intuition on what is best for us.

TCS: Can you please share some details about your podcast “The Silent Bit” and where we can find it?

DM: I created the “The Silent Bit” podcast because I continually felt compelled to send Peace out into the world. I was feeling overwhelmed and didn’t want anyone to every feel the way I felt and that is why I am still doing my daily LIVE broadcast on Periscope as well as the podcast.

The Silent Bit

As yoga and meditation teachers, we are a kind of like nomads moving around from studio-to-studio sharing our practice, doing our small part. While sitting in the silence, I became curious as to what brought other yoga teachers to the profession. I wondered what they were trying to teach or communicate? I thought it would be interesting to be led through a meditation session with new yogis as everyone brings something different to the table and we all learn in different ways by trying different styles of meditation.

I started this podcast late April 2020 and at the time of this writing, we’re currently being broadcasted in and have an audience in twenty-five different countries. So, I hope you all check it out. It can be found on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Anchor, Overcast, Google Podcast, Breaker, PocketCasts, and RadioPublic. So pretty much anywhere you listen to podcasts. Just search for, “The Silent Bit”.

TCS: Tell us how you discovered live video streaming on Periscope and describe for us your Sunrise Beach Yoga and Meditation?

DM: I’ve been streaming on Periscope for about six months. I started after moving to close to the beach a year and a half ago. I wanted to create the daily habit for myself of yoga and meditation at sunrise at the beach, a desire that come to me during my first yoga teacher training many years before. I started going to the beach every morning and it was so beautiful and t was so inspiring that I felt that I had to share. So, over a year ago I started posting photos to my Instagram account with inspirational sayings. While on the beach one morning I ran into a friend who told me about periscope. So, I began. That’s how things happen right, it’s about just showing up and just doing it, and you set the intention to help, and hopefully you do. Periscope has propelled me to a higher level. Broadcasting to people from all over the world suddenly gaining well over 20,000 followers and still growing.


TCS: Describe for us in greater detail the many benefits of some of the more common yoga postures including the following:

DM: Here are some of the more common yoga postures and their specific benefits:

  • Alternate Nostril Breathing – We practice alternate nostril breathing to clear energy pathways. When the left side, which is the feminine side, is clear it brings us more peace and serenity. When the right side, the masculine side is clear it gives us more energy. So when we practice flowing back and forth alternating the nostrils, we balance and get that perfect blend of strength and peace.
  • Child’s Pose – A relaxing posture that is great for digestion. The forward flexion massages the abdominal organs and helps release muscular tension along spine into the hips. It’s a great time to take a moment to honor yourself, honor your body, and your time on the mat.
  • Downward Dog – Strengthens and stretches the legs, arms, and shoulders. Creates balance, integration, and grounding of the whole body. Helps to calm the nervous system.
  • Gratitude Meditation Meditation – Is meant free our awareness from identifying with our thoughts and what we’re sensing. When we practice gratitude meditation or any meditation where we are concentrating on one thing, be it gratitude, our breath, or a mantra, it’s the first step in learning to have awareness in every moment but not to cling to our thoughts that keep popping into our heads. Aware that they are there but then letting go, as we focus our attention on one thing. Meditating on gratitude specifically allows us to shift our thought to all that is good and working. We shift our thoughts because our thoughts become words, and our words become actions, and our actions become our present reality. We want to live in a world where we have more things to be thankful for, so this where we need to begin.
  • Lotus Pose Increases – Flexibility in the hips, legs, knees, ankles and feet. It strengthens the core and helps to develop good posture.
  • Mountain Pose – Teaches us the basic alignment for all poses. You are grounded, and you pause here to witness your conscious thoughts with detachment.
  • Plank – Strengthens your overall body especially your core.
  • Tree – Strengthens the legs and your core for balance.
  • Warrior – Helps to increase flexibility in the hips and shoulders, strengthens the core. In fact, all muscles are engaged as they are in every pose, but they’re softened after engagement. We want a little bit of movement in a lot of places. We want all muscles involved and working. So here in this warrior pose is a great place to feel the strength of the warrior and the peace of the yogi. Strong but soft.


TCS: Are there any celebrated situations where you feel you’ve made a huge impact in someone’s life?

DM: I can’t really speak to how huge an impact I’ve made on other people although I have had people come up to me, call me and write me in gratitude. But I can speak to the huge impact I’ve made on my own life. I once looked on the outside as a very lucky and successful person. I had money, cars, and many other “things”, but I wasn’t happy, and I tortured myself in my mind with thoughts. That’s what yoga did for me, and it’s why I want to share and teach. I know that happiness starts here, and I want everyone to get to this place of peace.

TCS: What is your personal mantra and how does it sum up your life?

DM: My personal mantra is So Hum.  So Hum is a Hindu mantra, meaning “I am She/He/That” in Sanskrit. I am on the sense that we are connected to all things.

TCS: What is the best way to stay connected to you and your company?

I invite you to stay connected with me on the following social platforms:

TCS: For those suffering from low self-esteem and deep-rooted emotional issues what specifically do you bring to the table to help them discover and/or focus on making improvements to their overall health and well-being?

DM: That’s a big question, and again I’m not a doctor, but I do know what helped me, and I do believe that the practice can help anyone. There are 8 limbs to yoga, and when we have time to dive deeper into these limbs, they all help to get us to that place of peace and self-acceptance. Our minds and bodies are connected so when we practice the totality of yoga. The breathing, the physical practice the mindfulness, the meditation, the observances and restraints. We not only become stronger physically but mentally.

The photography shown in this article was shot by Andrea Blakesberg Photography.

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Since 2012, Frank Iacono has served as the President and CEO of The Creative Spotlight, the ultimate destination for unearthing a wealth of undiscovered musical talent, reading exciting interviews, releasing new music and sharing exclusive videos.

Every good story needs a good storyteller. And, The Creative Spotlight has truly provided a quality forum for revealing those great stories. Through the years, the online publication has featured national and local musicians such as Ash Costello from New Years Day, Williams Honor, Stacey David Blades, Screaming For Silence, Ages Apart, Roxy Petrucci, Peter Beckett, We The Kings, Everything Falls, Rod Black, Derek Crider, Daniel Mason Band, The Rockin’ Krolik, Michelle Leigh, Jessie G., Karen Mansfield and Hillbilly Vegas.

Additionally, The Creative Spotlight has also focused on historic Pennsylvania-based paranormal venues such as the Eastern State Penitentiary, Pennhurst State School and Hospital, Paranormal investigator Kitsie Duncan, Spirit Medium Tiffany Rice, the Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride, well-known actors and actresses, published authors, professional artists, local businesses, consultants, trainers, speakers and more…

Frank earned a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he also received a Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Jim Werner: Pennhurst School and State Hospital

Written by: Frank Iacono

In 1903, the Pennsylvania Legislature authorized the creation of the Pennhurst State School and Hospital, originally known as the Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic. The institution, which officially opened its doors on November 23, 1908, was the second such state-operated facility and served the mentally and physically disabled individuals of Southeastern PA.

From the outset, the Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution was overcrowded. Designed for epileptics and persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, there was tremendous pressure to admit many different persons whom society, steeped in the eugenics movement, wanted removed from the gene pool, including immigrants, orphans, criminals, etc.

Unfortunately, cruel punishments were common at the facility. Overworked staff responded to unruly patients by drugging them into submission or chaining them to their beds. Other residents were isolated for such long periods of time that they regressed and lost their will to speak, fight or even to live.

In 1968, Philadelphia CBS correspondent Bill Baldini produced an exposé on the institution entitled “Suffer the Little Children” which uncovered the atrocities of the facility and created a sympathetic public sediment. His exposure led to a massive lawsuit. In 1987, the facility officially closed its doors and the network of buildings was neglected and left to the tortured, sad spirits.

In 2010, to the shock and dismay of many – especially those in the mental and physical disabilities community – Pennhurst owners worked with Randy Bates of The Bates Motel Halloween attraction located in Glenn Mills, PA to turn Pennhurst’s historic lower campus into a commercial Halloween “haunted” attraction.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Werner, the Operations Manager of Pennhurst Asylum, and asked him about the history, the eugenics movement, the five-part news report, the annual haunted attraction and “good to know” facts concerning the Pennhurst State School and Hospital.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: When the Pennhurst School and State Hospital opened its doors on November 23, 1908, how did the Eugenics movement influence the purpose of the institution for the feeble minded and epileptic and what problems ensued?

Jim Werner: At the time, when the Pennhurst School and State Hospital opened its doors in 1908 in Spring City, Pennsylvania, people with special needs were perceived as a subclass very similar to how African Americans were regarded. Pennhurst was part of a national trend to segregate individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities from mainstream society. To that extent, I feel that the Eugenics movement was a flawed science in that it truly discouraged aiding the sick and poor. In the prior century, the ongoing idea was that by pulling those with special needs out of society it both protected society and also gave them a place to live safely. We know that without knowledge there can’t be change and as society was never exposed to the disabled, they were seen as an almost non-existent and unknown population.

TCS: Can you provide us with at least three historical facts about the Pennhurst State School and Hospital that the average person wouldn’t know?

JW: Three “Good to Know” facts about the Pennhurst School and State Hospital, include:

  • When the facility opened in 1908, the administration building had not yet been completed so the Philadelphia building was actually used as the original Admin building.
  • There was a time when train cars could travel all the way up from the main tracks to the middle of the lower campus in the area of the Dietary building
  • The Pennhurst School and State Hospital was never actually an asylum.

TCS: How many buildings encompassed the Pennhurst facility and what were the buildings used for?

JW: At its height, the Pennhurst School and State Hospital encompassed more than 30 buildings. The earliest of which, designed by Phillip H. Johnson, were constructed of red brick, terra cotta and granite trimmings and are connected by a series of underground tunnels that stretch for miles. Pennhurst was a self-sufficient community as its 1,400-acre site contained a firehouse, general store, barbershop, greenhouse, hospital with a morgue, auditorium, farm, power plant, and even a graveyard.

TCS: When Pennhurst was built how many patients was it initially built to accommodate and how many occupants did it have at its fullest capacity? Additionally, what was the ratio of doctors and nurses or employees to patients?

JW: The Pennhurst facility was initially designed to house around 500 patients, by 1912 the institution was almost immediately overpopulated. Once in, every patient was given a classification of mental prowess, either as an “imbecile” or “insane” and physically as either “epileptic” or “healthy.” Many of the people that were placed in the School and State Hospital should not have been. In 1946, there were only seven physicians serving over 2,000 patients with no room for the 1,000 still on the waiting list for admission. By the mid-1960s, the facility, housed 2,791 people, most of them children, which was about 900 more than the administration thought the buildings could comfortably accommodate. The staff was extremely overwhelmed and unable to properly care for the patients.

TCS: In your opinion, do you feel that Pennhurst predominantly assisted in providing a positive learning experience for the patients or do you feel its programs and resources caused more harm than good?

JW: For some of the patients, the answer is “yes” and for others the answer is “no”. The high functioning patients could work and live a pretty full life on site without the persecution of the general public raining down on them. However, with a budget shortfall and staffing issues the low functioning patients were not cared for in a manner that would help to improve their condition. By the mid-1960s, only 200 of the residents were in any kind of art, education, or recreation programs.

TCS: In 1968, Bill Baldini, a local CBS Philadelphia newsman, opened the eyes to the horrors of Pennhurst when he exposed it during a five-part series entitled Suffer the Little Children. How did this expose change the daily operations of Pennhurst and Pennsylvania laws concerning the treatment of the mentally disabled?

JW: Bill Baldini, then a fledgling TV reporter, heard about the Pennhurst School and State Hospital facility and went there one day to visit and was immediately appalled at the conditions. Baldini has said that when he left that day, he cried the entire way home in his car. His five-part exposé outraged the public and truly painted a picture of neglect and abuse in the Chester County, PA institution. Many of the regular news viewers found it very difficult to stomach the coverage. This state-funded school and hospital center was at the heart of the human rights movement that revolutionized this country’s approach to healthcare for the mentally and physically handicapped. This facility was one of the most striking examples of the maltreatment that was characteristic of such institutions––at one point, papers labeled it “The Shame of the Pennsylvania”.

