The Scareactor’s Paradox

Posted: September 3, 2015 in Acting, Horror Blog, Theatre
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I have been a scareactor for many different haunted houses over the past ten years.  It’s a form of acting that I find a great amount of joy in, and I also take a lot of pride in. That’s why when I’m told by people that it’s not “real acting” I get really defensive.

Often times the directors, actors, etc. who says things like that typically dislike haunts/horror or have never been on the production side of these types of shows. Look, I get it. I understand how someone can go into a haunt and think that the actors doing the scaring are just fooling around or how it doesn’t take any skill to pop out and say “boo.” I get that thought process because the rub is it doesn’t take a lot skill to just say boo; to just be able to do the minimal in a haunt. The skill comes from the planning, the prep, the ability to read the audience, and the overall craft that goes in to real scaring. It’s the same amount of prep I’d put in to any performance on screen or on stage, and it pisses me off when people just discount the work that I and so many other talented people put in.

I believe this is a sort of paradox that any off stage live theatre performer deals with. You’re told that there is no real place for performances like this to be on your resume, and that it doesn’t take any real talent. That’s such bull to me. You can tell a good scareactor from a bad one in an instant. The good ones put in the time and devotion to the characters that we create, and that effort shows. I also go to plenty of haunt events and the ones that scare me or entertain me the most are always the ones where you can tell that the actors believe in their characters and put in the time and passion to flesh them out in their own heads. One of the first things you lean in theatre is if you as an actor believe in the action taking place, it’s that much easier for the audience to believe it. That is true on stage/film, but it’s even more true I believe in more visceral performances like haunted houses, or these interactive experiences like ALONE, Delusion, or Fables.2

Along with the process of creating these characters from the ground up, the ability to hone in and read the audience is so important to performances in haunts. It’s something that you have to continually work on, and perfect and is unlike anything you’d ever experience in stage theatre and especially film. With stage theatre, yes, you need to be able to read your audience- sure. But that is nothing compared to the way you need to read your audience in a haunt environment. First and foremost there is safety. You need to protect yourself as well as make sure the audience is never in any real danger. People have different reactions to being scared. I’ve been punched, slapped, kicked, scratched. elbowed, and have also had to deal with people crawling away into a corner, running backwards, and crapping themselves. There are so many different ways people deal with fear, and you have to be able to read that and be able to react to that so that you can still give a performance while making sure your safe, not holding the line up, or making the guests destroy the set or themselves.

You also have to be able to read what scares your audience. Not everyone scares the same way or is afraid of the same thing. So you may get one person who is petrified after you burst through a doorway screaming, but the next person may think that it’s scarier to see you crawling on all fours towards them. You need to have your character and the given circumstances in your mind, but you also have to allow yourself to be malleable to what the audience wants to experience. Really- if you ever want a great improv experience, try working a haunted house for a season.

While there are plenty of scareactors who are ostracized in theatre, the same happens in film. An example is the actors who have played Michael Myers. There have been many different actors to don the mask, and it sounds like a really basic and simple role. But to me it’s much more. Those actors have to not only portray him physically but all they have to act with is tiny gestures and their eyes- that’s it. That, to me, takes a lot of skill but I know a lot of people who don’t think that it takes talent.

1There needs to be more acceptance for scareactors in the world of theatre as well as film.  I do understand that just because a person is able to create a character and scare others it doesn’t mean that they can memorize lines or do other basic things and interactions with others on stage, but it’s all still importance and working haunted houses teaches actors a lot about improv, staying in character through distractions, reading the audience, and so much more. It actually pains me that after the hours, and years of devotion to this art I’m actually told that I should add this work to my acting resume; that I’m told that essentially all the work I’ve put in doesn’t count. It does count, and it matters. Acting is about creating an experience for the audience, and you can ask any number of the thousands of “victims” I’ve had over the past ten years and they’d tell you that I along with my fellow cast member did indeed create an experience for them.

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