My scariest Halloween wasn’t the one where I got the most scared. It was the one where I gave the most scares — as a professional scare actor deep within the London Dungeon.
Halloween is a time to make money by creating fear
I’ve done lots of ‘regular’ acting in my time, but my scare actor audition was something else entirely. Just a bunch of seasonal hopers in the middle of a closed cafe in central London, lurching and snarling and conjuring up our deepest, scariest aspects.
Needless to say, I got the job.
And, for a few October weeks – the ‘busy season’ in the scare acting world – my life was a wave of disorienting monotony; hours and hours spent meandering through the smoky dark.
The auditory backdrop was a constant wail of sirens punctuated by the snap of air cannons. In other regions, snakes hissed or creepy clown music droned on. Among these soundscapes my colleagues and I lurked
Hiding in the dark, heavily made-up and ferociously jacked up on coffee and adrenaline. I was on-the-clock, but on pause, for stretches of almost an hour, stuck in rigor mortis. An exercise in undead patience.
A terror-delivery device springs into action
But then, when things were rolling, it was one of the most fun jobs I ever had. A thrilling game of hide-and-seek, where I was always it and knew all the hiding spots. And my fellow participants would stagger like lambs right up main street ready to be picked off. So I’d go lurking, sneaking and spooking. Crouched behind doorways, hidden in shadows, creeping out of the dark. And then scaring the ever-living daylights out of anyone in the vicinity.
It was pure delight, serving up these custom scares. And not to the brave soul walking first. Pshaw! It’s best to pop out when half the group has passed, and everyone’s attention is cast on what’s just beyond. The trick is to ride the tension until it’s almost unbearable, and then release it. And then…. BOOO!
Sometimes that release can be a throaty RAAAWWWWR, or a high-pitched yowl, but that volume isn’t always necessary. Some of the best scares come from silently coasting out of the darkness (call it the ‘creepy factor’).
But that creepy slowburn scare wasn’t my thing. For me, it just can’t compare to leaping onto a simulated sacrifice table and lunging claws-first at a guy screaming the horror of someone who is watching their life flash before their eyes. His terror is something I won’t soon forget. That’s job satisfaction you won’t find just anywhere. No matter how much the startup brags about the ping-pong table and barista.
And that was my Halloween. In a season of forgettable temp jobs as a mediocre cater waiter, there was one glorious fortnight lurking behind shower curtains, under boxes, and in the shadows of a radioactive barrel. I was always ready to leap into your business, snarling and snapping, then laughing maniacally at your unbridled terror.
The best clients
My favorite clients were the Goth couple who decided to do the Tombs with their flashlight on, to ward off the darkness. Ha ha, they must have thought, we’ve beaten the system. They certainly didn’t realize that, as the flashlight illuminates a narrow strip in their central focus, it accentuates the shadows of everywhere else. I tormented them relentlessly for their entire journey through the labyrinth. Skipping through shortcuts and popping up outside the flashlight beam to deliver scare after delicious scare.
For then, as now, I care deeply about customer experience and client satisfaction.
What scare acting taught me about performance
- First of all, my comedy training served me in good stead here. A great scare, like a punchline, can fall flat if delivered too early. Or too late. Comic timing and scare timing are so similar as to be almost indistinguishable.
- When people enter into a pact to get scared, you can frighten them within an inch of their life, but do it with a carefree heart. It is what they asked for, after all. So let loose.
- The audience’s constant vigilance actually makes them easier to scare. Balancing on those tender nerves makes them snap quicker.