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Behind the ‘Boo!’: How Haunted House Actors Scare Guests

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Surfacing

What does it take to scare the sweet corn out of somebody? Performers at two of New York’s hallowed haunted points of interest clarify the secrets and techniques behind the shocks.

Angie Hansen is aware of what she needs: power, professionalism, a present for ad-lib. “After which anyone that actually likes to scare individuals,” she stated cheerfully.

Because the inventive director of Blood Manor, a ten,000-square-foot haunted home nestled inside a TriBeCa skyscraper, Hansen assembles 60 performers yearly, a lot of them Blood Manor veterans. She types the newcomers into acceptable roles — clowns, killers, corpse brides, victims weeping silicone wounds. In simply three or 4 days of rehearsal, she teaches them to terrify the thousand or so company who enter Blood Manor, a Halloween staple since 2005, every weekend night.

About two hours north, at Headless Horseman in Ulster Park, N.Y., David Berman leads appearing workshops for seasonal scare actors. As a result of it takes greater than ghoulish make-up and vibrating vocal cords to make ticket holders scream.

“To simply leap out of a closet and simply yell, it doesn’t do something,” Berman stated.

Such haunts — the trade time period for a wide range of haunted points of interest — grew to become common within the Eighties. Spencer Terry, the president of the Haunted Attractions Association, a commerce group, estimates that there are about 1,800 skilled haunts in the US this 12 months. Whereas horror now thrives in sundry kinds, these locations provide one thing fully immersive, a 360-degree expertise wherein audiences can star of their worst nightmares.

Whilst skilled points of interest transfer towards extra excessive results — animatronic monsters, plummeting elevators, rippling partitions — most nonetheless rely on the potential of the human physique alone. (Nicely, the human physique and a few terrifying face portray.) “Sure, you may scare of us with leap scares, and even puffs of air,” stated Beth Kattelman, a professor of efficiency at Ohio State College. “However what individuals actually bear in mind are the characters, the particular issues that people do.”

Earlier than Michael Jubie opened Headless Horseman practically 30 years in the past, he labored as a commander of a mounted police unit in Kingston, N.Y. He nonetheless tasks excessive stoicism, and but, his actors commonly frighten him. “Oh, I’ve been scared,” he stated. “Oh, sure.”

Within the weeks main as much as Halloween, we spoke to among the actors of Blood Manor, amid the hustle of New York Metropolis, and Headless Horseman — which operates escape rooms, haunted homes and a really scary corn maze on 65 acres a half-hour drive from the closest practice station — about how they make these scares occur.

Whereas some haunted homes use skilled actors, most fill their ranks with enthusiastic amateurs. Earlier than the pandemic, candidates got here in for interviews and auditions. Now they usually audition remotely, scaring the digicam. What makes a terrific hang-out actor? “There needs to be a minimum of somewhat one thing off about you,” stated Will Szigethy, a longtime Headless Horseman actor. However not too off. Most haunts run background checks.

Scott Taylor, a packaging engineer for Avon by day, has labored at Headless Horseman for 10 years, with 9 of them spent taking part in a really unsettling clown. “You possibly can inform the individuals whose coronary heart is in it,” he stated. “And you’ll inform the individuals which can be right here only for a paycheck. These individuals don’t normally final very lengthy.”

Veterans take first-timers underneath their wings, serving to them enhance their personae and educating them to scream with out shredding their throats. (The trick: Howl from the diaphragm.) Over the course of a season, newcomers will refine characters primarily based on their atmosphere — a morgue, a cemetery, a sideshow — discovering distinctive methods to maneuver, to scream, to wield a series noticed or an ax. They can even discover their rhythms: a horror variant on comedian timing, with a shriek instead of a punchline.

Shamia Diaz, a Blood Manor common, performs the Bride, an asylum escapee. In her blood-smeared fingers, the position includes a number of shaking, a number of screaming, a number of encouraging attendees to learn scripture from the guide of Devil. “You must discover your individual mojo, your individual vibe,” she stated. “As a result of as soon as you discover what works for you, you’re unstoppable.”

For Dominique Peres, who joined Headless Horseman 5 years in the past as a painfully shy teenager, mojo meant creating a personality referred to as Jacket, an exuberant tackle a psycho killer. “Jacket is loopy, has an ax, runs rampant, likes sweet, likes to make associates,” she stated.

Some performers focus on leap scares, coming out from surprising corners. Others want extra psychological scares, sidling as much as ticket holders, whispering of their ears. (Earlier than Covid-19, some haunts allowed performers to do extra than simply whisper, however Blood Manor and Headless Horseman have at all times maintained strict no-contact insurance policies.) Others are extra versatile. Novice psychologists, they range the scare relying on the temper within the room.

Jose Torres, who performs Jack, Blood Manor’s masked serial killer, adjusts his angle for every new group. “It’s only a related power that comes between you and the individuals strolling by means of,” Torres stated.

That power, nonetheless related, will be troublesome to keep up. Whereas a stage actor will carry out a couple of times per day, a hang-out actor could replay the identical scene 10 occasions an hour, for six to eight hours at a stretch. “It’s bodily strenuous,” stated Meagan Donovan, who oversees a haunted home on the Headless Horseman property. “You’re swinging an ax round all evening or simply hiding in a small area, being loud.”

However the adrenaline rush of eliciting scream after scream retains performers swinging. “It’s higher than a curler coaster,” stated Hansen, who spent years taking part in a Blood Manor sufferer. “It’s higher than intercourse. It’s higher than then one of the best meal you’ve ever had. The sensation of scaring anyone is what makes you need to do it time and again and once more.”

This model of appearing rewards performers in different methods, too. Placing on the make-up and choosing up a pretend weapon permits them a way of freedom and disinhibition they could not really feel in any other case. “For me, the expertise has been very empowering,” Diaz stated.

Many additionally deal with hang-out appearing as a type of stress aid. “They use it as a form of remedy,” stated Berman, who performs a gross-out character named Dewey Tewey at Headless Horseman. “You possibly can’t, in your common day job, inform anyone you’re going to tear their legs and arms off and toss them into the woods.”

From time to time an actor goes too far, persevering with to scare a ticket holder who is clearly already petrified. However most know when to stop and even how one can lend a serving to, blood-covered hand, scooting individuals out of a room with out breaking character. Apart from, one of the best scares, many performers stated, are those they actually should work for.

Nicole Borbone and William Burton, latest faculty graduates, carry out a scene set in Blood Manor’s sinew-stained morgue. They start with a leap scare, then transfer right into a sequence wherein Borbone’s corpse instantly rises from the desk and begs attendees to assist her. Burton likes to lock eyes with the shoppers who appear like they’d be robust to scare; Borbone tends to lunge for them. Often she will get the response she needs.

“After I make a grown man scream and fall on his knees,” she stated, “I’ve finished my job.”


Surfacing is a column that explores the intersection of artwork and life, produced by Alicia DeSantis, Jolie Ruben, Tala Safie and Josephine Sedgwick.

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