TCS: Who and how many are buried in the Pennhurst Memorial Cemetery? Can you tell us if these were patients of the hospital and why didn’t family members come to claim their bodies?

JW: The Pennhurst Memorial Cemetery is located on the grounds of the Pennhurst State School and Hospital. From a time period between 1918 and 1933 there were 40 former residents are buried. Unfortunately, I cannot answer why they didn’t claim their bodies with anything other than just speculation.

TCS: Can you describe for us some of the coverage that the Pennhurst School and State Hospital has received especially on shows like Ghost Finders, Syfy’s Ghost Hunter and the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and Paranormal Challenge?

JW: The Pennhurst School and State Hospital site has long been regarded as a paranormal hotspot by some of the shows within that genre and they draw specifically on that reputation.

On Ghost Finders (Season 4, Episode 10 and Season 4, Episode 9 Pennhurst), join team members Rob, Heather and Amber as they capture some incredible evidence caught on camera.

On Ghost Adventures (Season 3, Episode 1), Zak Bagans, Nick Groff, Aaron Goodwin travel to Pennhurst State School and Hospital in Pennsylvania, which was an institution for both the mentally and physically disabled. Pennhurst State closed in 1987 after several allegations of abuse, including dehumanization.

On Ghost Hunters Live: Pennhurst State (Season 7, Episode 21), the Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) team and some special guests spend six hours at Pennhurst State School and Hospital, with live interactive features so that the viewing audience can join in the chase.

On Paranormal Challenge (Season 1, Episode 3), creator and host Zak Bagans invites two teams of amateur ghost hunters to spend the night locked down inside haunted hotspots. During the night, the teams will put their paranormal skills to the test by conducting a ghost investigation with high-tech gear and their own knowledge. The teams will then present their findings to Bagans and a panel of three paranormal experts who judge the teams on teamwork, use of technology and evidence collected during the lockdown.

In this episode, the New Jersey Ghost Hunters Society take a more methodical approach to investigating the looming spirits of Pennhurst State School, while the rough-and-tumble Quest Paranormal Society employ an in-your-face plan of attack.

TCS: While working at Pennhurst, have you personally experienced any paranormal encounters such as shadows, unexplained lights or apparitions? If so, can you please describe where and what happened specifically?

JW: Fortunately, or unfortunately, while I’ve worked at Pennhurst School and State Hospital I have not personally experienced any paranormal encounters.

TCS: In October of 2010, Pennhurst owners worked with Randy Bates of the Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride attraction in Glen Mills, PA was to turn Pennhurst historic lower campus into a commercial Halloween “haunted” attraction. With that, can you share what visitors to the annual event will experience during their trip to the Pennhurst Haunted Asylum?

JW: Visitors to the annual event can enjoy four terrifying attractions featuring the Pennhurst Asylum, The Dungeon of Lost Souls, Containment and Mayflower After Dark.

Pennhurst Asylum

The Pennhurst Asylum is a “Hospital” themed walk through attraction featuring many items and artifacts that are salvaged from the original State School. Located on the upper floors of the old Administration building, which dates to 1908, this attraction features fine detail and realism through a combination of high tech animatronics, digital sound and highly trained actors.

The Dungeon of Lost Souls

Enter the world of the underground as your soul is led down the steps of the past to go back in time to a labyrinth of dilapidated cells, never ending halls, and be forced to confront a series of human experiments that have gone horribly and deadly wrong. This experience includes CGI special effects, illusions, attention to detail and ghosts that have never left the halls.

Containment (Tunnels) New* 2017!

Containment is a new attraction for 2017 that takes you through a 1,200-foot-long gauntlet underneath the Pennhurst complex. Stationed as a government facility hidden underground for decades, you will bear witness to patients being experimented on in the most inhumane ways possible. Lucky for you, this research facility is still accepting patients! The brand-new sets and scares of this attraction are guaranteed to produce horrifying screams and nightmares to come.

Mayflower After Dark

The final attraction, Mayflower After Dark, is a self-guided tour of the Mayflower Building, reportedly the most ghostly active of all the locations on the campus. It’s featured on Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters. No actors or props, visitors are sent at their own risk to wander through the dormitory, left caught in the sands of time just as it was 26 years ago. Search for spirits on your own, or let them find you first. Included is a museum of Pennhurst State School artifacts with real former employees taking you back in time to what life was really like for the patients.

Contact or Visit Pennhurst

Pennhurst School and State Hospital
Church Street and Bridge Road
Spring City, PA 19475
Phone: 484-886-6080
Get Directions

TCS: What can you tell us about the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance?

JW: The Mission of the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance is to promote an understanding of the struggle for dignity and full civil rights for persons with disabilities, using the little-known history at Pennhurst. By sharing this tragic story as well as its landmark victories, they seek to educate citizens in local, national and international communities, to assure that we never go back.

The Vision of the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance is to be part of an effort to create a world-class museum to honor and memorialize the ongoing civil and human rights struggle of Americans with disabilities at a location of national significance.

TCS: Where do you see the Pennhurst property in the next 20 years?

JW: We very much hope that the essential buildings located on the Pennhurst site can be economically restored. From a historical perspective, we plan to have a museum or other venue on the property to recognize the site’s vast history and display artifacts. Additionally, our goal is to continue to operate and expand the Halloween haunted house attractions on a year-to-year basis.

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Since 2012, Frank Iacono has served as the President and CEO of The Creative Spotlight, the ultimate destination for unearthing a wealth of undiscovered musical talent, reading exciting interviews, releasing new music and sharing exclusive videos.

Every good story needs a good storyteller. And, The Creative Spotlight has truly provided a quality forum for revealing those great stories. Through the years, the online publication has featured national and local musicians such as Screaming For Silence, Ages Apart, Roxy Petrucci, Peter Beckett, We The Kings, Everything Falls, Rod Black, Derek Crider, Daniel Mason Band, Michelle Leigh, Jessie G., Karen Mansfield and Hillbilly Vegas. Additionally, we’ve also focused on historic Pennsylvania-based paranormal venues, well-known actors and actresses, published authors, professional artists, local businesses, consultants, trainers, speakers and more…

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he earned his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Eastern State Penitentiary: America’s Most Historic Prison

Written by: Frank Iacono

Construction of the Eastern State Penitentiary, America’s most historic prison, began on a cherry orchard outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1822. The chosen design created by British-born architect John Haviland was a technological marvel which consisted of seven wings of individual cell blocks radiating from a center hub; this was unlike any other prison design seen before the penitentiary opened in 1829.

Eastern State, at its completion was the most expensive public structure ever built, is considered to be the world’s first true penitentiary. It was initially renowned for its Enlightenment-inspired efforts to reform inmates rather than merely punish them. Eventually, this system was abandoned in favor of solitary confinement and a Death Row block. The once-genteel penitentiary housed, at one time, the most notorious prohibition-era gangster – Al Capone. Capone’s private cell even allowed him to have fine antiques and Oriental carpets.

The prison was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and closed in 1971. It is now considered by several sources to be one of the most haunted places in America. The penitentiary has been featured on the Travel Channel’s Most Haunted Live, Ghost Adventures, and Paranormal Challenge; Fox Television’s World’s Scariest Places; TLC’s America’s Ghost Hunters; and MTV’s FEAR.

Today, Eastern State Penitentiary is open for tours seven days a week, year-round. Visitors can explore the cell blocks and learn about the history of this facility and its relevance. Eastern State offers a daily guided tour with one of their expert tour guides, or visitors can take a self-guided audio tour, “The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sean Kelley, Senior Vice President & Director of Interpretation and Amy Hollaman, Associate Director, Events and Operations; Creative Director for Terror Behind the Walls and asked them about the history, the correctional system of incarceration, notorious criminals who were incarcerated, the annual Terror Behind the Walls and “good to know” facts concerning the Eastern State Penitentiary.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: The Eastern State Penitentiary, which was designed by John Haviland and opened its doors on October 25, 1829, was considered the first true penitentiary. Why do you think it received this designation and what made it so controversial?

Sean Kelley: Eastern State is considered the world’s first true penitentiary because of its intent, to instill penitence and true regret in the hearts of its prisoners. Eastern State’s focus was on achieving this penitence through silence, prayer, and labor, all of which took place in the solitude of inmates’ cells. Solitary confinement was a revolutionary concept when compared to prisons at the time, where inmates of all ages and crimes were housed together and physical punishment was the norm. Now, we can look back at the system of isolation that was so prevalent at the beginning of Eastern State’s history and recognize how, although it was supposed to be a solution to prison reform, it truly was harmful for inmates.

Curious how the building has changed over time? Here’s an online tour from 1998.

TCS: For the benefit of those who are not familiar with the Eastern State Penitentiary, can you provide us with at least three “Good to Know” facts?

SK: Three “Good to Know” facts about the Eastern State Penitentiary, include:

  • Eastern State Penitentiary’s system of solitude was seen as a revolutionary concept in prison reform. But what we know now, nearly 200 years later, is that solitary confinement is incredibly damaging for people’s mental health.
  • Architect John Haviland’s wagon wheel design of Eastern State has been copied over 300 times. There is a prison that looks just like Eastern State on every continent except Antarctica.
  • The penitentiary had running water and central heat before the White House!

TCS: Eastern State Penitentiary is touted as America’s Most Historic Prison. Can you perhaps share with us some stories about notorious criminals who were incarcerated there such as bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton and Al “Scarface” Capone?

SK: One of the most famous bank robbers in American History, “Slick Willie” Sutton spent 11 years at Eastern State Penitentiary. In 1945 Sutton, along with 11 other prisoners, escaped from Eastern State in an inmate-dug tunnel that went almost 100 feet underground. Sutton was recaptured just minutes later. Over the course of his criminal career Sutton is credited with over 50 bank robberies, three successful escapes from prison, and over 30 years served behind bars. Visitors can step into the cell and view the hole from which Sutton and 11 others escaped.

Our visitors also enjoy viewing the cell of Chicago’s most famous mob boss, Al Capone. According to news reports, his time at Eastern State was spent in relative luxury. Reports stated that his cell housed a cabinet radio, oriental rug, and fine furniture. He also had his tonsils removed from the penitentiary operating room in 1929.

Take a 360-degree panorama view of Al Capone’s cell by visiting

TCS: Please explain Eastern State’s revolutionary so-called separate philosophy or correctional system of incarceration, dubbed as the Pennsylvania System of Confinement?

SK: The separate system, or Pennsylvania System, was based on the idea that penitence would lead to reform. Through silence, spiritual reflection, and physical labor, criminals were supposed to find this penitence in their hearts and change their ways. The early system was strict. Inmates has no contact with each other, and even interactions with guards was mild. Meals were even passed through a feeding hole, limiting guard/inmate interaction further. When inmates were taken from their cells, a hood was placed over their head to avoid any contact.

TCS: Can you please describe for us what an inmate experienced in the 1800’s under the Pennsylvania System of Confinement?

SK: When Eastern State was designed, its architect had to create solutions to ensure the success of this separate system. Originally, each cellblock and individual cell was designed with similar architecture to a church, with high, arched ceilings and a single skylight. Because each cell was meant for a single inmate, each has its own exercise yard and flushing toilet.

The penitentiary’s most famous architectural aspect is its radial design, with a central surveillance hub and seven cellblock which radiated from it much like a wagon wheel. This was to ensure complete and total surveillance to ensure control. As additional cellblocks were built over time, this idea of surveillance became harder and harder to achieve.

TCS: Can you please describe for us some of the horrible forms of punishment that the inmates encountered when they broke the rules?

SK: Eastern State officials mostly avoided physical punishments, though straightjackets and other restraints were occasionally applied.

In the 1800s, Eastern State’s “silent system,” or “Pennsylvania system,” stood in opposition to the Auburn system of incarceration employed in New York State prisons such as Auburn and Sing Sing. The Auburn system housed prisoners in solitary cells overnight, but grouped them together during the day for silent labor. Auburn administrators used corporal punishment on those who broke prison rules, while Eastern State officials largely avoided such punishments.

