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10 Tips and Tricks for the Aspiring Haunted House Actors

By Isaac

Scare acting is one of the most fun seasonal jobs for people who love Halloween. Folks from a wide variety of backgrounds come together every October to dress up in scary costumes, hide inside haunted houses, forests and hayrides all over America. It’s a strange, sometimes exhausting but always entertaining way to really get into the Halloween spirit. If this is your first season as a haunted house actor here are 10 tips and tricks from the staff at The Nevermore Haunt, Maryland’s scariest haunted house, to be the ghost with the most at your haunted attraction.

1 – Hydrate! Especially working at any of the haunted houses in Maryland, where the temps in October can still reach the 80’s well into haunt season. Bring yourself some water in a reusable container and don’t forget to drink it. During the adrenaline filled night of scaring and horrifying guests it’s easy to become dehydrated. Keeping hydrated will keep your energy up and your vocal chords fresh. 

2 – Speaking of vocal chords; rest your voice and if you must scream or yell, be sure to do it from  your diaphragm. It might be fun one night to growl, hiss or scream at every person that comes through your scene but Halloween season is a marathon not a sprint. Be sure to vary up your scare, include some non-vocal elements (like banging on a wall or using a noise maker) and when you do need to project make sure its from deep in your diaphragm not from your throat. You got to make that voice last till November!

3 – Create a character. Now, there’s no need here for an extensive backstory or even a name but it does help to think about what the ghoul, ghost or goblin you are representing is supposed to be doing in their scene. Are you an ax murderer looking for your next victim? A brain dead zombie? Or perhaps a vampire looking to suck some blood. This will help you come up with engaging lines and/or behavior that will make your scene stand out. When actors don’t do this they end up standing in a corner and yelling “get out” at every one that walks in the room. Don’t do this, it’s boring and not very scary. 

4 – You should work together with your castmates. Coordinating with your scene partners is a great way to effectively make your haunted house the scariest. Like in comedy, a ‘straight-man’ can help set another actor up for a great scare. Let one actor keep their attention while the other sneaks up from behind. Classic haunted house hijinks!

5 – Always scare forward! A common complaint for those going through haunted houses is what we call the “conga line.” This happens when groups get bunched up together as they move through the event. The easiest way to avoid this is to keep groups moving forward. If you pop out in front of a group they’re like to stop or back up, starting a conga line. Scare from the side or the back and keep the group moving forward

6 – When you’re working out your routine, develop a circular scare path. On busy nights at your haunted attraction you will have many groups coming one after another. Resetting your scare can get difficult if you don’t have a good circular scare path. If you chase a group down a path, have a hidden way to move back to the beginning of the scene instead of back tracking. You never want to get caught with your back to a group, how embarrassing!

7 – Avoid repetitive movements to avoid injury. It might be no problem to squat behind a bush and jump out a few times or to swing that big hammer around and bang on that metal drum but if you do it a hundred times in a night you might be really sore the next day, you could even injure yourself. Know your limits and ease into a physically demanding scene. 

8 – You should also avoid or otherwise be very careful with the scarecrow routine. A scarecrow routine is any routine in which the scare actor pretends to be a prop and then moves suddenly when a person comes near. It’s a great, easy way to get a scream. It’s also a good way to get punched in the face. Unfortunately many visitors to haunted houses will be pretty rough with props, especially prop bodies. Its not uncommon to see people punch foam corpses or hit fake monsters. Pretend to be a prop and you’ll be shaking hands with danger!

9 – Develop an out for your routine just in case they don’t run and scream. So you’ve got your chainsaw, you rev it up and appear from behind a tree. You start running toward a visitor… and they just keep walking. Now you’re right on top of them, revving that chainsaw as much as you can, but nothing. Be assured that continuing to run that motor isn’t going to get you a scare and now the entire interaction is getting awkward. This is why you need an out. It could be as simple as continuing to run past the unshakable guests when you don’t see them running in fear. Perhaps you come up with a joke or find some other reason to disengage that keeps you in character. Anything is better than continuing to try to get a jump scare, you get one shot and if you miss it, move on.

10 – Build a repertoire of comebacks. When people come through a haunted house and experience your routine they will often try to crack jokes. This is a common defense mechanism. Unsurprisingly most people aren’t that clever so you will start to hear the same comments night after night. Improving with visitors to the haunted house can be difficult but since they’re saying the same things over and over, use that to your advantage. Take downtime between scenes to come up with some real zingers and next time someone cracks a joke about your ‘bad breath’ you can have the group in awe of your amazingly clever retort.