The Character Matrix: A Clear And Simple Way To Help Haunt Actors Develop Characters Fast!

by on Feb.04, 2013, under Haunted Houses, Haunting Ideas, NETHERWORLD Haunted House

The Character Matrix:
A Clear And Simple Way To Help Haunt Actors Develop Characters Fast!

Ben Armstrong – NETHERWORLD Haunted House 2/4/13

As we know, the most important and difficult thing to develop in a haunted attraction is a well trained staff. The goal of the CHARACTER MATRIX is to give your cast the tools to get up to speed on their characters fast!

The act of building and opening a haunt is an out of control roller coaster ride and for many the last thing we do is hire a staff, get them looking scary and send them into the gloom to await the first customers. Even when you have the time for training there are always mid-season actors that have to be brought on line without delay. So once assigned to a position what are your actors supposed to do? Well certain things are obvious. Any basically designed room has some sort of obvious place for the actor to hide, or a clear place for them to be seen doing whatever that room requires them to do. Almost anyone you hire (Well almost anyone!) will understand that if you dress them like a clown and put them in a clown room they are supposed to “act” like a clown. So say for example we have a drop panel for them to use in the clown room. It is pretty clear they are supposed to slam down the panel shocking the patrons and do something “funny“. But the next step is the tough one: how do they interact AFTER that?

So let’s begin with some of the basic haunt acting descriptions from the Ohio/Bloodview/Scab 5 school of thought to set the stage for the discussion.

A) PRESENTATION: How the actor looks: the make-up, the costume , the mask, etc.

B) APPROACH: How the actor reveals to the patron, i.e. a drop panel, curtain, pops out from around a corner, was in sight the entire time (for atmospheric characters, trapped people, actors working at a task, like a butcher chopping meat, et al)

C) INTERACTION: What happens between the actor and the guest – The “act” of delivering lines, startling the guest, etc.

The CHARACTER MATRIX is designed primarily to help your actors with the INTERACTION but it can also affect the PRESENTATION and the APPROACH.

First comes the obvious: what is the TYPE and OCCUPATION of the character? What I mean is for example the TYPE could be a CLOWN, the occupation could be a DOCTOR. So we have a clown doctor – that alone gives your actor much better guidance than just being a CLOWN.

Now we go to the MATRIX. Pick One PRIMARY TRAIT and one or two SECONDARY TRAITS that make sense. That may even be too much, it really depends how elaborate you want to get with the act.


A) Determine actor TYPE (Vampire, Werewolf, Clown, etc.)

B) Determine actor OCCUPATION (Doctor, Cook, Gravedigger, Butler etc.)

C) Pick one PRIMARY TRAIT and one or two SECONDARY TRAITS that do not conflict with each other.

Find the DESCRIPTORS under the TRAIT and use them to flesh out your act.


Self Sacrifice

Kill for Fun



Talk to themselves
Gibberish Nonsense
Self Mutilation
Nonsensical Motivations
Motivation/Personality Shifts
Be Afraid of Nothing/Everything

Scared Brave


Share Knowledge
Pass Judgments
Order people around
Gather Data
Espouse Science

Act Clumsy
Ask Dumb Questions
Talk/Move Simple/Slow
Be Affectionate/Angry
Be Easily Fooled

Now let’s take our CLOWN DOCTOR. Let’s say the PRIMARY TRAIT is he is SMART. The SECONDARY TRAIT is that he is INSANE. Now go to the DESCRIPTORS under the Trait and pick out a few that work for you and go to town! Our Clown Doctor can be very Bossy (Smart characters tend to order others around) but since he is insane his orders are nonsensical. For example when folks enter his scene he might say, “The operation is about to begin! You will be my assistant. Give me the rubber chicken. I wish to make the incision!”

The goal is to give FAST direction to your actors, to give them something to work with that can really help flesh out a character in no time at all. So if they are playing a Ghostly Butler, make them OLD and GOOD, so now maybe in a very slow and cranky way they are trying to warn (Help) the patrons about the horrors ahead.

Someone playing a WEREWOLF might play it differently if they were told to be a YOUNG werewolf. You could play a GOBLIN as ANIMALISTIC or as COMICAL. Even within a Trait there could be many differences. Our ANIMALISTIC GOBLIN could be cowering, i.e. afraid of the patrons or it could be stalking them or putting on a show of intimidation.

Dialogue will naturally come once you merge the TYPE, OCCUPATION and several TRAIT SETS, but in many cases BODY LANGUAGE and or the APPROACH is the thing the actor will understand as many characters won’t even have dialog in their act.

So there you have it… a very SIMPLE EASY way to give your actors something more to go on than just the room and costume. Do you have a Zombie horde and you want to make them different from each other? Easy! Make some YOUNG, some OLD, some STUPID and some INSANE. Now you have variety! The CHARACTER MATRIX is by all means not finished. You can add endless TRAITS and DESCRIPTORS to it. It is more of a shorthand way of thinking to get the crew rolling. When your actors come to casting to get assignments you can hand out a few TRAITS along with the costume, and it will help a great deal with the performance.


There are certain trait sets that lend themselves to certain Haunted House Characters. Here are a few obvious ones to start with but you can make up a million of them… use these as an example and have fun!

Nazgul /Wraith Trait Set

Werewolf Trait Set

Demon Trait Set –

Goblin Trait Set –

Clown Trait Set

Creeper Trait Set

Zombie Trait Set

Monster Trait Set

Vampire Trait Set

Victim Trait Set

Greeter Trait Set

Camo Creatures Trait Set

Statues/Golems Trait Set



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