View Full Version : Working with Volunteer Actors

03-03-2009, 08:57 PM
This post somewhat is in follow-up to the thread that nzanesmith posted about asking what actors want. But what are your tips for working with Volunteer actors. This year my focus is to recruit volunteer actors in hopes that they are interested in the business. Even interested enough to continue for more seasons.

My ideas so far are:

-get to know the group once recruited and find out what recognition they prefer.
- starting rewards for "best actor" of the night.
- focus on teaching them makeup and acting skills that they can use.
- Most important; stressing the importance of safety and how to deal with difficult situations
- Finding an actors "fit" what room might work with there personality and giving them tips on what to say or do so they can enjoy and make there room there own and a success.
- having a quick meeting after each night to get opinions of how the night went and maybe what could be done better.

I'm hoping to get more insight as so that hopefully we can keep the same actors on each year who do want to grow with our haunt. And for those who dont; they have an experience that was positive.
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Allen H
03-03-2009, 09:28 PM
Team building is huge for volunteer actors, one of the talks I give is on team building for your actors If I can find my notes on that I will email them to for you.... ah for get it I will post it here I found it!
Allen H
P.S. These are talking notes and its an outline as opposed to paragraphs, just read between the lines and you will get the jist of it, feel free to email me if you have any questions. On occasion my notes might contain.....artistic profanity, I may not say the words while speaking but it may be in the notes, I did not scan it.

Haunted House Team Building

What makes an actor feel like part of a team?

*Integrated Vision
*Fun/ Reward

I. Pride
A. Superior costumes and look/theme
1. Give them something to be proud of.
2. Character sheets will give them an identity to be proud of
3. Actors who look like part of a group will feel like part of a group
4. Customize, customize, customize
a. Don’t be afraid to repaint masks and gloves
B. Chants and call backs
1. Whose house is this?
2. Ritual- inspires belonging and fellowship
a. Sauromon at monster safari story
3. Overheard from customer “Oh shit, they’re organized.”

C .Character names
1. Character creation meetings
2. When they help choose what they want to be, they have more pride in it.
3. Give them choices that fit your theme
4. Play to their strengths (good actor, lots of energy, really tall)
a. Don’t ask a 14yr old fat kid to play Jason
b. Don’t ask a skinny bundle of energy to lay in a torso table all night
c. Don’t put a 4-year drama student in a non-speaking role.
D. Monsters don’t have problems, people do.
a. “You don’t hire people, you hire sets of problems”
b. Deep characters are an escape for the performer
c. They are almost therapy
d. Give them a story to get involved in
E. Play actors against each other (how many did you scare?)
a. Competition is good for pride

II. Acceptance
Acceptance into a group can be as simple as looking like they belong .
Themed Look by design
A. Should look like they belong to the same world
1. all of the creatures in Lord of the Rings had a certain look, they belonged together
2. You can tell an Alien creature because of Geiger’s striking design.
3. Hellraiser’s design of costumes and design themes the “box’s” look is carried over in to sets
3. Sets should have a similar look and feel
a. Design elements should carry over and bridge from one set to the next.
b. a similar level of detail should be through out the show so no areas stand out as unfinished looking.
Themed look by technique
1. Painting technique to tie costumes together
a. Dry brush- is a technique that has a distinctive look and can help tie elements together
b. Air brush- also has a distinctive look to it and it can be used on costumes makeup, and masks to make actors look good together
2. Set elements incorporated into costuming to blend the two
a. Jute mesh material is often incorporated into sets and costumes
b. Camo netting can also be used in both sets and costumes
c. Use symbols ( a corporations symbol could be placed on a lab wall as well as on a mad scientists jacket and also on the storage tank a mutant pops out of, as well as on the stationary that is in the trashed office)

B. Color pallet
1. Star Wars Movie Colors
a. Bad guys in black and white with a bit of red
b. Browns on Tattoine
c. Greens on Endor
2. Pick a palette at Home depot and stick to those colors
3. Bi Monthly Work “parties”
A. Making things:
a. Tombstones
b. Sconces
c. Whatever you need a lot of
4.Watching relevant movies
III. Integrated Vision

A. Tell them what you want
1. I want to have the classiest, grossest, scariest, safest, family friendliest show in the state.
2. If they don’t know, they can’t help.
3. Tell them the back-story and theme
4. Tell them the best possible guest experience
5. Tell them your dreams
B. Know the roles in a haunted house
a. What does each role contribute to the show?
b. What roles are necessary?
1. Startle scare-any actor who is main role is to jump out and scare people.
a. I tend to make all my startle actors similar in theme and costume (like all trolls, all werewolves, all mutants, all redneck zombies)
2. Distraction- this actor draws attention so another performer
3.realism/depth- these actors sacrifice the glory of the big scare in order to flesh out the depth and scope of the attraction.
a. The zombie who shuffles through the graveyard slowly towards the group instead of hiding behind a nearby tombstone.
4.exposition- these actors talk to the group and tell them the rules as well as the storyline of the haunted house. A greeter or tour guide character is a good example of this.
5. Tech- not a pre show tech, but an actor tech, like a puppeteer, or a button pusher/ rope puller.
6. Chained actor- great scares but a low morale position example pile o toys guy, gut guy, and bush man.
a. Why is this low morale? (because they don’t have faces or characters.)
7. Spectacle- these are actors who have elaborate costumes and are there to add a “wow” factor to the show
a. Gore galore’s big costumes
b. Stilt walkers
c. Scare factory’s actor lifters

