I'm sure this question has been brought up many times before. But I was just curious to see how many of you keep volunteer's on board all season and how much is too much for a paid actor?? In the past we have had actors wanting $10-$15 an hour cash for running around with a mask on. Plus we can't seem to find or keep volunteer's because they simply tell us "I don't work for free"
Well my opinion is that there is a practical limit to volunteers that really has to do with the size and age of your show.
But while you can- I think it is really based on developing a "culture" that begins with you. I think that everyone and every situation can be different, but it all centers around leadership and leading by the right example.
I've said it time and time again, I will NEVER pay an actor, and I WILL fire them if they aren't cooperating. And I manage to have PLENTY of volunteers that come all night every night. How??? I seek for people who ENJOY doing this, and I take GREAT care of them!! I always make generous donations when I am personally invested, these donations go to those in need and (primarily) well known and established non profit organizations. In addition, I ALWAYS feed actors very well at the end of every night, and always do, or have people do, water runs, candy runs, and cough drop runs. I take the time to learn the names of ALL of my volunteers, and interact and respect them on a personal level and ALWAYS let them know how much I really appreciate them! I don't want ANYONE coming to act for me whose incentive is MONEY. Those actors, in my experience, TEND TO SUCK!! I will take an inexperienced enthusiast over a paid actor any day, and I will work with them to make them better, I will get them in with veteran actors and have the veteran actors take them under and show them the ropes. However, I also hold all of the volunteers to very firm expectations, they know that I expect them to always respect eachother, my stuff, and above all the customers, and I will get rid of people who do not know how to be respectful or who become dramatic and egotistical.
Although unconventional, my method with actors have provided me with a few dozen loyal, faithful, committed, and good hearted volunteers. I could not be anything without them, and they know that. We share a mutual respect, and get along. Money would inhibit that, and quiet frankly, paying a cast of even 24 minimum wage at minimum wage, for a new haunt, will BANKRUPT you. I wouldn't be able to cover BUILDING expenses if I had to pay anyone. If I ever have to pay anyone in the future, they'll have to sell tickets for me ahead of time, just like in plays, if you're in the cast, you better be getting people to the play and selling tickets, otherwise you're out. This way, they remain motivated, and get some money for it as well, while helping me not lose everything and anything I have. Just be honest with your crew, explain to them your situation, let them know how you operate, and help them develop an appreciation for the hard work, dedication, and MONEY it takes to build any haunt, and encourage them to ask questions and get involved, and you will NOT have a problem getting volunteers that will stay, be happy, and have a great time!!
Pay your actors. It is illegal not to in most states. If they are contract labor then they can determine their own hours as opposed to you determining when they come and go. $8 an hour is fine. I have paid over $200 a night to some of my actors and they are worth every penny. I do not go bankrupt paying them, I just run a legitimate business. Much of what Bobby says is true, do all that and pay them.
Motograter- you are showing a bias in one of your sentences "we have had actors wanting $10-$15 an hour cash for running around with a mask on". If that is all that you think they do then you dont understand what they go through or that really is all they do for you which tells me they aren't trained. How much skill should the actor have that is swinging a prop (but still dangerous) weapon at guests heads? How level headed do you want them to be when a customer gets in their face or insults them? How much of their info do you want on file when you realize they are a bundle of hormones in a dark hallway with 6 cheerleaders? I want a paid employee in those situations not a volunteer, my company and my finances depends on it.
There is also risk to being a haunt actor-injury from twisted ankles to assault from customers any number of issues can end an actors season early.
It may be Connecticut as a whole. To be honest, I can't name a haunt in CT other than the theme park that pays any of their actors. We just spoil them and have a good time haha.
I have heard of people not being allowed to have volunteers. Before we allow anyone to act, we make sure they understand everything, and when needed we give the kid volunteers community service hours, none of the haunts I've been with in the past have been for profit either, I've helped one that was intended to be for-profit, but they never made any money lol.
I think the only loophole applicable in just about every state is that if it is a "fundraiser" or "charitable event" you don't have to have any worries, especially if everyone and their parents (if under 18) sign a waiver in advance and acknowledge their rights and understand it is simply a fun and completely volunteer event. However, if you ever FORCE anyone to stay, then you can (and probably will) have problems.
My biggest thing is definitely respect, and just having fun. If someone isn't having a good time, try and fix it, if someone cannot learn to play well with others, they need to leave. Just make sure you keep everyone happy!
Oh, and on the topic of employee or volunteer injury....insure them! insure you! Call up Ken Donat, get insurance and pay extra for the extra medical coverage of your staff, and get a LARGE amount of coverage for the business as a whole. Never under-insure yourself! I'd rather pay the extra few hundred bucks to go all out, then have to dish out thousands and close shop when someone scraps a knee and calls a lawyer then a doctor for it!
And Allen is right in his reasons on having paid actors for emergency reasons. It makes liability much safer, what I did was go over ALL emergency procedures every night before opening, explained everything, and before we even opened for the season we had the fire marshal instruct EXACTLY what he wanted as far as emergency regulations. :) It comes down to personal preference if legal obligations don't get in the way, I'm 99% sure you're in the clear if it isn't a for profit event, I know we didn't even make our money back this year in ticket sales, but we also planned for that, and made a donation regardless because that's what we said we'd do! All of our volunteers got their community service, they had fun, they never went home hungry, got really cool facebook profile pics, and at the end of the season they had a free for all go-karting, mini-golf, driving range, and batting cage fiesta with more food than you can imagine, and I don't think I've ever seen a closer group of friends or great people!! (As you can see, I REALLY care about my volunteers lol) Which is why I fight so hard for other people to be able to have volunteers, it's perfect for my scenario and I couldn't be happier, but I realize it isn't for everybody, and not everyone can use volunteers, but if you can, it's been the best decision I ever made. :)
We made a contract with all our actors (about 45) - they got paid $10/hour but they had to show up all 8 nights. We also treated them very well as Allen and Bobby teach. We didn't have any problems with them showing up and on time. The only people who were unreliable were the volunteers - people who said they didn't want to get paid and were there just for fun for a few nights. I can't imagine the stress of an all volunteer actor army. Like it or not but everyone needs money, and it serves as one more thing to keep them tied to you. Sure you can be awesome and attract people that just want to work for you for free but monetary compensation is another reliable "glue" that keeps them committed to you. Treating them well will just make that glue stronger.
One thing I do to counter-balance the unreliability of volunteers, was every night they had to sign off and confirm the nights they were going to be there, and as long as they put their own name down for showing up, they would come. It's never been a problem for me. :) There must be something in Connecticut's water....
Of course, you could go with Bobby's volunteer approach, and add in Allen's mini-partner element. Best of both worlds, perhaps?
Please, pay your actors! They work hard and if you're for-profit then it's the moral thing to do. Get workers comp insurance too. If you want to be a professional business you must operate as a professional business.