Tips for Amateur Actors in Haunted Attractions
Many small haunted attractions do not have professional actors. Here are some tips for people with little or no acting experience who find themselves with responsibility for playing parts in them.
Know your part
You have a specific role to play in the attraction. Be sure you understand what it is and put some thought into how you should behave in that role. Are you a zombie? Don't talk (well, any more than to maybe groan "Brrraaaiinns!!!") and master the shuffle of the undead. Are you a mad scientist? Learn to laugh insanely. Are you a witch? Work on that creaky voice that sounds like a rusted gate hinge and learn the names of all the disgusting things that go into any self-respecting cauldron of brew.
Your attraction may or may not have a script, and your director may or may not need you to stick closely to it. There is usually room for ad-lib, in fact it almost always necessary to deviate a little from the written lines as you react to guests who may talk back to you or move slower or faster than you expect through your room. Spend some time thinking about your character, and contemplating how you need to act to be convincing in that role.
Stay in character
You have an important job to do. Your job is to scare people. Your job is to make grown men cry and teach little kids that haunted houses are not for bedwetters. Nothing ruins a good scare faster than having an actor "drop character" and suddenly be a smiling, good natured, oh-sorry-I-startled-you guy in a rubber mask. Remember, these people came here to be scared, and if you don't scare them you aren't doing your job and they aren't getting what they paid for.
Obviously, you don't have to be cruel about it. If someone is really freaking out and just trying to find the shortest way to the exit, back off and let them go. However, unless you are facing a true emergency situation (like someone throwing up or passing out or something catching fire) you should remain in character at all times, even if you see your middle school guidance counselor coming through in his underwear and Mickey Mouse ears.
Timing is everything
If you need to pop out of a corner and yell to give people a scare, it's not going to work if they're still coming in the door at the other end of the room or if they've already moved on to the next. Understand what you need to do and be sure to do it at the right time to get the biggest scare.
Don't touch the guests
You don't know the people who are coming through your haunt and they don't know you. Even if they do, they will be high on adrenaline and (if you are doing your job) more than a little freaked out. An unexpected grab or touch can result in a fight-or-flight reaction that can endanger yours and the guests safety. Also, if you grab or touch someone the wrong way, there can be legal implications of assault. Your attraction should have signs posted advising the quests not to touch the actors, and the actors should all understand not to touch the guests.
It needs to look violent, not be violent
Unlike quests, you may be cast in a role where you are to touch other cast members. More than likely, given the nature of the attraction, the way you touch them is expected to look violent, dangerous or otherwise unpleasant. This does not mean you should hurt your fellow cast members! That will bring a sudden end to the fun. Remember assault is assault, even if you're playing an assigned part.
The good news is that with a pumped-up audience, darkness, strobe lights, and other distractions, you can make it look violent without actually hurting anyone. If you have to swing an axe or other weapon, give yourself plenty of room to ensure you miss. If you have to grab someone, move slowly (the lighting will help it look more dramatic than it is) grab them gently and practice! Think of it as dancing.
You are going to be running around in a dark, noisy place with things hanging from the ceiling and all over the walls and floor. Don't turn an imaginary house of horrors into a real one by breaking your real leg instead of the foam rubber ones!
Scaring people is fun, and though it's a lot of hard, exhausting work, you should enjoy yourself. If you find you aren't having any fun, perhaps you should consider driving the hay-ride tractor next year.
Should you have any other tips for haunted attraction actors that you would like to share, or if you question any of my advice above, by all means contact me.