View Full Version : basic actor guidelines

08-02-2006, 10:40 PM
Last night I recieved an email for a new haunt actor asking me for advice. The following is my response. After writing it, I decided to repost the same information on my blog and to share it with everyone here on the off chance that someone finds it useful. If so, you have my permission to use it to distribute to your own actors or in any way you see fit. Fell free to add to it or do whatever you like.

Smacky's Haunt Acting Basics

Be valuable: That means show up on time every time. This is the NUMBER ONE most important thing that a haunt owner loves. If you cannot be there let them know. If you are going to be late, let them know. Be the person that they can count on. Be a professional and they will treat you as one.

Sometimes this is tough. Sometimes it means that you will have a 'crappy' job -- maybe you are pushing a lever all night and that is all you do. I invite you to think of it differently (and realistically). In a theatre, someone you never see opens the curtain; someone is working all those lights. They are no less important than any actor is, and without them, the show does not happen. If you become the person that your haunt owner goes to first (because he knows that you will get the job done right every time) and you can rest assured that you will very rapidly find yourself doing the more glamorous jobs you want.

Why? The owner wants his most reliable people in those positions. Earn his trust and that is where you will be. Remember too that whatever your job, you are an important part of a TEAM of people, working together to provide a quality entertainment experience.

Do not terrorize: by this, I mean, get your scare and get out of the customers face. It is tempting (and almost irresistible) to target the quivering pre-teenage girl and ride her until she is in tears. Don't! Get the scare and move on. Better yet, ignore her completely and scare the crap out of her oh-so-cool friends. More important, you can bet that the less skilled actors are focusing their attention on the easy scare, which means the others are probably starting to get bored. Correct this.

Timing: Timing. Timing. Timing. The group knows that somewhere in this room, hallway, or whatever, something or someone is going to pop out and yell 'Boo!' Often, that wait is more frightening than the guy doing the scaring is. Timing means knowing when to strike for maximum impact. Be patient and wait for what you think is the right time, then nail them. After every group, study what worked and did not, and refine what you are doing. Always work to time your scare to both their anticipation, and to whatever distractions are built into the room.

Approach: Approach them in a way they did not expect. Come in low and slide or crawl across the floor, come in high and leap from the ceiling, Come in FAST, or if they expect that, stand there and make them wait, then strike. But always try to give them something unexpected. Something memorable. If you have an idea about how a scene might be improved, talk to the boss -- he probably wants to hear it.

Safety: And this one is important so please read it all.

NEVER touch a guest if you can avoid it, and never let them touch you. Particularly, never get hit. Watch the people coming through and keep a safe distance. If you get in their face be ready to get back quickly. Safety is very very important, not just for you, but for the show. Every incident that happens means stopping the show, even if no one got hurt, and that sucks. So just be smart.

Always be on the look out for potential safety issues, and if you have the slightest concern notify your supervisor or the haunt owner immediately. If you think a scare, or even your scene is unsafe, do not do it. Seriously. Again, IMMEDIATELY notify your supervisor or the owner. There is not a haunt owner in this country who will not love you for catching a problem before it develops, and you will never get in trouble for not doing something you feel is unsafe.

Know the fire evacuation plan for your location, and what your duties are in the event of a fire (or other) emergency. Remember, you are responsible for the safety of the customers in your area, so know what you are supposed to do and do it like a pro.

Acting: You are an actor, so ACT. If you do not know how your character would react, it is sometimes helpful to picture a movie character and pretend to be them.

Ask yourself, 'What would Brad Pitt do here?' or 'How would Captain Spaulding react to this?' Then do it. Go crazy, go over the top, forget who you are and lose yourself completely in who you are pretending to be. No one knows who you are, and all they will remember is that psychotic nut doing back-flips in the padded cell. Or perhaps you are acting by doing nothing at all, attacking them with stillness and allowing the power of your mind to destroy theirs. For example, consider Anthony Hopkins in "The Silence of the Lambs." He never moved fast, and (in fact) rarely moved on camera at all. He allowed his presence and posture to dominate the viewer.

Attitude: Be a professional, but have FUN. If you blow your scare, flub your lines, or even fall flat on your face, do not sweat it. There will be another group along in thirty seconds with no idea how bad you just screwed up.

The Boss: Always listen to what the haunt owner or manager want you to do. If anything they say differs from what I have written here, go with what they want. It is their show, and they might well have a better idea of the overall flow than you. They might even want you to be less scary -- just do it, they would not ask if they did not have a damn good reason. The ONLY possible exceptions to this rule are safety. Never do something you think is unsafe, even if someone directs you to. Take the time to explain to them what the problem is -- it is entirely possible that they did not think of it. I can say this with assurance, I know a lot of haunt owners and I have never met one yet that would knowingly do anything to endanger their customers or actors. They spend more time worrying about safety than any other subject.