On occasion, Eastern State officials placed prisoners who became unruly or violent, and those who repeatedly disturbed the penitentiary’s silence, in restraints such as the “iron gag” and the “composing chair” (also called the “mad chair” or “tranquilizing chair”). One prisoner, Mathias Maccumsey, died after being placed in the iron gag for attempting to communicate with other prisoners.

Another punishment that officials used on occasion in the 1800s was the “shower bath.” A “shower bath” was a punishment used by prison officials in which a prisoner was restrained and doused with water.

Though solitary confinement had been used in the prison’s early years for rehabilitative purposes, by the early 1900s, solitary cells were reserved for those who broke prison rules. Infractions that resulted in solitary confinement included stealing items from the kitchen, fighting, gambling, cursing an officer, and other misconducts.

TCS: Please share with us the specific changes that occurred to the Penitentiary in the 1900’s and how those changes affected the prisoners daily living conditions and interactions with other inmates versus the 1800s?

SK: The separate system that Eastern State was so infamous for had begun to erode early on. By the late 1800s, inmates were issued hoods with— for the first time—eye holes. They would exercise together, in silence and anonymity. A congregate workshop was added to the complex in 1905, eight years before the Pennsylvania System was officially discontinued. With a large number of prisoners in an aging structure, the system of solitary isolation was completely abandoned in 1913.

An issue that faced the wardens of Eastern State, which we still face today, is prison overcrowding. As the penitentiary took in more and more prisoners, the separate system was no longer realistic or achievable. The original seven cellblocks were no longer enough to hold inmates, and by the time the penitentiary closed in 1970, an additional 8 cellblocks had been added. This compromised both the system of isolation and surveillance that was so pivotal in the 1800s.

TCS: By 1965, the Federal Government designated Eastern State Penitentiary as a National Historic Landmark. In 1971, it was closed. Can you describe for us the various proposals the City of Philadelphia had for the property after it purchased it for redevelopment?

SK: Eastern State sat abandoned for about 16 years before it went up for sale in 1987. Developers placed bids ranging from $2.5 million to $3 million. Suggested developments included a condominium complex, a supermarket, restaurants, and a nightclub. The following year, the preservationist group Eastern State Task Force (which would eventually become Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, Inc.) was formed and the first limited group tours of the prison are offered. The rest, as they say, is history.

TCS: Please describe for us what the public can expect to see or encounter during one of the historic public tours?

SK: There is something for everyone at Eastern State. We offer a daily guided tour with one of our expert tour guides, or visitors can take a self-guided audio tour, “The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi. Eastern State also features history exhibits and a critically acclaimed series of artist installations. Visitors can enjoy Hands-On History interactive experiences which allow visitors a closer look through short demonstrations with our expert tour guides. Our latest exhibit, Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration, looks at our nation’s skyrocketing incarceration rate and the driving factors behind it. Eastern State sits on nearly 11 acres, so we encourage visitors to walk around and explore everything the museum has to offer!

TCS: When do you start preparing for Terror Behind the Walls and tell us what exactly goes in to the overall preparation process?

Amy Hollaman: Terror Behind the Walls, America’s largest haunted house, is located inside the massive, castle-like walls of Eastern State Penitentiary. This extraordinary theatrical production is consistently ranked among the top haunted attractions in the nation. Preparation takes place year-round, and once the event is up-and-running it takes an elite team of 14 makeup artists almost three hours to prepare the cast of more than 200 performers each evening.

Terror Behind the Walls is the single largest source of revenue for Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, Inc., the 501(c)3 tax-exempt, charitable organization that administers both the daytime prison tour program and the Halloween fundraiser. Since 1991, Terror Behind the Walls has raised more than $5.3 million to fund preservation efforts at this National Historic Landmark.

With the help of Terror Behind the Walls, Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is thriving. Daytime prison tours are available every day, year-round, from 10 am to 5 pm.

TCS: Terror Behind the Walls an annual Haunted House Halloween event, consists of six startling attractions. Can you please describe each of the attractions and tell us what you feel entices visitors from across the country to attend year after year?

AH: Terror Behind the Walls (TBTW) consists of six haunted attractions that create a seamless experience for visitors. All six attractions are included in one admission price. As visitors enter Terror Behind the Walls, they are confronted with a critical decision: should they explore the prison and watch the action, or should they mark themselves 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 even occasionally incorporated into the show. They will deal with the consequences of their decision through six long attractions:

  • Lock Down: The creatures of Lock Down: The Uprising have risen to TBTW from the depths of the darkest universe. They are agile, ruthless, and hungry for flesh. They have no law, no chain of command, no concept of confinement.
  • Machine Shop: Hidden deep inside the cell blocks is a long-forgotten Machine Shop. Evil pervades this space – an evil with one mind but with many bodies.
  • Infirmary: The Infirmary takes the fear of hospitals to a whole new level. Discover the world of prison medical treatment, including shock therapy, hydrotherapy, and other torturous experiments gone wrong.
  • Blood Yard: The carnage sends a clear message: You could be next. Hunt or be hunted!
  • Quarantine 4D: Flat walls appear to have depth, creatures emerge from seemingly nowhere, and some brave visitors will be challenged to face their worst fears.
  • Break Out: Inmates surround you using every way imaginable to escape. Keep an eye out at every corner, as inmates may even be using YOU to aid in their attempt to gain freedom.


Be the first to know about our new attraction – follow us @TerrorAtESP on:

TCS: Can you describe for us the coverage that Eastern State received on Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and Most Haunted Live, Syfy’s Ghost Hunters, MTVs Fear and others?

SK: Many people believe that Eastern State Penitentiary is haunted. As early as the 1940s, officers and inmates reported mysterious visions and eerie experiences in the ancient prison. With the growing interest in paranormal investigations, Eastern State Penitentiary may now be the most carefully studied building in the United States. Approximately 60 paranormal teams visit to explore the site in a typical year. The penitentiary has been featured on the Travel Channel’s Most Haunted LiveGhost Adventures, and Paranormal Challenge; Fox Television’s World’s Scariest Places; TLC’s America’s Ghost Hunters; and MTV’s FEAR. Footage captured on the second tier of Cellblock 12 by paranormal investigators during filming of SyFy’s Ghost Hunters may be the most controversial ghost sighting in history. During the filming of Paranormal Challenge S01E02, host Zak Bagans called Eastern State Penitentiary “one of the most haunted places in the world.”

Contact or Visit:

The Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site
2027 Fairmount Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Phone: 215-236-3300

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Since 2012, Frank Iacono has served as the President and CEO of The Creative Spotlight, the ultimate destination for unearthing a wealth of undiscovered musical talent, reading exciting interviews, releasing new music and sharing exclusive videos.

Every good story needs a good storyteller. And, The Creative Spotlight has truly provided a quality forum for revealing those great stories. Through the years, the online publication has featured national and local musicians such as Screaming For Silence, Ages Apart, Roxy Petrucci, Peter Beckett, We The Kings, Everything Falls, Rod Black, Derek Crider, Daniel Mason Band, Michelle Leigh, Jessie G., Karen Mansfield and Hillbilly Vegas. Additionally, we’ve also focused on historic Pennsylvania-based paranormal venues, well-known actors and actresses, published authors, professional artists, local businesses, consultants, trainers, speakers and more…

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he earned his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Joanne Thompson: Thompson Landry Gallery

Written by: Frank Iacono


As Canada’s only gallery specializing exclusively in Quebec artwork, the Thompson Landry Gallery, which officially opened in March of 2006 by Joanne Thompson and her partner Sylvain Landry, has gained international recognition for its unique ability to provide a space in which the spirit and culture of Quebec is encapsulated.

Housed in the heart of Toronto’s Historic Distillery District, The Thompson Landry Gallery, an impressive 7,000 square feet in total, is comprised of two distinct spaces: The Stone Distillery Building and The Cooperage Space. Each gallery offers a dynamic and exciting ambiance that pays homage to the work of both the very best contemporary artists and the Great Masters from the province of Quebec. Appropriately deemed “The Temple of Quebec Art” by the Toronto Star, the Thompson Landry Gallery is the only location where you can find the talent and diversity that Quebec artists have achieved in their work.

Each gallery space simultaneously reflects their architectural history and boasts unique backdrops that emphasize the artwork on display. Painting, sculpture, glass work, and photography are all set against the original limestone and exposed brick and plaster walls. The juxtaposition between the artwork and the rawness of the spaces creates an extraordinary experience for the viewer.

Always on the leading edge of the artwork coming out of the province of Quebec, the Thompson Landry Gallery pushes the boundaries to find work that is both innovative and exceptional.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joanne Thompson and asking her about her early art influences, her background, her specific style of art, her favorite artists, and her passion for being an art dealer.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: How and when did you decide to embark in your profession as a gallerist? And, what made you decide to set up shop in the historic Distillery District in Toronto, Ontario Canada?

Joanne Thompson: In 2004 my partner Sylvain Landry and I decided that we wanted to open a gallery in Toronto. The key was finding the perfect place for it. We wanted something that was spacious and had a lot of character. Not something cold and sterile, but a place our clients would feel at home.

The Stone Building at the Distillery District had all those characteristics. I could also design and finish it the way I wanted. We knew we had to build our clientele, so opening in a walking arts district with other galleries, a theatre and one of a kind shops (the Distillery District) made sense to us. It took two years of planning, and we also needed to wait until the Distillery finished the building (late 2005) so that we could move in and finish our space. We finally opened our gallery in March 2006.


My background is in set design and stage management for theatre. I also worked as a scenic artist in the art department for film and TV. I have always collected artwork, and contemporary Quebec artwork in particular. Artists from Quebec continually asked for my partner Sylvain’s and my opinion on where they should be represented in Toronto. We tried to help them out, but there was never a perfect match. That was when we realized that there was a place in Toronto for a gallery that specialized in the works of contemporary Quebec artists.

TCS: For the benefit of those who are not familiar with Joanne Thompson or the Thompson Landry Gallery, please share with us your education, certifications, training, and/or additional qualifications that you possess?

JT: I graduated in 1993 with an Honours BFA in Theatre – specifically in set design and stage management. That training helped me to be able to think of the design of a room as a whole, and stage management taught me how to be ridiculously organized and deal with pressure. Hanging an exhibition is just a little like producing a theatrical production. I do not have any formal training in curatorial studies or art sales. Being able to visualize a space where the work is to be displayed in three dimensions is of upmost importance to creating a well curated hang.


I was drawn to Contemporary Quebec artwork in particular because the artists continually push and manipulate the boundaries of their artwork. You can find this in so many ways: in their subjects, their use of mediums, their fearlessness in their approach to their artwork. Nothing supersedes the passion that you can find in their work, and that is something that I truly believe in.

TCS: Can you specifically define what educational path one would take to become a curator?

JT: There are some great universities in Canada that have curatorial and art history courses. For post grad, Sotheby’s Institute of Art has locations in NYC, Los Angeles and London which is a very good way to learn more of the business side of the art world. I believe that interning at an auction house, commercial gallery or museum to get some hands-on experience is always a good idea. Obtaining as much diverse experience as possible is what I would recommend. I would also say that life experience is key. Travelling, visiting galleries, exhibitions and art shows will help to give a better overall perspective of what is happening in the world of art, and will open your mind to new ideas.


TCS: How have your experiences as an artist shaped your approach to running a gallery?

JT: Coming from a design background I have an appreciation for the time and creative effort it takes for an artist to put together either just one piece, or a full exhibition of works. I think it helps me to understand their process and it makes working together enjoyable and stress free.

TCS: Was there a specific artist that you were most excited about bringing into the Thompson Landry Gallery? And, tell us how you determine which art and artists you will showcase?

JT: I think that the artist I was most excited about bringing onboard at the Thompson Landry Gallery when we first opened 10 years ago was abstract artist, Jean-Pierre Lafrance. He had 35 years of experience and his masterful abstracts are some of the best in Canada. I had collected his works, and respected him as an artist, for many years.

There are several determining factors to choosing artists for the gallery. The first, and most importantly, is we need to love and believe in what the artist does. We always look at whether the artist has something original to say, and do their works consistently share that with the viewer. Finally, it is important to look at whether their works compliment the roster we have already created, and do they add a new perspective and something exciting to the gallery as a whole.


