Scare-Acting 101: Decriptions and Discussion

by on May.29, 2011, under Syndicated from the Web

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by: RFR Casket Crew’s The Unknown Scare-Actor

Scare acting. What does it mean? It certainly doesn’t mean jumping up and yelling “BOO!” What does it take to scare the public? A lot. Years ago, shadows and suspense were enough to instill fear and dread. But over the years, due to the evolution of society, and more more importantly, movies, people are becoming, for lack of a better term, jaded. What would have shocked and disgusted someone in the 1950′s seems almost boring in the 21st century. Home haunts and haunted attractions, started out with sheets with eye holes cut out, and a little red paint or ketchup on various parts of the body, or the stuffed dummy someone made. I remember making a gliding ghost as a kid, using a fishing line tied from a tree in the yard to a column on my porch, a white sheet, stuffed with paper in the head area, and a coat hanger for it to slide on the line. Crude, but effective. This was 1976. The same setup would be laughable now, but it was good for a few startle scares when I was 11 years old.

I know, I’m dating myself, but it’s all a state of mind. My point is simple. Evolution. Haunts have evolved over the last 30 years, and made huge leaps in production values in the past 10-15 years. The haunt business is now a billion dollar a year industry. This figure is staggering for a holiday that started as a pagan ritual to celebrate summer’s end centuries ago.

OK, enough of the history lesson. You didn’t buy this book to hear long oration about floating
sheets and pagan festivals. You want to be a scare-actor, and you aren’t quite sure how to go about it. Well, just as the production value of haunted attractions have evolved to the level of a Hollywood movie, the actors have to perfect their scaring techniques. Actors will always be the “blood and guts” of the haunted attraction. The set design can be perfect, the animatronics top-notch, but without the scare-actors, it’s not much more than a static movie set. Just like in a movie, the scare-actors take on different roles, from “starring” roles, to support roles, to queue line entertainment.

With all the different choices, if you want to work at a haunted attraction, there is sure to be a role for you. If you have found a haunted attraction you would like to work with, or if you have been to one where you live and thought “this could really be fun”, then the first step is to make contact with the attraction, usually via their website. You can also start checking job postings around August, as well as checking out the haunt’s Facebook or Myspace page, if they have one. Of course if you can
find a contact number, give them a call. Some haunts may be strictly volunteer work, but a lot of them are paying jobs. If you live near a theme park, they may have a seasonal haunted attraction, such as Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights or Cedar Fair’s Halloween Haunt.

Universal Halloween Horror Nights

Universal Halloween Horror Nights

I remember the first time I worked a haunt. It was A LOT of work. We had rehearsal every night for a week prior to opening night. The night we opened I had a blast. I was thinking, “I finally get to scare as many people as possible AND I get paid for it? Does it get any better?” The night flew by and 7 hours later we were done . I was on such an adrenaline high that when I got home, I didn’t get to sleep until dawn. What I can’t stress enough is that no matter how much fun you have, this is a JOB.

You will have a boss, and rules to follow, a place you are supposed to be for the scare to work. This may sound like I am trying to talk you out of wanting to do this, but what I am trying to do is make you aware of what is in store for you. I have seen plenty of 18-30 year old people come to work the haunt thinking it is going to be all fun and games, and then quitting after a couple of weeks, when they realize they actually have to work. If you are truly passionate about Halloween and the love of scaring the sh*t out of people, then it will be fun, and getting paid for it doesn’t hurt at all.

Chapter One – Different Roles

Pre Haunt: The different roles in a haunt vary as much as the haunts themselves. The roles needed to run an effective haunt are determined by the haunt proprietor, based on their needs. Due to varying needs, the following roles are generalized and my vary from my initial descriptions.

Roamers – Roamers are usually found at larger haunts and theme park haunted events. These scare-actors can be just about any manner of creature as determined by the haunt. It is the job of the roamer to keep the guests entertained, scare them whenever possible, as well as being available for photo opportunities as required. Some roamers are people with certain skills, such as stilt walkers, unicycle riders, sword swallowers, etc. Some slide on the ground with special knee pads and gloves that create sparks. From
my past experience, a lot of roamers have costuming and makeup that may be a bit more elaborate, due to the amount of interaction and face time with the public, as opposed to an actor in the haunt proper, who may just be visible for a short period of time and guests don’t have the time to critique the makeup or mask. Just to be clear, All of the information I am providing in this book is based on my own experiences and observations, so it is not “the end all be all” definitive guide.

