Scare Acting 101 - We're the Bad Guys

One thing that's important to scare acting is understanding your part in the bigger picture. Some actors don't want to look beyond their own role, or worse consider themselves the "stars" of the haunt. The thing they're lacking is a proper perspective on the haunt and the actor's role in it. So here we go with a valuable lesson on perspective:

Haunts are about the guests

Some actors think of their character and their set and don't care about anything going on around them. They want to have their character perform their way, regardless of what they've been told. The term that is often used in the industry for these people is a "boo". This is not a term of endearment like "bae", it's intent is to point out that the scare actor will never be more than someone who just jumps out and goes "boo".

My point here is not to make fun of them. In fact, I firmly believe that most scare actors can do a great job if properly trained. There are a select few who aren't willing to listen or think they know better than the people running their haunt, but this is usually a very small percentage.

My intention is to show that attitude and perspective are usually completely overlooked and can have a significant impact on an actors performance and attitude. Training of actors typically focuses on the specific role being played and how to carry that concept out on the set, so it's very easy to just do just that and not go beyond the basic instruction.

I have my own costume and unique backstory!

The Story that changes everything

The thing that opened my eyes to the bigger picture and changed my perspective completely was a story told to me by a mentor of mine at one of our training sessions. I'll try my best to repeat it as closely as possible, but it is hardly verbatim.

A family consisting of a husband, wife, and their young son and daughter were going through a haunt. They went through a room with several scare actors in it. The entire family screamed and ran out of the room leaving the door to swing closed behind them. 

The problem was that the son did not make it out of the room with them.

Why are you hiding? We can still see you!

He was now stuck in the room with several actors all staring at him. They were all professionals, so they backed away because they could see he was alone and afraid. Not more than a few seconds later the father came bursting through the door and scooped up his son in his arms and said "Don't you touch him, that's my boy!" and ran out of the room.

For those of us that are parents, this brings up a lot of emotions. But since we've all been children once, the emotions of that situation are clear to all of us. That boy will never forget the day his father saved him from actual monsters.  

The lesson from this, the important thing to take away, is that we are the monsters. The guests are the heroes.

The moral to the story

Pretty much everyone enjoys a good story (unless you like Twilight) and we're all familiar with the concept of the hero's journey. A grand tale of someone who is a normal person, just like us, who is called to a greater purpose. Whether it's an introverted hobbit carrying a ring to Mordor, or a farmer on a sand planet who becomes a Jedi and defeats the evil Emperor, the stories are the same basic premise. In short, it appeals to us because we know we can be heroes too.

Guests that come through a haunt are on that journey. They are the hero in their own story. We, as scare actors are not the heroes at all, we're the villains!

Every Hero needs a Villain

If you think about the great stories, be it books or movies, the one commonality is the best ones have really good villains. The Avengers Infinity War and End Game were critically acclaimed movies and one of the reasons for that was because Thanos was a great bad guy, he literally thought he was the good guy and was trying to save the Universe. That appeals to people, not just some "I'm going to take over the world" type of antagonist that no one can relate to. 

So, as scare actors, it's our job to be great villains. The harder we make their journey, the more epic it becomes. The more epic the journey the more they will remember it and retell the tale to their friends.  

Kenneth Leary is the author of Practical and Theatrical Scare Acting. He has worked in in the haunt industry since 2012 and is a year round student of scare acting and haunting in general. The purpose of this blog is to help others benefit from his research and experience in a humorous and informative way. He can be contacted at for questions and comments. He doesn't get paid for this, so he's not too full of himself yet and will be happy to talk to you.


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