TCS: Share with us some of the highlights from the Thompson Landry Gallery 2016 Exhibitions? And, describe for us what we can expect in 2017?

JT: 2016 was a very exciting year for us as we celebrated our 10th anniversary of the gallery. We had an enormous exhibition featuring 19 of our painters and sculptors creating over 100 works that were displayed in both galleries. The exhibition was widely attended and was one of the most remarkable displays we have curated to date.

In 2016 we also had very successful solo exhibitions for Marie-Josée Roy and André Pitre.

2017 is proving to already have a thrilling start for the gallery. From January 27th through March 12th we are featuring 2 of our artists, Laurence Nerbonne and Ognian Zekoff, in our Cooperage space in celebration of Light Fest at the Distillery District. These two artists are masters of light and shadow, creating dramatic and emotion filled figurative works.

Also in 2017 we have a fantastic line up of very talented, internationally renowned artists:

  • May 18th – June 4th: Danielle Lanteigne and Dominique Fortin
  • June 22nd – July 9th: Jean-Pierre Lafrance
  • September 6th – 24th: Stikki Peaches
  • November 9th – 26th: France Jodoin


TCS: Describe for us what you think sets the Thompson Landry Gallery apart from other galleries?

JT: At first glance, when you walk into either of the gallery spaces, the work takes your breath away. The pieces on the walls are dynamic, colourful and created with a passion that exudes from the works. The artwork is lit by a professional who makes sure that the works are experienced at their very best. The spaces are welcoming and invite people to stay for a long period of time and enjoy the artwork. Whether someone walking in is enjoying the gallery for the first time, or if they are a versed collector, they are treated with upmost respect and courtesy. The most important thing for us is that our clients are comfortable and have a very enjoyable and memorable experience.

Also, having 2 separate spaces enables us to have a solo show in one gallery while we exhibit our other artists in the other gallery. This means that there are no lengthy times when artists are not being displayed.

TCS: How has the Thompson Landry Gallery evolved over the years?

JT: After three years of having our first space at the Distillery, we opened our second, Cooperage Space. That increased our square footage from 2700 square feet to 7000 square feet.

We have evolved with the artwork that we represent. As the artwork coming out of Quebec changes, we change with it. We want to stay current and always have something new for our clients to discover at our gallery.


TCS: Looking back over the first 10 years of operation, what do you consider the most successful exhibit?

JT: A very difficult question because it depends on what you mean by “successful”. Some exhibitions have been very financially successful while others are received incredibly well by both the press and by clients, but maybe do not sell as well.

We held an exhibition called GAIA in August 2012, both inside and outside the gallery. It was comprised of 30 pieces inside and 60 large scale works outside around the Distillery District. The works were photographs taken of the earth, by Guy Laliberté, during the time he spent 11 days in space circling the globe 220 miles from the surface of the earth. These photographs were not colour adjusted in any way, as he wanted to show the earth as it really is. All the proceeds from any sales of these photographs went directly to ONE DROP. ONE DROP is a non-profit organization founded by Laliberté to fight poverty worldwide by ensuring access to clean water now and in the future.

This was a very proud moment for the gallery. We were very happy to be part of such a great cause and such an artistic achievement in large scale photography.

TCS: As an art dealer, what’s the gallery’s greatest achievement?

JT: I believe that the gallery’s greatest achievement is the reputation we have built over the past 10 years. Not only with our clients, but with the artists from Quebec. We treat our artists with the upmost respect. This is very important because the relationship between gallerist and artist is hopefully a lifelong one. I am happy when I can make my artists happy.

My proudest moment was probably at our 10th anniversary celebration last September when I could look around at 19 of our artists and know that we have worked incredibly hard but together we have made the gallery a success.


TCS: When the Thompson Landry Gallery is closed do you visit other art galleries to look at the work of specific artists?

JT: The life of a gallery owner is not glamourous. It means working 6 to 7 days per week, during both the day and night. My one day off tends to be on Mondays which is a day that all other galleries in the city are also closed. That, sadly, makes visiting the other galleries quite difficult. My partner and I do travel quite a lot and visit many galleries in cities all over Europe. We also take the time to visit galleries and studios in Montreal and Quebec City to see who is being featured, and to find artists that we may not have known about before. We are always keeping our eye open for something new and exciting.

TCS: Do you collect? What artists – aside from the ones you represent – are of interest to you?

JT: Yes, collecting is what created my path to owning and operating a gallery.
I love the following international artists: Sophie Ryder, Jean-Pierre Ruel, Desiréé Dolron, Jonas Burgert, Simon Casson, Nicolas Hicks and Quebec artists: Paul Beliveau, Kevin Sonmore,

I also like to collect the lithographs of Marc Chagall and Jean Cocteau

TCS: What piece of artwork has affected you the most and why?

JT: I do not think that there is one particular work that has affected me more than others. I enjoy and appreciate many forms of artwork and to choose just one is impossible for me.

TCS: What is your mantra and, how does it sum up your life?

JT: Eleanor Roosevelt — “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Jump into everything you do with equal amounts of passion, intelligence and conviction. Live life to its fullest and don’t be scared to try something new.


TCS: Being a successful art dealer requires both “art” and business skills. What do you think is the optimal mix? Has your opinion on that changed in the past 10 years?

JT: Having business skills are definitely essential to owning an art gallery. That and being able to relate to people, whether it is your clients or the artists you represent. 10 years ago, I didn’t know that being the Director of an art gallery, I would create such long and close relationships with both my artists and my clients, many I now call my close friends. You need to be able to read people and what they need from you.

Having “a good eye” in order to create a hang is where I mostly use my “art” skills. This also comes into use when going into a client’s home and advising them in terms of pieces, size and location.

TCS: What advice do you have for young artists who want to make a living through their art?

JT: Work hard and just keep at it. Find your visual language and the message you want to send into the world and sick by it. But, don’t be scared to try new things. When you are ready to find a gallery to be represented at, do your research and find a gallery that you trust and will well represent you. It is a two-way relationship that will hopefully be very long term.

About Frank Iacono


Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.stone-gallery-panorama-low-res-jpg

Randy Bates: Haunted Attractions

Written by: Frank Iacono


Over the years, Halloween has become one of the most celebrated holidays of the year, and this is important as the Halloween season lasts for the whole month of October. With the advent of high-tech horror movies and shows coupled with their amazing special effects, haunted attractions strive to create an atmosphere of realism that rival these Hollywood films and television. Now more than ever, people are going to haunted attractions, hayrides, corn mazes, and pumpkin patches.

Haunted Houses in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area are some of the scariest haunted houses in America. And, Randy Bates, better known as the mayhem-keeper, operates two major haunted attractions in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. In 1991, he opened The Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride, located on Arasapha Farm in Glen Mills, PA, and then in 2009 he became the managing partner of the Pennhurst Haunted Asylum, located in Spring City, PA. Both are highly detailed and themed, and have a combination of high-tech animatronics, digital sound and light systems, and professional actors. The Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride is a member of America Haunts, the national coalition of America’s best haunted attractions.

With its trilogy of terror that includes The Bates Motel, Haunted Hayride, and The Haunted Corn Maze, Arasapha has been terrifying visitors with some of the most amazing heart-pounding theatrics, Hollywood-style special effects, costumes, props, and trained actors for years. The attraction has garnered national attention and even been named one of the best 13 haunted attractions in America year after frightening year. Additionally, the Bates attractions have been featured in various publications including Haunted Attractions Magazine and Hauntworld Magazine as well as on the Travel Channel.

The Pennhurst Haunted Asylum consists of 4 main attractions. The Asylum is a hospital themed walk-through of the first and second floors of the old administration building. The Dungeon of Lost Souls is a medical experiment laboratory gone horribly wrong. Using items found on the abandoned Pennhurst property, this attraction is dark and intense. The Tunnel Terror haunt is located in the subterranean tunnels of the Pennhurst complex: a 900-foot walk-through of the darkest history at Pennhurst. The Ghost Hunt attraction is a self-guided tour of the Mayflower dormitory, reportedly the most haunted building on the premises, and featured on Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Randy Bates and asking him a few questions about his farm, his career in the haunt industry, his attractions, his influences, his success and struggles, and the future of the fright business.

Q&A Session

TCS: How and when did you decide to delve into a career in the haunt industry and whom or what would you say inspired you?

Randy Bates: In the late 80’s there was a haunted trail nearby that was a fundraiser for a local historical society. In 1990, they shut down due to damage to their property. In 1991, we decided to run a similar operation, but do it from our hay wagons. For 15 years, we had been doing hayrides and bonfires for church groups, scouts, fraternities, and so on. So, we had the infrastructure in place to start the haunted hayride. I really had no one that inspired me; in fact, I had never heard of haunted hayrides and never went to a haunted house. I always loved scaring people and tormented my sisters and their friends. This is our 26th season and the business has saved our family farm and provides income to over 300 people.

TCS: For the benefit of those who are not familiar with Arasapha Farm located in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, can you describe for us the three main haunted attractions and how they have evolved over the years?

RB: The Haunted Hayride began in 1991, Bates Motel opened in 1996, and the Revenge of the Scarecrows Haunted Trail opened in 2000. Each event gets additional props, sets, and scenes each year as we always strive to be the best.

The Haunted Hayride

For over 25 years, the Haunted Hayride at Arasapha Farm has been scaring its visitors with amazing props, digital FX, great actors and extraordinary professional makeup. The Hayride has been featured several times on the Travel Channel and has been rated as the Number 1 Haunted Attraction in America by Hauntworld Magazine, USA Today, and many other national publications. The Haunted Hayride is a 25-minute, action packed, heart pounding ride through the dark forest of Arasapha Farm, located just outside of Philadelphia Pennsylvania, and is filled with huge, detailed sets, giant monsters and more pyrotechnics than a Kiss concert. With scenes like a 100’ foot long, 40-foot-tall drive thru insane asylum, a full-scale mockup of a New England church and a 200-foot-long cave, the Haunted Hayride is an amazing example of Hollywood style sets and props. And then there is the scares. With over 75 actors and 25 scenes, it is no wonder why this event is always on the “Top 13” national lists of the best haunted attractions. To celebrate our 25th Anniversary, we have added a new, giant set that will put this year’s hayride over the top. This jaw dropping scene is guaranteed to strike fear in the bravest of souls! And, this year we present the return of the Headless Horseman, one of our customer’s all-time favorites.


Bates Motel

Don’t forget to check into the Bates Motel, for the most incredible display of terror and mayhem this side of Hollywood. Filled with high tech special effects, digital soundtrack and lighting, the Bates Motel takes Halloween to a new level of horror…up close and personal! With incredible detail and stellar acting, it is no wonder why the Bates Motel is considered one of the best Haunted Houses in America. The realism in this attraction is astonishing and is guaranteed to wow the experienced haunted house enthusiast. As you creep through this show, you see levitating spirits, floor boards that come alive, pictures that follow you, and incredible, custom animatronic props that you will not see anywhere else. The actors interact with you on a personal level and the screams echo throughout the building! What’s new for this year? You will have to come out and see for yourself! The Bates Motel is a high startle; high action haunted attraction and not recommended for children under 8 or people with heart conditions.


Revenge of the Scarecrows Haunted Trail

The third show in this Trilogy of Terror at Arasapha Farm is the Revenge of the Scarecrows Haunted Trail. It is a terrifying walk through a tall corn field filled with buildings and sets, tons of animatronic monsters and over 30 actors in full makeup and custom costumes. This event is like no other corn maze in the country and has fast become a favorite at the Bates Farm.

Arasapha Farms Haunted Corn Maze

TCS: When do you start preparing for the Bates Motel haunted hayride and the haunted corn maze and tell us what exactly goes into the overall preparation?

RB: Preparation begins in January. We start with a brainstorming session with our managers and creative staff. Ideas are thrown around and detailed plans are drawn up. Build crew lists materials needed, electronics, lighting, and what props we will need. Over the winter months, our art staff refurbishes older props and creates new ones in our mold and sculpts facility. The construction crew repairs animatronics, adds new features to the and manufactures new ones in our metal fabrication shop.