Final Notes: Be there when you say you will, have fun, be professional, be safe, and act. Thats is really all there is to it.

Thanks for reading,


08-03-2006, 03:27 AM
Sounds very good!
(Scarlett, I have it copied so we can print it out if I ever get my printer back online)

08-03-2006, 05:51 AM
My printer works! :D

Your MySpace works also. Assuming that someone doesn't mind if we copy and paste. :lol:

08-03-2006, 09:13 AM
Very valuable info, Smacky! Those of you who are new to haunting, take note. :)

08-03-2006, 09:15 AM
No, as I said, you are free to use this in any way you choose. My only request is that you include my name and a link.

Ken Spriggs
08-04-2006, 07:43 AM
I have sent my actor wrangler to view the list you made......

You have taken everything I have yelled...screamed...preached....and even used a baseball bat to get people to understand and printed here for me to print and hand to actors.....THANKS

Jim Warfield
08-04-2006, 07:47 AM
Ken, You forgot Electro-shock therapy, one of my favorite threatened methods!
"Now stand still while I wrap this copper wire around your...."

08-04-2006, 07:35 PM
Wow now that was some inspirational stuff there. Great job.

08-05-2006, 06:30 AM

very good info you've put down there! THANKS! :D

~nail in the coffin~
08-05-2006, 04:07 PM
this will definitely come in handy for me! thanks!

Warren Vanderdark
08-08-2006, 04:33 AM
Here's a little personal observation that might be of benefit. After acting in haunts for roughly 30 years now (lord, do I need help or what?! *lol*) I've often found that you can sometimes get a good scare/reaction by working on the customer/patron who DOESN'T seem to be an obvious choice (i.e., the nervous teenage girl.) For example, there was the moment last year when I actually made a local professional wrestler jump by misdirecting his attention when I hit the concealed button to open a sliding door. I think I can say without fear of contradiction that there are a LOT of people coming through haunts who'll put on their "Oh, NOTHING scares ME" persona, when the majority of them are on the verge of making a new exit through the nearest wall...


Warren Vanderdark;
Owner & Head Mortician,
The Baxter Avenue Morgue,


Jim Warfield
08-08-2006, 06:17 AM
Something I have been noticing about scaring people lately and it sure seems to work: There are people in a group walking passed a releasable display (Push the button it does something), the lead person is almost always the "Brave One" (unless they are in the process of being pushed forward by someone else)
Wait until "The Brave One " is slightly passed the scare point, putting the activated display slightly behind his peripheral vision, THEN push that button and you will often find that you not only get the meeker ones following but also That Brave One!
A football coach had his theory:"Attack the toughest "Star" player on the other team and when he shows he's getting tired and weary it will demoralise the rest of his team mates."
(Of course I have no way of knowing if this is actually true or not since our team won so few games! Maybe WE were too tired to win?) HA HA HA!?

08-15-2006, 11:28 AM
Thanks for all the nice comments. Let me bump this on the off chance that someone else finds it useful.

08-17-2006, 06:31 PM
Great stuff man... alot of practical information. Thanks for sharing! -Tyler

PS: You did say we can distribute this to our own actors right? Thanks.

08-20-2006, 11:09 AM
Great stuff man... alot of practical information. Thanks for sharing! -Tyler

PS: You did say we can distribute this to our own actors right? Thanks.

Yep. That's why I wrote it.

08-25-2006, 08:07 AM
Good tips and very well written! I try to get the actors as a sense of responsibility about their area and their props. This is your set and everything that happens in it is your responsibility including what to do in an emergency.

I have a PA system that can announce secret commands 'Mr Misty is getting frisky' aka problem at the front door and need some back up.... Is there a Simon Drake in the house - evacuate your area. I also hand out 'walkie talkies' and mikes for them to 'call' in problems.

No matter what the 'offical role' of the actors even it is pushing a lever they need to understand that they need to keep an alertness about them as well.

My actors are well looked after with food and drink as well. I have two 'spares' that walk around in grim reaper costumes and can stand in if possible if one of them need use the bathroom ;-)

Dan Faupel
08-25-2006, 01:11 PM
Amen Smacky!...well written...

09-22-2006, 04:58 PM
Final bump for the season. Feel free to copy this out for your actors or even modify it to better suit your needs.