So you passed the audition, filled out your paperwork, and are now the newest scareactor at Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights. You are probably full of excitement, anticipation and more than a few nerves. You have no idea what role you might have or what to expect, and you can’t wait to get started.
Both my dad and I have been scareactors at different times. While every year and every location is a little bit different, the basics of being a great scareactor are timeless. Here are some insider tips for doing an exceptional job, keeping your coworkers and bosses happy, and giving the guests an experience they will never forget.
1. Pay attention at rehearsal
You will probably get one rehearsal, plus employee preview night. Rehearsal is a busy, exciting, exhausting evening. You will learn everything from where and when to check in for performances to the entire back story of your house or street scare zone. Your cast will have some sort of warm-up activity, such as crawling all over the back lot pretending to be a horde of zombies. Don’t be offended if your performance coach gives you tips and suggestions during this time - the performance coaches are highly talented HHN experts, and their advice is generally spot on.
The evening culminates with your introduction to your specific spot in the house or street zone, and some tips on using your set and props to build more effective scares. Then the performance coach, stage manager and assistant stage manager will walk through a few times. This is your time to shine. Pretend they are regular park guests and give them a full-out performance. They probably won’t react, but they will give you feedback on how you did.
Employee preview night is the last chance to tweak things before the paying public arrives. That night, the houses and street scare zones are open only to Universal employees and their invited guests. It is a sort of technical rehearsal, and your chance to see how your scares play to an audience. You’ll probably have a short cast meeting at the end to talk about any issues that arose.
These two nights are physically and emotionally exhausting, but are absolutely essential to a successful run. Remember to breathe, listen carefully and take it all in. Consider bringing a notebook to write down any important points. Take it seriously but don’t forget to have fun with it - if you’re not enjoying yourself, neither will anyone else.
2. Dress comfortably
You will need to wear some form of clothing underneath your costume. Rules on eating, drinking and smoking in costume seem to change without warning, and you never know when a costume piece might get damaged, requiring you to change it out on the fly. Keep yourself as cool and comfortable as possible by choosing clothes in lightweight, breathable fabrics. My go-to outfit was always shorts and a tank top. At the beginning of the run, it was still hot, and I didn’t want to sweat out my costume. As the weather got cooler towards the end of the run, I still wore shorts, but I carried a jacket every night. Sometimes I wore the jacket over my costume backstage between sets, and sometimes I saved it for the end of the night.
3. Hydrate and eat
Every HHN house and street scare zone has two casts, known as A and B. The casts switch out throughout the night, typically on a 45-minute rotation. When I started, 45 minutes on and 45 minutes off seemed like a cushy, incredibly easy rotation. I quickly learned that it is necessary for the actors’ physical health. When you are going that hard, pushing yourself to the limits to always get the best possible scare, you tend to come off set dripping in sweat and absolutely exhausted.
Take advantage of every break to hydrate and eat. The stage manager and assistant stage manager are generally very aware of their actors’ needs, and will stock your break room with free Gatorade and candy. I was fortunate that a snack vendor selling everything from hot dogs to brownies was set up just outside my break trailer, and the employee cafeteria was just a short walk away. I’m a skinny girl, but through the entire run, I ate like a teenage boy!
4. Assess your surroundings
There’s an old HHN actors’ saying: It isn’t really HHN until you are hit by a guest at least once. While that’s a bit extreme, it is true that being a scareactor carries an element of risk to both you and the guest. You can’t plan for everything, but constantly assessing your surroundings is the key to minimizing the risk.
Being a good scareactor means getting into people’s personal space and inducing a fear reaction. Everyone responds differently to fear, from freezing in place to running away. Some people flail their arms or even punch in the direction of the fright. You must constantly calculate your position, your target’s position, both people’s escape routes, and what your options are for any guest reaction.
In addition, some incidents are bound to occur just due to the tight, disorienting spaces inside the haunted houses. While visiting as a guest, my dad was once accidentally stabbed in the hand by a scareactor! Dad was in a house, pushing back some of the hanging material that blocked his way. At the same moment, a scareactor came out of a “boo hole” wielding a wooden prop knife. They just happened to collide in such a way that the tip of the knife went into Dad’s hand. It only took a couple of stitches, a tetanus shot and a trip to the hand surgeon for X-rays, but Dad actually gave the actor a positive comment for his quick, professional response to the situation. In that particular scenario, there was nothing else the actor could have done, but it emphasizes the importance of always being aware.