In March, our staff attends the Transworld Halloween trade show in St. Louis, Missouri. There, we attend seminars, network with other haunt owners, and search the show for new props, makeup, and ideas. Some of our staff, including myself, hosts seminars for the show. These include safety and awareness, show control operations, makeup, and custom mold making. Once we return from St. Louis, construction begins on the Bates Motel. Rooms are torn out and replaced with new ones. By April construction begins on the hayride, usually with additional trails, sets and props. We have our own sawmill on the farm and produce lumber for many of these sets. By July, we are in full blown construction with as many as 15 employees working full-time.

When we come up with a new idea, the build crew draws up the construction design and a list of materials, the electronics crew determines how the scene will be triggered, lighting, sound effects, foggers, and most importantly, where the scare is. The art crew then decide how the scene will be detailed, paints needed, additional scene decoration and what the characters will be wearing and type of mask or makeup.

All of this is what sets us apart from other attractions is our uniqueness.

TCS: Can you talk about how your key staff members utilize your complete workshop on the premises to create some of the details of each of attraction?

RB: Our facility has a complete metal fabrication section, wood shop, and creative art department. We make our own makeup appliances, masks, and monsters.

TCS: Can you describe the talent search process in becoming an actor for your haunted attractions?

RB: First we ask current employees if they have family or friends that would be interested in working for the attractions. We have a link on our website where potential staff can complete an employment form. We also advertise on Craig’s list. Once we have a sufficient number of potential employees, we hold auditions at the farm. We usually hold these in July and August. My Daughter, Angela handles all hiring and staff placement; an enormous job considering we have over 300 employees. At the auditions, our actor managers put these people thru an intensive workshop to determine if they will be suitable for the long hours and physical stress.

TCS: Which one of your three attractions is the most popular and why?

RB: Our most popular attraction is The Haunted Hayride. This is most likely due to the fact that it’s suitable for all ages. One of my favorite scenes is our collapsing mine shaft. It is something we drew up years ago and still gets great screams. The Bates Motel and Haunted Trail are more intense as the actors and props are much closer to the customers.

TCS: Can you tell us about how your attendance at the Halloween Trade Show in Chicago, Illinois, in 1996 truly impacted your decision to open The Bates Motel attraction?

RB: In 1996, my staff and I attended the Halloween Trade Show in Chicago, IL. Until that point, we had pretty much developed in a vacuum with little or no outside influence. When we saw the amazing props, masks, and costumes that were available, it totally blew us away. I attended a seminar given by Leonard Pickel, an authority on haunted houses since the early 1980s. We learned how to design and build a haunt from the ground up. I also attended a seminar on haunted hayrides, eager for great information. It was the most disappointing seminar as the presenter was operating his hayride with customers sitting in the back of a pickup truck! This is when we realized that we were at the cutting edge of hayrides, and even had other haunt owners pumping us for info. During this time, haunters would not exchange info with anyone who had an attraction in the same state. I never had that problem and now attraction owners discuss their operations freely.

TCS: How long have you and your family owned Arasapha Farm? And, can you describe for us some of the other attractions that you’ve implemented over the years to keep the farm running on a yearly basis?

RB: Arasapha farm was purchased in 1952 by my parents Bill and Anne Bates. They raised sheep, chickens and then game birds such as pheasants, quail and fancy birds. They also grew crops. In 1970, my dad and I planted 2000 Christmas trees that we eventually harvested and sold. After my father died in 1982, my wife, two kids and I moved back to the farm to help my mother. Over the years we have developed the farm into an Agritainment venue, with the Halloween events, Daytime children’s events, including bounce houses, farm animal petting zoo, hayrides, corn mazes and other fun games. In 2006, we planted 5,000 trees, and began our Holiday Hayride. This is a ride thru the rolling hills of the farm with huge light displays, festive music, snow machines and live reindeer. We also added a Santa’s workshop, photos with Santa and a gift shop. At all our attractions we offer food and drinks.

TCS: Can you give us at least three “Good to Know” facts about The Bates Motel, Haunted Hayride, and The Haunted Corn Maze?

RB: Three good to know facts are:

  • If you plan to come out on a Saturday night in October, be prepared to wait in long lines. Our attractions have become very popular over the years and the majority of our customers come on Saturday nights.
  • Always wear comfortable shoes as you will be on a working farm.
  • The Haunted Hayride is always the first attraction to close, so make sure you do that event first.

TCS: In your opinion, what do you feel are the key factors in operating a successful haunted attraction?

RB: Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise! To have a successful event, you need a great team. From management staff to artists and IT guys, you must have a complete staff. Marketing is the next most important key to success. A complete marketing plan that includes media ads, print articles, coupons and flyers, and digital marketing is necessary. You also need to have a quality show which will bring in repeat business. Changes to your show are also necessary for the repeaters.

TCS: Within Pennsylvania, there are many well-known haunted attractions so what do you feel makes your attraction stand out from all the other scary destinations?

RB: There are lots of quality attractions in the area. One thing this has done is raise the awareness of Haunted Attractions in the tristate area. PA has become a mecca for travelers looking for the best haunted attractions, and people come from all over the US and Canada. Our attractions stand out because of our uniqueness. I don’t attend other shows, so all our ideas are our own. Usually by the end of the season, I’m pretty burnt out, but now that my family is running many aspects for the business, it has taken a lot of stress off my shoulders. I still get excited when we design and build new things, and love watching the customers high five each other after attending.

TCS: Have you embraced social media marketing strategies to promote and market your business?

RB: Yes, we have used social media to market our business and stay connected with our audience via the following vehicles:

  • Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride Website
  • Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride Facebook
  • Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride Instagram
  • Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride Twitter
  • Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride YouTube

TCS: Congratulations on running such a fun and successful attraction for the past 26 years. In that timeframe, what would you say has been the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of running your haunted attractions?

RB: The most rewarding part is watching my children grow up and become major parts of my business. Also, the thank you’s we get from our customers. For over 12 years, we have made all the top 13 lists, including number one attraction in the country 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Being featured in major publications and on network television, including twice on the Travel Channel has also been rewarding. The most challenging aspects of the business is handling over 300 employees. The hiring, paperwork and actor placement takes a lot of time and effort. We have a backup team ready to fill in when staff call out and that makes for a lot of juggling.

TCS: Describe your role as Managing Partner with the Pennhurst Haunted Asylum?

RB: In 2009, I was approached by the owner of Pennhurst to produce a haunted attraction there. I wrote the business plan and told him that if I was to be involved, that it had to be world class right from the start. The Bates Motel build crew spent most of the spring and all summer in 2010 and opened with two attractions that October. There was a lot of negative publicity surrounding the use of the property, and all my friends said don’t worry, publicity is good. They were right.

Opening night was amazing, with all three major networks and Fox News covering us with live feeds. The first year we built the Asylum haunt and the tunnel of terror. We worked right up until opening day. In 2011, we designed the Dungeon of Lost Souls, a more mainstream themed attraction. My daughter, who handled all the social media marketing, mentioned that many people wanted to see some of the buildings as they were 30 years ago. So, we opened the ghost hunt attraction. It became an instant success. Dealing with partners can be difficult at times but we made the best of it. In early 2016 the property owner fell into bankruptcy and was threatened with foreclosure on many of his properties, including the Pennhurst property. A new owner is in the process of purchasing it and will open the attractions this year. I decided to sell my shares in the business, partly to take off some of the stress, and also remove myself from liability issues due to the deterioration of the buildings. The previous owner refused to perform maintenance on the buildings and I feel that they are becoming a serious liability. I wish the new staff well.

TCS: What do you think is the fascination behind people wanting to be scared or frightened? And, do you believe in the Paranormal?

RB: Getting scared is an adrenaline rush for most people. There is the physical as well as the mental reaction that people crave and hate at the same time. We designed our attractions to be like a roller coaster ride. Suspenseful beginning, music to get them on edge, then hit them with the scares. Our ultimate job is to mess with people’s heads, and we have gotten very good at it. As for Paranormal, I feel that some people are tuned into it and others are not. I have worked, alone, in the pitch-black darkness in the basement at Pennhurst, and never saw anything. My daughter, who is also a professional photographer is tuned in and has had many experiences both at home and at Pennhurst.

TCS: Yes, I know we should have ended the interview with 13 questions to keep with the freight theme, but our audience needs to know where do you see the haunted attraction industry headed within the next five years?

RB: Every year, I attend the Transworld Haunted Attraction Show, now located in St. Louis. Every other year we attend the IAAPA show in Orlando, Florida. We also periodically attend the Mid-west haunter’s convention in Columbus, Ohio. It’s always great to see old friends and make new ones. In 1997, I helped found the International Association of Haunted Attractions, and was a past board member. In 2003, we founded the association called America Haunts, a group of the largest haunted attractions around the country. There were 5 original members and have now grown to 28. This is an invitation only, market exclusive association that works together to promote haunted attractions around the country. We gather at the trade shows and have an annual meeting each year at one of the member’s attraction. The group trades ideas, develops unique marketing strategies and promote our attractions.

In 2005, we hired a film crew and produced a one-hour TV show called America Haunts. It was sold to the Travel Channel, who liked to format so much they shot 4 more shows the nest year, filming our new members. In 2010 I helped found the Haunted House Association, with the idea that any trade association should be run by qualified attraction owners. I am a past board member and past president of this group. In 2007, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania began requiring Haunted House owners to take a safety course, pass an inspector’s test and file required paperwork with them. I was asked to help write the test and put together seminars specific to haunted attractions. Since then, I teach Code Compliance in Haunted Houses, Hayride Safety, and Outdoor Attraction Safety to new inspectors.

Along with these organizations, I am also a member of our local volunteer fire company, sit on the Delaware County Conservation District board, and am the Vice Chairman of the Edgmont Township Supervisors.

I see the Haunted Attraction industry going the way of Hollywood and video games. Everything is becoming more sophisticated, computerized, and detailed. Someone trying to break in to this business has to put up a lot of money to open and compete. Shows like The Walking Dead on AMC, and all the horror movies that are out prove that there is a huge horror audience. In the Philadelphia market alone, there are over 10 major attractions, with many smaller operations. With this much marketing going on, the consumer becomes hyper aware of Halloween haunted attractions, which benefits all of us.

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Joleene DesRosiers Moody – Speaker, Writer, and Blogger

Written by: Frank Iacono

Joleene DesRosiers Moody

Joleene DesRosiers Moody is a former central New York television reporter and anchor. During her career in television she helped people through her investigative work and human-interest stories. However, through those years, Joleene suffered the wrath of addiction, loss through death, relationship challenges, and other personal struggles, eventually hitting rock-bottom.

As a reporter and anchor, Joleene saw people fight — and fight hard — to overcome obstacles every day, and it gave her the strength to stand up and do the same for herself. After struggling for years in a place that didn’t satisfy her true personal dreams and desires to write and speak and inspire on stage, she bravely left the security of her job to embark on a journey that allowed her to unearth her greatest dreams and desires while profiting generously at the same time.

Today, Joleene is a powerful keynote speaker, author, blogger, and business consultant. Her message helps those who want to uncover and discover who and what they are truly meant to be and do. As a speaker and trainer, she serves business and organizations, helping them improve communication, speaking and presenting so they are effective selling their message.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joleene DesRosiers Moody and asking her questions about her background as a reporter and anchor, her overall career, her first published book, and her upcoming public speaking engagements.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: At what age did you become interested in working in the television industry as a reporter and anchor? And, who or what inspired you to pursue a career in that profession?

Joleene DesRosiers Moody: I was a local television reporter and anchor in Central New York for ten years. I’ve always wanted to be “in the spotlight,” if you will, and never had a problem being front and center. Since I was a kid, I was intrigued with the notion of being on television. I remember a local commercial for a rug company where the spokesperson was the daughter of the owner. I turned to my Dad and said, “I want to do that someday.” And now I do! Outside of writing and speaking, I actually belong to a talent agency and do local and national commercials all the time. It’s a riot. My ultimate goal is to actually be in a highly distributed film with a significant part. I auditioned for a big movie recently, but wasn’t chosen. I would have been an extra in the background, but hey, it’s a start, right?


