How to survive scare acting
Halloween can provide a bonanza for actors, but performers should be prepared for the unique challenges such work brings, says experienced scare actor Errol Seymour
Seasonal halloween work as a scare actor can be great fun, but it’s important to be prepared for the stresses of the job.
From aggressive audiences to the ever-present threat of losing your voice, there are all sorts of pitfalls a first-time scare actor can fall into. As someone who has been working regularly in the sector for the last two years, here is my comprehensive guide to surviving scare acting.
How to prepare
Scare acting is incredibly rewarding. You’ll get to showcase your physical acting talent in a variety of roles, and you’ll never have a dull moment.
However, it’s easy to burn yourself out. You’ll be working late hours in physically demanding roles, and if you’re unlucky enough to be working at an outside haunt, you could even wind up working in torrential rain.
With preparation, you can minimise the risk of exhaustion and still be at your scary best. One of the worst-kept secrets is Gollum juice, so named because it’s the magic potion Andy Serkis used to achieve Gollum’s croaky voice on the set of Lord of the Rings. The honey, lemon and ginger concoction soothes the throat and is full of energy. It’s easy to prepare, and two weeks into the season you’ll be zombie-growling with the best of them while everyone else is saving their voice.
You’ll also want to dress for the season. Sure, you’ll be running around and jumping out from behind corners for most of the time, but you don’t want to be stuck in a downpour with nothing but your torn-up costume for cover. A cheap black turtleneck, some thermal leggings, and one or two T-shirts will keep you warm in even the worst weather. Most importantly, don’t forget to eat. Scare acting is intensive and you’ll be doing it for hours at a time. Bananas, cereal bars and nuts are all great to snack on. Avoid coffee, chocolate and other smelly food – there’s nothing worse than executing a stealthy scare only to have your target turn around and go: “Wow, your breath stinks!”
Reading your audience
As in any immersive theatre project, scare acting requires getting up close and personal with your audience. The difference is, this audience isn’t a polite group of theatre fans looking to appreciate some art – this audience is a ragtag bunch of teenagers, drunken adults and troublemakers looking to get scared.
People can react badly when afraid, so try to avoid being blindsided by a flying handbag
The number one rule of interacting with your victims – uh, audience – is to always have an escape route. People can react badly when frightened and the last thing you want is to be blindsided by a flying handbag. When you first go in for the scare, keep your feet in an ‘L’ shape. This position will let you keep your balance (nobody’s scared of a wobbly zombie) while also allowing you to retreat easily.
The second rule of audience interaction is to remember that everyone reacts differently. You’ll need to tailor your approach based on the kind of person you’re interacting with. A group of teenagers faking bravado are going to be an easy scare, but you’ll need to be wary of doing anything particularly meme-able, unless you want them crowding you for selfies for the rest of the night. On the other hand, if you come across a group of drunk bodybuilders who are fed up, a more lighthearted approach often helps to bring them into the spirit of things.
One great way to get a feel for the crowd is to hang back and be ominously still for a moment, then raise your arm to point in the general direction of the audience. The one who goes “Aargh! It’s pointing at us!” is almost always going to be a good target.
It’s an unfortunate fact that not every audience member you’ll encounter is there to have a good time. Some are too scared, some are drunk, and some are just there to cause trouble. Recognising these types is a matter of practice, so it’s important to keep an eye on your escape route at all times.
Never allow yourself to become blocked in – know where the nearest member of security is in case of emergency. If you smell drink or drugs on a customer, revert to a less personal scare immediately. In an indoor attraction you’ll usually have a backstage area to escape to. At the first sign of a group becoming aggressive, you’ll be able to hide and inform your colleagues and security. If you’re a wandering actor, though, things become more tricky.
The best tactic is to always remain in a group. You’ll be able to watch each others’ backs, and as a bonus, your audience will be horrified to spot a huge group of wandering monsters bearing down on their queue.
Remember that you’re working in the dark. In indoor attractions you’ll usually be able to learn the layout and plan around oddly shaped bits of furniture. The great outdoors, however, is full of tree roots, half-buried fences and low hanging branches. In the heat of the moment it’s very tempting to leap out of the undergrowth and pursue your targets down a forest path, but in practice this often leads to either you or your audience taking an embarrassing (and dangerous) fall. Take the opportunity to explore your haunt during the day, taking note of areas where the ground is flat and the path clear. These are the places you’ll be able to chase your audience. For everywhere else, statue scares do a great job without making customers run into a tree.
Scare acting is one of the most fun jobs you can have as a beginning actor. Try different characters and actions, explore the ways you can make your audience react and, most importantly, have a great time.