2. Delegated Work
a. Actor leads
b. Safety guy
c. E group moderator
b. Costume master/mistress
c. Those can be themed to your attraction

IV. Communication
Most relationships fail because of poor communication, owner /actor is a relationship.
1. Yahoo or Google group
A. Nightly recognition by posts to the group
B. Informing your team of different groups that plan on visiting on certain nights.
C. Keep it active throughout the year
a. Have an idea thread where you discuss what is going on next season.
D. Closing and/or opening meeting
E. Who was good last night?
F. What groups are coming?
D. Report set problems, lights out and such
E. Or have a manager go through at least once per half hour
F. Only by seeing your show do you know what its like.
G. See what your guests see and report to your actors
H. Have a clear chain of command that messages can travel up or down.

3. Off-season events
A. Parades
1. Inexpensive advertising
2. Keeps a core group excited in off months
3. Creates planning meetings

B. Movie promos
1. Many theaters want characters in their theaters for movie premiers especially if it is a horror movie that can tie into your show.
Even if it’s far off season give away flyers and tickets.
2. Keep your makeup staff in practice
C. Subscribe to an e-mail card service- a birthday card will be automatically sent to your actors on their birthdays, or anniversaries, and holidays.
D. Walks and other events
1. Get a group together and walk the Breast cancer walk, the Aids walk, the muscular dystrophy walk.
2. These events will get your team closer and endear you to communities and help with name recognition during Halloween time. Wear haunt t-shirts or if possible walk in full costume.

V. Fun
A. If it’s not fun, they won’t come back
B. Never underestimate the power of a free t-shirt!
1. Year long reminder of belonging to your group
2. Advertising-proud actors talk more about your show
C. watch out for cliques, keep groups of people integrated and feeling like equally contributing members of your team.

C. Play teams against each other
1. Competition is fun
D. Actor of the night award with prizes
1. Trade your haunt tickets for restaurant gift certificates that is a great prize.

E. Have an after party
1. Have a slide show of pictures from the season playing.
2. Have actors share their favorite haunt moments
F. Have awards at the Party.
1. Best actor in a startle role
2. Best actor in a speaking role
3. Best actress
4. Iron-man –never calls in or complains
5. Best actor in a non-startle or speaking role
6. Scariest man of the year

03-03-2009, 09:38 PM
thanks a lot this is perfect and will definately help organize my thoughts for the beginning of the season!
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Jim Warfield
03-04-2009, 09:36 PM
They will have "issues", they will be soaking in personal dramas that you don't really need to hear about.
Only sane way to proceed ..quietly kill them, one at a time, use them for prop bodies, turn them into Zombies the next night.
It's a "Win-Win" situation, they are no longer miserable and you won't have to listen to it from them!
Hey! THEY volunteered! Right!?

Next Question!

03-04-2009, 11:44 PM
I myself am a volunteer actor, and I worked with the same house for 2 years. I really have a love for the haunt so the 2nd year I got with them in July and helped design, build, and theme the haunt. They gave me charge of lighting and head of the actors as well, and I was very happy that they trusted me.

To me, when i was given the position of being an actor assigner, I was very proud of what I did and putt 300% into that haunt.

I think giving responsibility to someone makes them feel wanted and gives them self worth, and it will make them go that extra mile.

before or after the shows, What I did was I had all the experienced actors raise their hands, and had 1 or 2 new people to the cast/haunting world go to them. The people with experience told them the rules of what to do/not to do as an actor, and helped them out.

I personally told everyone that if they had any question on their tactics or ideas, to totally talk to me or anyone whos been there before. Not only did it break the new guys shell, but it began friendships and created the Bond that all haunt crews have.

definatly have fun with them and take care of your actors. These guys arent being paid, and their only reason of being their is becuase they love the thrill of the haunt. Constantly appraise on good things, and correct what needs to be corrected. Be patient with them, as they will have alot of questions and Ideas.

as corny as it sounds, what I loved the most from my haunt (other than friendships and experience) was the T-Shirts we got. I wear mine constantly, as I am proud to have worked with the Haunt. I had alot of people who attended the haunt asked what character I played, to which i replied "the one with the chainsaw in your face" which in turn caused them to laugh and tell me their experience which I loved to hear. On TOP of that, its advertisement for the haunt as well, as I had people ask about it too.

03-05-2009, 11:07 AM
They will have "issues", they will be soaking in personal dramas that you don't really need to hear about.
Only sane way to proceed ..quietly kill them, one at a time, use them for prop bodies, turn them into Zombies the next night.
It's a "Win-Win" situation, they are no longer miserable and you won't have to listen to it from them!
Hey! THEY volunteered! Right!?