TCS: For the benefit of those who may not be too familiar with Joleene DesRosiers Moody or your overall body of work, please describe for us your career at a glance.

JDM:I am a creative soul that inspires other creatives to delve into their passion and discover how to monetize from those passions. As a professional speaker, I deliver keynotes that inspire my audience to “Take Your Voice Back.” Too often we listen to the debilitating voice of others that stomp on our dreams and tell us we are foolish for having them. One is never too old to do or be anything.

I am a writer, too. I LOVE to write. I love, love, love it. And I was guilty of listening to those voices that told me (and still tell me) I can’t ever make money as a writer. So for years I buried the desire. I have recently unleashed the writer beast in me, and am working with a producer in Hollywood on a screenplay that I’ve written. I also had the honor of seeing a comedic play I wrote unfold on the stage here in Syracuse, New York. I am the author of three books and most recently, started a blog. I am also a ghost blogger for other entrepreneurs. Additionally, I am a business magazine journalist and columnist. As outgoing as I can be, it seems I’ve become more complacent to stay home with my dogs and write, write, write. I am following my passion and learning how to monetize from it. I can’t think of a better way to live life.


TCS: How do you think being a former central New York television reporter and anchor prepared you for your career as a creative coach, speaker, author, and playwright?

JDM: Oh, what a great question. As a reporter, I learned how to ask questions that evoke emotion. As an anchor, I learned how to look confident, even when I wasn’t. I also learned how to write short, powerful, accurate stories. I learned how to get to the point. I’ve been a magazine journalist for the past 9 years. Let me tell you, I am LUCKY. My editor really appreciates my work. Too often in too many newsrooms, the reporters and journalists are considered “a dime a dozen.” So if one leaves, it’s no big deal. They are quickly replaceable. I recently had words with my editor over an incident and told him I was done writing for him. I have to say, I wasn’t very nice. I fully expected him to watch me happily walk out the door. But he didn’t. He didn’t want me to quit writing for him. He told me my work was valuable and was actually changing the readership of the magazine. Honestly, I was stunned. Freelance writers are everywhere. He could have told me good-bye and to not let the door hit me in the ass on the way out. But he didn’t. He clearly valued me and my work. That situation improved our relationship.

Being a reporter also taught me how to sell, believe it or not. There is nothing like knocking on the door of a mother that just lost her child and asking her to let me shine a light in her face and shove a microphone under her nose. I am the LAST person she wants to talk to. I quickly learned compassion. I made our conversation about her. I never made it about me. Sure, I had to have my story written and edited for the 5 o’clock news and sure, I had to compete with other stations and getting her reaction would put us at the top — but when I learned to really feel the struggle and come in as a compassionate, genuine person, I was often successful. It’s like that with sales. Don’t be pushy. Be real. It will take you miles. This is also what made me a successful business coach. I don’t coach anymore, but when I did, I turned out very successful, happy clients. They trusted me. And they trusted me because I was real.


TCS: Can you give us at least three “Good to Know” facts about you?

JDM: Yes, here are three “Good to Know” facts:

  • I love dogs. I often toy with the idea of starting a rescue on three acres of land. However, I kind of need to have the land first.
  • I don’t take shit from anybody. I’m 43 years old. I’m living for me. As loving as I am, I’m not afraid to tell someone how I feel.
  • I am a neat freak. My house is always in order, always clean.

TCS: Tell us about the concept behind your first paperback book released in 2012 entitled Memoirs of Normalcy: Journey from Sedentary to Extraordinary?

JDM: I wrote Memoirs of Normalcy: Journey from Sedentary to Extraordinary two years after I left my career in news. What I did was brave. It was bold. I quit my job with no plan. Well, sort of. My plan was to become a speaker and writer. That’s all I knew. I didn’t know how to do it, but I knew I would figure it out along the way. And I did. So I wrote the book to inspire others to do the same. I don’t mean I expect everyone in the world to quit their jobs if their unhappy, but I think sometimes the right words from the right person can nudge them in the right direction. I am a huge risk taker — so for me to quit without a “sure thing” to step into was quite shocking to many. 95% of the population wouldn’t do that. But the truth is, when your back is up against the wall, you will always figure it out.

TCS: From Memoirs of Normalcy, can you tell us specifically what you mean by “Do I Stay? Or Do I Grow?

JDM: You can either stay where you are, miserable, afraid, and unhappy, or you can grow into the remarkable soul you were meant to be. An alarming number of people choose to stay. My work with my voice and my words is to encourage them to grow.

TCS: Share with us some of the details surrounding your recent conversation with follow motivational and inspirational keynote speaker Patrick Schwerdtfeger?

JDM: I bought Patrick’s course on how to find paid speaking opportunities to see how it compared with my own experience. I have two audio courses and two e-books that teach people this very thing, but I wanted to see what I didn’t know. After going through the course, there were some “holes” in the information that still had me asking questions. So I emailed him and asked him if I could buy an hour of his time to fill in those holes. He agreed. I paid him $125 bucks and asked him whatever I wanted. He was great. He was very professional, very on point. I wanted to record him so I could take notes and refer back to our talk, but I couldn’t find my digital recorder. So I attempted to record him on my computer, but the app kept freezing. All I could think was, “Universe, why don’t you want me to have this information?” I know now it’s because the Universe has been pushing me to write first and speak second. Of course I got TONS form it, but he gave me specifics that I couldn’t write down fast enough. ANYWAY…it turns out I was doing and teaching exactly what he was, only he makes the search a full-time gig. It’s a LOT of work looking for paid speaking opportunities, but once you get in on the ground floor of a few, you’re golden.

TCS: Tell us about what you mean when you say “Take Your Voice Back” in a powerful 3-minute video you created back in November of 2014?

JDM: Oh my gosh, I forgot about this video! I created it for an international speaking organization and they put it in their virtual newsletter. The idea of the “Take Your Voice Back” campaign is to encourage others to stop letting others speak for them. To stop letting others take your voice away when you express your wants and desires. I seriously believe that’s why so many of us are crippled in fear; we take the opinions of others as gospel. If we are told at an early age that we can’t have something, we believe it. And so we “stay” unhappy. When we decide to take our voice back, all of that changes — and we step into a place where we really can live out our dreams and desires.


TCS: Provide us with some background on the podcast you did on the topic of “Kicking Fear in the Face”?

JDM: Ah, that was a fun podcast to do. “Kicking Fear in the Face”. Yeah. We can never fully get rid of fear. It’s the polar opposite of love, and without fear we wouldn’t know love. That being said, we have to learn how to go through life with fear by our side. That doesn’t mean we have to accept it and let it take us over, it simply means we have to learn how to manage it. I like to “kick” it out of my way. Once I do, I am able to stand firmly in front of someone and say, “Look. You are struggling in business and it’s killing you. It’s hurting you. Here’s how I can help.” By finding someone’s pain, you can make them understand that they won’t successfully grow in business until they admit they are IN pain…and are willing to do something about it. So much fear keeps them from making a phone call or having a conversation that could sell their services. They are scared to death that selling means they are being pushy. Well, it’s only pushy if you make the close of the sale about YOU. Remember, make it about them.


TCS: Can you share with us some of details surrounding your podcast appearance on Business Women Rock entitled “How to Build a 6 Figure Speaking and Consulting”?

JDM: I invest in myself regularly. For 8 months, I was a guest on a series of Podcasts because I hired Jessica Rhodes, Founder and CEO of Interview Connections, to book me. She booked me at least 3 to 4 times a month. Those interviews helped me grow exponentially.


TCS: Have you embraced social media marketing strategies to promote and market your business?

JDM: Yes, I have used social media to market upcoming speaking engagements, and stay connected with my audience via the following vehicles:

  • Facebook – I’ve utilized Facebook ads and I DON’T love them. I think entrepreneurs and coaches have infiltrated this marketing practice to the point that it’s often unbearable. I never liked doing them. I never really profited from them, either. I know lots of people have, so let me be clear that I’m only sharing my experience.I don’t post much on Facebook these days, unless I’m sharing a post of a missing dog, or sharing my upcoming #Blab episode for my show called #SpeakerPro. Blab is a Twitter platform. It’s live video and is often used to host live interviews. I focus on a topic for speakers, invite expert guests, and viewers can come into the room to watch and listen.
  • Twitter – I tweet every day. That’s been my goal the last three months. I never really engaged in Twitter until then. I use Tweetdeck to “stack” my tweets. It’s driven more traffic to my site and helped me sell lots more eBooks.
  • YouTube – I used to do video blogs called ‘Rapid Fire Coaching,’ so I utilized YouTube that way. Now I use YouTube to upload my #Blab interviews.
  • Pinterest – I utilize Pinterest to promote to “Take Your Voice Back,” the insanely honest, fun, and highly informational blog for creative entrepreneurs
  • Instagram – I utilize Instagram to market the “Take Your Voice Back,” blog to creative entrepreneurs
  • Google + – I don’t really use Google+. I never really got into it. I have an account, but I’m not active on it.

TCS: Nowadays, what does an average workday consist of for Joleene DesRosiers Moody?

JDM: It really does vary. Some days I stay home all day, writing in my jammies. If I’m not writing, I’m searching for speaking gigs. If I’m not searching for speaking gigs, I’m stacking my tweets for Twitter. If I’m not stacking, I’m tinkering with my website. If I’m not tinkering, I’m traveling to a gig. No single day is ever the same.


TCS: In an article entitled “Use Failure As A Lesson For Growth” can you describe for us what was the most eye-opening failure that you experienced?

JDM: Definitely the bombed talk I speak about in that article. That particular article is my column, Entrepreneurs Edge, which is published monthly in the business magazine I write for. I chose to write about my bombed talk because:

  • It happened in the region where the magazine is published and I knew all eyes would read it,
  • Every single person in the world is going to have something horrible happen to them that is going to make them want to run and hide.

This was eye opening because it made me realize that not everyone is going to love me. Innately, we all want to be liked and accepted. But the truth is, that’s never going to be. Having that experience made me realize that we always have miles to go in love, life, and in business. We never truly “arrive.” Life is a journey, right? Even as a seasoned speaker, I am still prone to mistakes. For those that didn’t read the article, I delivered a comedic/inspirational talk that was NOT well received. It happens. It took me several weeks to get over it. But I learned. And while I doubted myself as a pro for a little while there, I came out even more humble than before, which made me realize that humility is an incredible gift.


TCS: Tell us about the most exciting personal leadership productivity keynote speaker event you’ve participated in and are there any upcoming speaking engagements we should know about?

JDM: I would have to say it was in 2012 when I spoke for the New York State Association of Tax Receivers and Collectors (NYSATRC). These people were thirsty for motivation. It was a private speaking event with roughly 150 people in the room. I sold 100 books that day. They LOVED the message of taking their voice back. That room went from tired and exhausted to alive and hopeful. I don’t have any public speaking engagements scheduled for 2016. Most of what I do now are private (e.g., Colleges, Business Retreats).

TCS: What is one significant message you want to convey to someone attending your public speaking engagements?

JDM: Stop listening to other people that don’t follow their heart. Seriously. One of my favorite quotes is from Brene Brown: “If you aren’t in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

When we lament about what we want to do with our lives and how we want to do it, we are getting our asses kicked emotionally. When someone gives us their feedback on why we shouldn’t do something and how it won’t work and blah, blah, blah, we need to remember those very words. DO WHAT YOU WANT. Who gives a “bleep” what others say. If they can’t have it, neither can you. That’s basically what they’re saying when they tell you your dream is foolish. I want my listeners and readers to go after it anyway.

Books from Joleene DesRosiers Moody

How to Write a Talk That Sells

How to write a Talk that sells
How to Write a Talk That Sells is specifically for those that need guidance with delivering talks that sell. And by sell, I mean talks that transform and move listeners to take action and buy from you, whether you deliver a keynote or a presentation. In the end, the right people will be attracted to you and your work. They will follow you on social media and attend your workshops. They will buy your books and contract to work with you.