Shawn from Terror on the Fox

Shawn from Terror on the Fox (photo: Mystique Imagery)

Queue Line – Queue line actors are similar to roamers. They help keep the guests entertained and keep their minds off the amount of time they are spending in line, which can be an hour or more at some haunts. Queue line actors find themselves improvising to interact with the guests, molding the character to the moment. In some cases you make also find an actor from the beginning of a haunt, doing double duty with queue line work. This seems to be more prevalent at haunted attractions that have multiple haunts at one location.

Host/Storytellers – Some haunts have actors that may help setup the whole storyline of the haunt, perhaps as a host. These actors usually have some formal theater experience. These character actors setup the guests for the horrors within. These actors usually follow a script, with a bit of improvisation as needed. Makeup and costuming tends to very detailed.

Haunt Proper – As I am sure you know, Haunted attractions take on many different venues and themes, so I will be generalizing this section to apply to indoor haunts, outdoor haunts, hayrides, mazes, etc. These types of scareactors are so wide and varied in needs and techniques that it is hard to generalize, but I will do my best. Parts of this section will apply more to techniques, as opposed to actually positions, so here we go.

The “Pop” scare – Pop scares can be quick and easy, or difficult, depending on your timing. They usually get a scream. Pop scares can originate from various locations. A drop panel, from behind a curtain, under a bed. You get the idea. Hiding places. Pop scares are a hit and run. It sounds easy, but again, you have to have you timing down for this. Most walkthrough haunted attractions push people through in groups. If you are working as a pop scare, and a group of patrons start to walk through your room, don’t immediately pop out. Give the group time to get in the room. Aim for the middle of the group. It you pop too soon, then the last people in the group don’t get scared, because they have already seen you. For you newbies, the timing will come quickly, just utilize any rehersal time to hone your skills.

Scene Actor – Scene actors usually don’t scare, per se. They may work a rehearsed or improvised scene, that may set the mood, keep the storyline going or possibly a gross out scene. You are usually visible the moment patrons com into the room, going through your routine for the entertainment of the patrons, maybe doing a quick scare as they walk by. For example, a butcher is chopping a body on a table, as the group walks by, he turns towards a patron, threatening with his cleaver. This type of acting position may be good for a neophyte who is not quite sure what he or she wants to do scare wise. It gives them a template to work with.

Mannequin-mode – Some actors a very good at standing still. If the need calls for it you can hide in plain sight. Usually, it is easy to confuse patrons, especially with a mask or a lot of makeup on your face. Some people may look right at you and not realize you are real. Some may think you are, but aren’t sure. A great way to scare them is when they look close to determine if you are real and pounce. This is almost guaranteed to get the patron to jump and fall back.

Stalker – This is one of my favorite acting positions. Stalking can be A LOT of fun. One way to stalk is to be in full view of the patrons as they enter you area/room. You may be doing a rehearsed bit, which changes once you have the whole group in your clutches. At this point, a great way to get a good scare is to target the patron who looks the most frightened. Then it is game on. Stalk them, come up behind them, breath on their neck, snarl, growl, scream, just stick with them until the cry, run away or pee their pants. I used to combine mannequin-mode with stalking. This way I could easily find my target, wait a few seconds until they forget me, and then attack. It NEVER failed me. I had people run away screaming, a couple peed, and one dropped to the floor in a fetal position.

Netherworld's The Collector

The Collector from Netherworld Haunted House

Icon Character -If a Haunt has an Icon Character, this is the showcase role. Icons usually appear in advertising, so guests expect to see this character.Not only is costuming precise and detailed, but you generally have to be the same body size for the character, especially if multiple people are portraying the icon in various locations of the haunt. Rehearsal is necessary to perfect the actions and mannerisms of the Icon. The above roles are based on my observations and experiences in the haunt industry and are provided as suggestions to new haunt actors as well as anyone who may be interested in getting involved in a haunted house production.


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