Next Question!

lol good point jim and that does cut down on prop costs
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03-05-2009, 11:10 AM
as corny as it sounds, what I loved the most from my haunt (other than friendships and experience) was the T-Shirts we got. I wear mine constantly, as I am proud to have worked with the Haunt. I had alot of people who attended the haunt asked what character I played, to which i replied "the one with the chainsaw in your face" which in turn caused them to laugh and tell me their experience which I loved to hear. On TOP of that, its advertisement for the haunt as well, as I had people ask about it too.

Hey thanks for the insight, I agree though about the tshirts. And will definately get some of those made before the end of our season. It's good to hear back from a volunteer themselves.
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Front Yard Fright
03-05-2009, 11:47 AM
My biggest thing with my actors is I try to take the best care of them I can. I worked at a "pro" (I use that term loosely) haunt in my area for two years and they were really bad at taking care of us. Make sure you have plenty of water for them to drink, along with some food and snacks. We feed our actors every night right before we open. We also have chips and snacks for them if they get hungry and need to take a break.

Although it may be hard for a pro haunt, we usually take a break about ever hour to two hours. Just a 5 to 10 mintue break, people go to the bathroom if they need it, people get to sit and relax a bit, get some water in them so they are fully prepaird to get back to work. Also, it gives everyone a nice chance to talk about how the night is going, what good scares people have made, what needs to be fixed, stuff like that.

And I agree about the shirts 136%! Our actors are so proud to wear them, it's amazing to see them get excited over a simple little shirt!

03-05-2009, 05:08 PM
I completely agree with shirts! The actors love them and they become advertising for you.

Provide snacks/food before and after production, even if it just chips and hot dogs. Feeding your actors really shows that you appreciate them and that you are trying to take care of them.

During production, use more experienced actors to monitor the fresh meat. They can provide safety guidelines and acting tips, especially if the new meat is a little "green." When actors have fun and feel that they are contributing to hte show, they are more likely to return and bring their friends.

I love having an end of year awards banquet. It can be a formal event or a casual get together, but it's a great chance to get together after the craziness of season and celebrate the succes of production. Passing out awards (anything from paper certificates to engraved trophies and plaques) shows your actors how much you appreciated them and gives them something to strive for during hte next season (I mean who doesn't want to become Actor of the Year?).

03-07-2009, 12:30 AM
Team building like group outings in the off season can help with team building. If you play together you stay together.

Haunted Farm
04-02-2009, 07:14 AM
Of sorts......

I have had volunteers for 8 years now. I have to say that some of the volunteers have been over 5 years and I have one young man that has been here all 8 entering his 9th.

I have 45 volunteers that call me mom! Sometimes they make me feel REALLY old. I don't think that there is one of them that I don't love like my own.

Here are some of the things that I do with our volunteers:
- have a beginning of the year cookout, at this time we go over the rules
assign section leaders, etc.
- have several brainstorming sessions with them get their ideas, they are very
proud of something that they can call their own
- SHIRTS by all means SHIRTS
- we attend all area parades, after which we all go to a resturant and have a
lunch or breakfast
- a good movie comes out......we all go!
- I cook dinner for the actors every night we are open, along with beverages
- by all means listen to what they have to say about characters they would like
to be, encourage them to think and design these characters as long as the
character fits with the theme of the haunt
- Offer an incentive to those how bring new recruits to the haunt to volunteer
- Make it understood that if there is misconduct (touching costumers, foul lang.
etc. they will not come back)
- As alot are willing to help with haunt design and setup, we might work awhile
swim in the pool awhile work awhile....
- If we see a volunteer doing something out of the extraordinary maybe helping
a customer ( such as a crying YOUNG one, etc) they are rewarded.
- Nightly we have the best actor of the night
- The more years they are with you increase their responsibility
- We also have an end of session banquet, with monetary rewards, along with
trophies that I have had engraved with their name, their characters and the

I do have volunteers that at call on a regular basis and ask what I am doing and they just want to hang out, or they just want to come over. Needless to say I have kids here all the time. I do alot of work with the high school we fully support the schools FFA group and have the whole time we have been open.

I do find that we do have trouble, as I posted on another forum that we have problems with costumes getting destroyed and props. And we will be working this year on trying to correct this.

But all in all I can say that it is a very rewarding experience! I hope this helps!

Haunted Farm
04-02-2009, 07:31 AM
At the end of each night we have a board that contains the counts of the following and they love to update the board at the end of the night:
pond jumpers
believe it or not shitters
knee droppers

Haunted Farm
04-02-2009, 07:34 AM
I just got done taking 4 of my older volunteers to Transworld in St. Louis. I am taking 2 to National Haunters Convention on April 9 and 10th, and then all the rest that have been with me at least one year will got to Midwest Haunters Convention with me. It helps them learns the business, I allow them to go to classes etc.