How To Find and Create Paid Speaking Opportunities

How To Find and Create Paid Speaking Opportunities is for creative artists, writers, speakers, entertainers, and entrepreneurs that want to make money doing what they love. It’s for any creative soul, really, any divine heart that wants to tell his or her story by speaking and teaching their truth. This book is going to show you how to do that. You will be successful at this, but you must be diligent and dedicated.

Memoirs of Normalcy: Journey from Sedentary to Extraordinary

Memoirs-of-NormalcyMemoirs of Normalcy: Journey from Sedentary to Extraordinary chronicles the story of how Joleene left her television news job while inspiring others to follow their own passions and talents to create a profitable and fulfilling career. For many, it gave them the courage they needed to leave behind the places, people, and things that caused them pain. Discover how a few simple changes, coupled with faith, can give you the life and the work you long to have.

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

The Creative Spotlight: 2015

Written by: Frank Iacono


The end of the year causes us to reflect, and in this spirit, I thought it would be fun to recount The Creative Spotlight blog posts from 2015. When it comes to The Creative Spotlight, the goal is simple. Introduce readers to the best local and national musicians, artists, actors, business owners, motivational speakers, photographers, and other published authors. Consider The Creative Spotlight as the ultimate destination for unearthing a wealth of undiscovered talent, reading exciting interviews, learning helpful tips and tricks, and news that you can use…plus lots of great ideas for enriching your life and enjoying yourself.

As we welcome 2016, we want to make sure that you did not miss any of the 18 articles from 2015. This blog includes a complete, categorized list of The Creative Spotlight posts that were published in 2015.

January 2015

Marilyn Russell: Morning Show Host

March 2015

Chris LeGrand: Rolling Stones Tribute Band

April 2015

Neill Byrnes: Draw The Line Aerosmith Tribute Band

Shaun Benson: Actor and Director

May 2015

Carolyn Bennett-Sullivan: Author

June 2015

Dawn Botti: Singer and Songwriter

July 2015

Joanna Maria Morales Miarrostami: Artist

Sheila Brown: Summer Nites Bed and Breakfast 

August 2015

Travis Clark: We The Kings

Duffer’s: Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor

Ages Apart: Alternative Rock Band

Jack Morey: Morey’s Piers

Derek Crider: Singer and Songwriter

September 2015

Everything Falls: Modern Rock Band

Aandra Bohlen: Business Coach

October 2015

Michelle Antonucci Smith: Zumba® Fitness Instructor

November 2015

Meisha Johnson: TV Personality

Karen Mansfield: Singer And Songwriter

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Meisha Johnson: TV Personality

Written by: Frank Iacono


Meisha Johnson, a Minnesota born native and Journalism major from the University of Minnesota and Anoka Ramsey College, joined the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania CBS 3-owned KYW-TV in mid-July of 2015 as the morning traffic reporter. Prior to moving to Philadelphia, Meisha worked as a traffic reporter for KMSP, the FOX 9 Morning News affiliate, in Minneapolis-St. Paul since 2013.

Meisha, an outdoor sports enthusiast, is a veteran performer in everything from hosting TV shows and extreme sports reporting for networks such as FOX Sports, VERSUS, SPEED Channel, ABC and CBS Sports, as well as acting in commercials, theater, and independent films such as 13 Hours in a Warehouse (2008), Cold Feet (2008), and Fall Into Me (2006).

Meisha is fluent in Swedish and attended the University of Uppsala while living in Sweden for several years after high school. She has also served as the spokesperson and host for K-Swiss fitness on the national shopping network, EVINE Live, and a corporate speaker for a plethora of different companies.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Meisha Johnson and asking her a few questions about her career inspirations, her overall background and experience, her movie roles, her meeting with legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Don Felder, and her new job as the morning traffic reporter for CBS 3-owned KYW-TV.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: At what age did you become interested in TV hosting, modeling, and acting? And, who or what inspired you to pursue a career in this profession?

Meisha Johnson: At a very young age, I began watching scary movies with my mother. My father dabbled in theater, and his father, my grandfather, worked as a Director for the well-renowned Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN. From my earliest memories, and clearly weaved throughout my DNA, I loved performing. Beginning in elementary school, I would act in any play possible- and I always wanted to play the antagonist role. I had a wildly creative imagination and began writing scary movie scripts in fifth grade. I’d hold auditions in the backyard for my friends and neighbor kids, and every year would have an annual haunted house to raise money for movie props. My love for the performing arts has followed with me throughout my entire career.

As far as modeling is concerned, that was never something I wanted to do. It would come across my path from time to time, but it was certainly never my passion. After college, TV Hosting came knocking at the door and it was love at first job. In terms of what or who inspired me, in truth, I followed my heart. There was no escaping it, no other choice, no other path to pursue. I knew who I was- what I loved- and I knew I was to follow that inner voice.

TCS: For the benefit of those who may not be too familiar with Meisha Johnson or your overall body of work, please describe for us your career at a glance?

MJ: I started out acting in local and national TV commercials, local film and theater. I did a brief appearance for the Young and the Restless while studying at the University of Minnesota’s Journalism school, as well as dabbled in a few TV pilots. From there I began hosting sports TV shows for FOX Sports, CBS Sports, Versus and Speed channel, and was also the spokesperson for several different companies such as K-Swiss Fitness, 3M, Polaris and many others. From there I began hosting on the nationally syndicated network, EVINE Live (formerly ShopNBC), and was then offered a job as a TV host on our local CW Television Network. I turned down the job at the CW when FOX 9 News contacted me around the same time offering me a part-time position in news.

Reel – Meisha P Johnson – Host from Amy Waksmonski on Vimeo.

TCS: Can you give us three “Good to Know” facts about you?

MJ: Yes, here are three “Good to Know” facts, plus three bonus facts:

  1. I was a waitress throughout high school and a lifeguard/diving instructor afterwards.
  2. I absolutely love animals. If I wasn’t working in television, I would dedicate my life to working with/for them, and I’d love to have a pot-bellied pig one day.
  3. My father was a professional boxer, so I grew up ringside. I’m a tough cookie ;).
  4. I had iguana’s as pets growing up, so I’ve got an iguana tattoo on my back in memory of them.
  5. I lived in Sweden for 3 years and speak Swedish.
  6. My middle name, “P.J.” – yes, PJ is my middle name, stands for “Phoebe Jean.”

TCS: Can you describe for us your longtime presence in the snowmobile industry, most notably as the host of the Sledhead 24/7 TV Show airing on FOX Sports North and of the ISOC Amsoil Championship Snocross Series on the SPEED Channel?

MJ: When I think about the past decade of my working career, Sled Head 24/7 stands out as extraordinarily instrumental. I spent 8 years of my life hosting powersports shows and “Sled Head” is where I began my career as TV Host. I was acting in a TV pilot when the producer asked if I could ride a snowmobile – in which I responded with a firm, “yes.” I auditioned for the show (Sled Head), landed the job, and “Sled Head” became my baby and the racing community became my extended family. Still to this day, the fans of that show, and all the other TV shows I’ve hosted, still follow my career here at CBS 3. Bless their hearts, they watch the show online. I’m moved beyond words when I think about all the experiences I’ve had because of those years in the powersports pits (snocross, supercross, motorcross, ATV racing). It was a lot of hard work, no doubt, but I wouldn’t trade my sports hosting past for nothing. It’s been an incredible journey and I’m forever grateful for the memories.

TCS: Describe for us your experience playing Brandy in Tim VandeSteeg’s 2006 Comedy, Drama Fall Into Me?

MJ: “Fall Into Me” was my very first “real” feature film. It was such a great learning experience. As with all “firsts”, it’s the film I “cut my teeth on” so-to-speak. This is where I learned how a true feature film works and is shot, what I should and shouldn’t do, and how grueling long days on-set can actually be. I loved playing the part of Brandy. She was the antagonist, a supporting lead role, with an edgy, no “BS” side that was fun to play.

TCS: How did you prepare for your role as Jennifer Wilkins in Writer/Director Dav Kaufman’s 2008 Horror, Thriller 13 Hours in a Warehouse?

MJ: To be honest, I really didn’t prepare all that much. I wanted to have a genuine fear as things happened in the scene as opposed to over-rehearsing. Instead, I tapped into that “what would you do?” moment and rolled with whatever emotions came out naturally.

TCS: How much fun did you have playing Carol Deering in Ross McNamara’s 2008 Screwball Romantic Comedy entitled Cold Feet, a fast-paced, banter-filled style of Hepburn/Grant films from the ’40s?

MJ: Lol! “Cold Feet.” Oh, this movie was so much fun. First off, it was a comedy so being on-set with a bunch of comedians is bound to make for some hilarious work days. Secondly, I had the lead role, so I was on-set almost every single day which I loved. Third, well… it was my first on-screen kiss… and I was a nervous wreck the whole time… but, I found out how unromantic on-screen romance really is – Lol. Carol was a strong protagonist character that I could relate to in terms of wanting to make right choices while having a good sense of humor about all the craziness life brings. I still smile when I think about how fun it was to make.

TCS: As an actress, is there a specific role or type of character that you haven’t played yet but would really like to?

MJ: I’d love to play an edgy, meaty role on a controversial topic. Something gritty, creative and authentic. Main-stream Hollywood movies don’t interest me as much as the independent one’s that evoke a lot of emotion and difference of opinion. The kind that makes you think, “What in the world would I do in this situation?”

TCS: How thrilling was it to join CBS 3’s ‘Eyewitness News This Morning’ in Philadelphia as traffic reporter, after serving as a traffic reporter with KMSP, the Fox station in Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN? And, please describe for us your first day on July 20th and how entertaining it was to have met the Phillie Phanatic?

MJ: When I was contacted in the Midwest by CBS 3 in Philly about a possible job offer, I was incredibly excited… and nervous all at the same time. It was a big decision moving out of my Midwest “comfort zone” to the big east coast. That said, there are no accidents in this life, so I knew when the door opened it was my time to walk through. My first day was amazing! The viewers were sweet and welcoming, and producers and management couldn’t have made me feel more welcome. They went out of their way to make it special and I’ll never forget it. And, as you would expect, the one’s that made me feel the most welcome in the beginning, are still my “besties” at the station to this very day. That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the viewers! The fans/viewers of the morning show have also become my besties (on social media) as well. Being out here alone, they’ve become family to me in a way. I spend every morning, Monday through Friday, with them for our Twitter “#coffeedate.” Truly, I don’t know if they’ll ever really understand how much they mean to me. As far as the Phillie Phanatic is concerned, let’s just say we hit off immediately. It was love at first fuzzy kiss on-air! Lol!


TCS: Nowadays, what does an average workday consist of for Meisha Johnson?

MJ: Things have changed quite a bit since the world of “freelance.” I try to go to bed around 6pm Monday through Friday. My alarm goes off at 1:30 a.m. I do hair and make-up until around 3am and then I head off to the studio. From about 3:30 – 4:15 I prepare (final touches, hair/make-up, align traffic hits, etc.) and we go LIVE at 4:30a. It takes a lot of discipline to stick to this kind of a schedule, but it’s pretty cool to have such strict structure as well. On Friday’s I try to nap after work, so I can stay up a bit later in the evening, or I hop on a plane to Minneapolis for the weekend. Saturday’s are the only day of the week I allow myself to “sleep in” although I’m still usually up by 7-8am. Sundays I set an alarm around 4-5am to try and get on a schedule again, and Sunday evening it’s lights out at 6pm again :).

TCS: Can you tell us about ‪a program you started about a year ago called #‎AskMeishaMonday‬?

MJ: #AskMeishaMonday is by far the most unknown yet important work I’ve done. Throughout my television career, I’ve always interacted with my fans online (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.). Over the years, many of them would open up to me, telling me about struggles they were going through or looking for friendly, non-biased, unemotional advice. A large majority who would write were going through sticky situations they didn’t want their immediate friends or family to know, and/or didn’t want to go to a counselor, so they’d turn to me for a second opinion or prayer. I realized this enormous need for people to have someone to turn to, even if just an ear to listen.

