The Life of a Scare Actor

The Life of a Scare Actor

The Life of a Scare Actor

Fall season is upon us, Labor Day has come and gone, and pumpkin-spiced everything is on menus across the country. Do you know what else is in season? Haunted Houses and Fright Fests! It might be September, but these events are already starting to pop up everywhere.

This has been a tried and true side gig for many actors for years. It is an opportunity to blow off some steam, stretch your muscles, and be in relative anonymity. However, if you’ve never been a scare actor, how do you get into it? Do you need to possess any type of skills? What is my character’s relation to the audience? Don't worry, I've got you covered…

The Different Roles & Personalities

I know there are so many more different variations than what is listed below, but at least this is a start of what you may find and what you can develop in the haunted house you audition for. Note: You’ll never have a script as a scare actor, but you might have a skeletal outline of “Make sure you show them the head in the trash can and bang on the wall.” Things like that can serve as CUES to the other scare actor further down that a group is coming.

The Zombie

The walking dead personified. Doesn’t say much beyond a gargle, but might have a gimmick if you come too close.

The Ghoul/Demon

One of the scariest characters if you want to make it; sometimes having the most elaborate makeup or costume. This is where lunges, screams, and knocker knuckles can occur.

The Crazy Doctor/Scientist

Here’s your chance to develop your maniacal laugh or smile. They’re always experimenting on bodies, perhaps creating the next Frankenstein or chopping someone up alive. Sidenote: I once was the “patient” being chopped up and I had to come up with some of the most excruciating screams and wails to signify my abject pain and horror.

The MasterMind/Host

Normally at the beginning of the maze, they’ll greet you, remind you of the rules and regulations of the house, answer any logistics questions, and lead you inside the first room.

The Life of a Scare Actor

The Child

Don’t let the sweet exterior and innocent voice fool you, the closer you get, their voice, eyes, or face will change and become evil. Usually, this role is played by an adult who is shorter with a child-like physique or babyface.

The Jester

This character is a talkative one, probably asking 20 questions. His or her jokes are corny and harmless. They might even have a prank that has the appearance of being scary. Every haunted house needs comic relief to break up the constant terror.

The Worker

There’s always the “normal person,” with no makeup, no costume, who cleaning up a mess, tending to an animal, or just hanging out. They want you to come over, and say "Hi!" Beware though, they are hiding something sinister that’ll disgust you or wow you.

The Rules of Engagement

This is a very delicate area here because you are trying to draw a fine line between scaring people and any harassment that can be seen as assualt, intimidation, or trauma. In these environments, the objective is to come right to the line but never cross it. Never, ever, I mean never TOUCH an audience participant. You can inadvertently cause them to fall and hurt themselves, their heightened sense of fear is already that this is real enough to them. You can cause a reaction where the actor can be punched, kicked, or hit with an object in the name of “self-defense.” You can also scare the audience member into having a heart attack or other medical emergency.

Operators have increasingly made the public sign liability waivers; you still don’t want to go that far as to have that on your conscious. Finally, I would always approach the audience member from the front or the side and always above the waist. Let them SEE you. Getting right into someone’s face is fine, as well as expected. But coming from behind or below is not cool and can bring on the problems I mentioned earlier.

If your character talks, refrain from any name-calling or foul language. You want to ask them fun, scary, or rhetorical questions to elicit answers from them. The audience WILL curse at you and call you all sorts of names, but never respond back in kind- respond in character, and then move on to the next group.

The Life of a Scare Actor

Managing Movement & Physicality

This gig does favor those with experience in theatre and dance. Their movement and expressionist skills will come in handy. One has to be mindful that your time during a scare gig or shift can last several hours. You will have to pace yourself and your energy to prevent burnout. You at some point could be running, yelling, screaming, jumping, falling, crawling, or all of the above. All of this will spend you emotionally and physically. Thankfully, most haunted houses are built like mazes and labyrinths. Actors in their roles are assigned to specific rooms or areas all night long. There is no reason that an actor should be running from the beginning of the maze through the end.

Whether you are alone, come with a significant other, or are part of a group, people are sent through the maze in waves. This breaks up a crowd to a). Not anticipate what is coming and b). Give actors mini-breaks in between groups. What if your blocking calls you to lunge at the group screaming at the top of your lungs and stomping the floor? It’ll be nice to know that you have a 3-5 minute stoppage before doing it again. That way, you can give 100% every time. Also, you do have designated breaks where actors will rotate in and out, especially if you’re in a mask or costume.

How to Get Into Scare Actor Work

This is not an arena where you call up your agent and look for breakdowns. I would google all the haunted houses and amusement parks that do fright fests and go to the website directly. In their "Jobs" section, postings about auditions and roles should appear. Don’t rule out a posting on Actors Access as I’ve seen houses hire independent casting directors to fill out roles.

The audition process will consist of a lot of improvisation. Seeing how well you can move and the depth of which your voice carries.

Depending on the size of the role and state you live in, the rates will vary but can be anywhere from approximately $15-$25 per hour. Some artists could be hired under an AGVA (American Guild of Variety Artists) contract if they have specialized roles like acrobats. Remember some houses are already open in mid-September and you’ll need to go through a training/fitting/rehearsal period.

The beginning days will have limited hours, perhaps being open on weekends only, however by October, days will expand. The two weeks preceding Halloween, expect to be open every night. Depending on what day Halloween falls on, you could take advantage and stay open through the first few days of November.

Are you thinking of taking on scare work this fall? Let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author

Kevin Marshall Pinkney

Kevin Marshall Pinkney

Actor, Production Assistant

Originally from Chicago. Kevin's love for film & Television and travel started at an early age. He went on to study at the University of Southern California for Theatre & Cinema-Television business. Combining both passions has resulted into visiting 15 countries, 43 states, and working in 11 markets...

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