Over time, and to make it more time efficient and effective for all, I began opening up my social media sites on Monday’s solely to interact with those in need. #AskMeishaMonday was birthed from a desire in me not wanting anyone I’m connected to feeling alone. We’re all equipped with gifts we can use to help others. Offering advice, prayer, an ear to listen, and counsel to others happens to be one of mine. It’s one of the most important things I’ll ever do with my time. My life’s ministry. It doesn’t matter if I’ve met the person or not- if we’re connected, via social media or otherwise, they are not alone. Since moving to Philly, I haven’t opened #AskMeishaMonday up again, but I plan on doing so in the near future.

TCS: Recently you posted on Facebook that you visited Atlantic City for the first time, please share with us your overall experience?

MJ: I literally did a drive-by in Atlantic City! I was on a mission to learn some of the roads, so I went on a little road trip. When the warm weather returns, I plan on playing a slot machine, catching a concert, and enjoying the shore ;).

TCS: How exciting was it when you met Don Felder, one of the greatest guitarists and songwriters, from the legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees The Eagles?

MJ: When I got the phone call from CBS that Don Felder wanted to meet “the traffic girl” I was quite taken aback. “Me? Why?” was my first response. I was already done with work for the day when I received the phone call, but I drove back to meet him anyway. On the way back to the studio, I drove over a nail and got a flat tire. So, Don being the sweetheart he is, drove me back to corporate housing in his limo – lol. Truly, aside from being the legend he is, Don is such a gentleman and such a wonderful person. I’m grateful to have met him that day, and crazy enough, we’ve kept in contact since then. Today I can say I’m honored to now call him my friend.


TCS: Looking back over your career, if you had to do it all over again, is there something that you would do differently? If so, what would it be?

MJ: I have absolutely NO regrets and I wouldn’t do anything differently. That doesn’t mean everything has been smooth sailing. Life isn’t that way as we all know. However, I firmly believe we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be right now even if we don’t fully understand why. Everything I’ve done in the past has helped me develop the skills and know-how for the work I do today, and the work I’ll do in the future. Our past is the building blocks for the firm foundation needed moving ahead into the future. Life is a crazy fun adventure and, no matter what is to come, there will never be any regrets.

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono - The Creative Spotlight

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Michelle Antonucci Smith: Zumba® Fitness Instructor

Written by: Frank Iacono


Michelle Antonucci Smith is licensed to teach Zumba®, Zumba Gold®, Zumba Toning®, Zumba Senato®, Zumba Step® and Zumba Kids® and has been a Zumba® Instructor since 2011. She is an active member of the Zumba Instructor’s Network. Her goal is to have people leave her class sweating, smiling, and wanting more.

For Michelle, the most important thing to her when she teaches Zumba® is to make it a great experience for her students ─ just have FUN! She has a passion for leading and promoting a healthy lifestyle through physical activity and nutritional cleansing. She was able to lose 40 lbs. by living a healthy lifestyle and now is passionate about helping others reach their fitness and health goals. Her high energy classes have been presented throughout New Jersey and in Europe. Today she continues to travel, learn, teach, and share her love for movement with the world.

Michelle’s success as a Zumba Fitness Instructor is highly attributed to the loving support of her family, friends, teachers, and passionate Zumba lovers along the way. She loves to provide “exercise in disguise” through Zumba, inspiration, motivation, and consistent encouragement for her clients. She is also a mom to two very active boys. In her spare time, she loves spending time with her friends and family, reading, and going to the beach.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Antonucci Smith and asking her a few questions about her career as a Zumba®, her background, her certifications, and her high energy class sessions.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: At what age did you become interested in Zumba®? And, who or what inspired you to pursue a career as an instructor?

Michelle Antonucci Smith: Zumba® Fitness is a total body workout, combining all elements of fitness – cardio, muscle conditioning, balance, flexibility, and boosted energy. Zumba® takes the “work” out of workout, by mixing low-intensity and high-intensity moves for an interval style, calorie-burning dance fitness party. Zumba® Fitness classes are often called exercise in disguise!

I started taking Zumba® classes in 2005. I just had my second child and was looking to get back in shape. I immediately became addicted to the classes. After being a student for 6 years, I decided to become a Zumba® Instructor.


TCS: Are you a certified Zumba® instructor? And, do you have any other certifications?

MAS: I am licensed to teach Zumba®, Zumba Gold®, Zumba Toning®, Zumba Senato®, Zumba Step® and Zumba Kids®. I am also active member of the Zumba® Instructor’s Network (ZIN). I received my license in February of 2011. Although I love to take other types of fitness classes such as weight training classes, spin, yoga, etc. I only teach Zumba® Fitness.

TCS: Do you think that Zumba® is a lot like high impact aerobics? If so, why?

MAS: Zumba® is similar to high impact aerobics in the sense that it is a cardio workout. However, the premise of Zumba® is to combine both high and low intensity songs to create an interval type training. Studies have shown that people tend to burn more calories via interval training than with a comparable period of steady-pace exercise.

TCS: Where are you currently holding your Zumba® classes?

MAS: I am definitely a gym rat! I do not own my own studio but I teach at various gyms. You can find my complete schedule on I work at several Work Out Worlds, Meridian Fitness, Brick Fitness for Women, and Gold’s Gym ─ all located in the Monmouth County New Jersey Shore area.

TCS: Why do you think people are going so crazy for Zumba®? And, what is the age group of the people that participate in your Zumba® classes?

MAS: In the beginning, many “experts” claimed that Zumba® was just another fad. However, I disagree! Zumba® was created by founder Beto Perez in the mid 1990’s. I think it has only gotten more popular with each year. The reason so many people go crazy for Zumba® is simple. The moment the beat drops, it is an instant party. There is no other class that I have taken at any gym where people are smiling, laughing, and having fun from start to finish AND getting in an amazing workout at the same time. You can expect lots of smiles, sweat, and laughs in a Zumba® class, not to mention the kick ass music! I have students in high school, college, stay at home moms, and retirees, so there is no set age group for Zumba ─ young and old all have a great time, not to mention that both women AND men attend my classes.

TCS: For those who’ve never taken Zumba®, what does a beginner need to know before taking a class? Do you have any tips for newbies?

MAS: My class rule is: “Smile, Have Fun, and LOVE Pitbull.” My best tip for a newbie is to go into a class just expecting to have fun. Don’t get caught up in worrying about making a wrong move. There are no wrong moves in Zumba® ─ only accidental solos. All the gyms I teach at, and most gyms in general, offer either a free day or free week pass, so I encourage everyone reading this to just try a class. I recommend wearing either a cross-training sneaker or a dance sneaker. Popular brands such as Ryka, Bloch, Capezio, and Sansha have dance sneakers. Zumba® Fitness also has their own line of dance sneakers.

TCS: Are there certain Zumba® classes designed specifically for beginners?

MAS: Zumba® is a perfect class whether your fitness level is at a beginner, intermediate, or advanced level. The key is that each individual go at their own pace and the moves can be modified to the individual’s level. However, there is a specialty Zumba® class called Zumba Gold®. Zumba Gold® is geared towards the active older adult who is looking for a modified Zumba® class that recreates the original moves they love at a lower-intensity. You can take a Zumba® class every day if you like but if you are new to exercise in general, then I would recommend 3 x a week to start.

TCS: What if you are not coordinated and can’t dance can you still take a Zumba® class?

The biggest comment I hear from someone that has never attended a class is that they are intimated to try Zumba® because “they are not coordinated.” I want people to know that they do not have to be superstar dancers or be super coordinated to take a class. The key to Zumba® is to just let go and have fun!

TCS: Will Zumba® help adults get in shape and lose weight?

MAS: Zumba® is an amazing cardiovascular workout. Many of my students have lost weight after they started taking classes but you have to combine it with the right nutrition if you really want to see results. To achieve a safe weekly weight loss the emphasis is really 80% on nutrition and 20% on exercise. The amount of calories you can burn in Zumba® depends on a few factors, but the average is between 500 to 1,000 calories per hour of Zumba®.

TCS: Can Zumba® classes help adults increase their focus, establish self-confidence and enhance coordination much like karate?

MAS: That is a great question and yes to all! Learning the dancing moves in Zumba® can greatly improve coordination. Zumba® routines, thanks to their dancing roots, can lower inhibitions (in a good way). Zumba® will improve your posture, which will naturally increase your confidence, and slowly mastering routine after Zumba® routine will increase your confidence in a Zumba® class and everywhere else.

TCS: What kind of music is played during your Zumba® class? Do you allow the students to make song requests?

MAS: One of my favorite parts about being a Zumba® instructor is the variety of music that I can expose my students to. In a typical Zumba® class the emphasis is on Latin and International music. The 4 core rhythms are Merengue, Cumbia, Reggaeton, and Salsa. I will always have those 4 core rhythms in my class. However, I may also feature a Tango, Flamenco, Bollywood, Quebradita, Bachata, African, Belly Dancing, Axe, Calypso, Soca, or Latin Pop. I will also include current pop music ─ including my favorite artist Pitbull because my students love to dance to songs that they are familiar with. I love when students request a specific song!

TCS: Is there a high demand for Zumba® instructors? And, what is the best way for someone to find a local Zumba® instructor or class?

MAS: There is definitely a high demand for Zumba® classes and most gym schedules offer a variety of days and times for Zumba® because it is still one of the most popular group fitness classes to take. However, there are so many women and men that have become licensed to teach, that it may be difficult at times to find a class to teach if you are a new instructor. The best way to find a licensed instructor is to:

  • Go To
  • Select Find a Class in Your ‘Hood!
  • Enter Your Zip Code
  • Hit Search Classes
  • View The Available Classes in Your Area. Only Licensed ZINS Can Add their Class Schedule.


TCS: If a student is unable to make it to a class, do you recommend any good Zumba® DVDs?

MAS: Zumba® has several DVD’s but the two most popular are the Zumba® Fitness Super Cardio Dance Party, and Zumba® Fitness Exhilarate Body Shaping System DVD Set. Zumba® Fitness also has some amazing video games for both Wii and Xbox 360. However, in my opinion nothing beats a live class!

TCS: Why do some Zumba® Instructors wear one pant leg up and one pant leg down? Is it all about attitude? And, do you do that too?

MAS: That style did not originate with Zumba® but was a mid-90s trend first spotted in LL Cool J’s “Hey Lover” music video in 1995. The style quickly became one of the trends that personified that era of hip-hop style. I don’t really see many Zumba® instructors doing that any longer. For me, it is all about the Capri pants or Harem pants.

TCS: In what ways do you market your business and stay connected to your audience?

MAS: I market my business and stay connected with my audience via the following vehicles:

TCS: Why do some Zumba® Instructors wear tassels on your pants? What does it mean? And, do you wear them?

MAS: When I first started teaching Zumba® in 2011 the tassel pants were big in Zumba®, but again most instructors I know do not wear them. We do a lot of booty shaking in Zumba® so having tassels, does make it more fun!

TCS: Why don’t some Zumba® Instructors verbally cue their students or talk more during the class? What is your style preference?

MAS: The traditional Zumba® class emphasizes non-verbal cueing, as it offers many benefits to a class. Non-verbal cueing allows the instructor and students to feel the music and enjoy the party atmosphere of a Zumba® Fitness class. I am not like most instructors, and I do wear a headset. I definitely keep the party atmosphere going and only use the headset at a minimum for basic cues, but I find that my students appreciate both the combination of verbal and non-verbal cueing that I offer.

TCS: Why do you think Zumba® instructors are so different from one another?

MAS: This is the most important point that people should take away from this article. You can take a Zumba® class with 20 different instructors, and each class will be completely different. One of the best things about being an instructor is the total freedom Zumba® gives us to add our own flavor and style ─ as long as we follow the basic guidelines Zumba® provided to us. It is key that students try a variety of instructors, in order to find a few that they connect with the most.

TCS: Is there any other information that you can provide to someone interested in Zumba® that we didn’t cover in the interview already?

MAS: I think we covered just about everything. I hope to see some of your readers in my Zumba® class with one pant leg up and tassels swinging!

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono - The Creative Spotlight

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.