The Haunters Spotlight is a series focused on presenting an inside look into the world of those who dedicate their lives to the haunt industry. Each piece will focus on owners, actors, and staff who have deep passion and love for haunting. With this edition, we bring to you a very special piece, which we are calling a scare-actors “roundtable, featuring the scare-actors of Brighton Asylum.
Joe Garcia- A resident of Cliffside Park, NJ Joe, has been involved in both scare-acting and haunt industry since 2003. He has played a variety of characters such as “Captain Spaulding”, at the Brighton Asylum in Passaic, NJ.
Rachel Kordell– A resident of n Paramus, NJ. Rachel recently graduated from Hofstra University in May with a B.A. in Film Production. When Rachel was younger she really wanted to become a performer. Be it an actor or singer, I really wanted to be on stage. When she was in high school I got my performing fix doing color guard with the marching band in the fall and then doing the musical in the spring. The biggest role she ever got in high school was ‘The Judge’ in Legally Blonde my senior year and it withered my belief that I would ever be an actor, so she decided to go to school to learn how to make films rather than star in them. In college, Rachel learned a lot about myself and who I wanted to be as a person which I think is what helped reignite my desire to perform again post-graduation.
Conor Lenahan- Connor is a resident of NJ, and has played a variety of characters including “Freddy Krueger” at the Brighton Asylum.
Why did you get into haunting/scare-acting?
Joe: I got into haunting because I love the interaction with people and I love to see the fear on their faces and how each person reacts differently when being scared.
Rachel: Becoming a scare actor felt like somewhat of a whim. I was leaving my friend’s birthday party in August when she mentioned that Brighton was having auditions the next day. Before I could even think about it I sputtered, “want a friend?” For the entire summer, I had been trying to figure out how I wanted to begin this new chapter of my life, and I had no real bites in the job hunt, so at the very least doing this would be fun and I was getting paid. I had volunteered in college at a haunted forest attraction at Tanglewood Nature Preserve in Rockfield, NY, so I felt I had some experience anyway. A couple weeks after applying, I had an interview with a film production company in NYC where I figured my career in film would start and left the interview feeling like I did well, but I wasn’t sure it felt right to work there. (Cue an existential crisis.) The emotion towards my interview paled in comparison to how I felt about having a job performing which inspired me to try shooting for acting again. I may have applied to Brighton on a whim, but sticking with it came from how much fun I had in training, as well as that it’s a way to develop my acting ability.
What are your ultimate goals within the industry?
Joe: My ultimate goal is to make sure every person that walks through my room has the experience of a lifetime and a moment they will never forget. Aside from making them pee I have accumulated a nice record of making people cry (including children), run in absolute fear screaming at the top of their lungs and not knowing what to do but freeze in fear, and I was also successful in making someone crap their pants last year.
Rachel: Ultimately, I would like to use this to move forward in a career in acting, be it theatrical, film, or both. I’m sure I’ll stick around the scare acting scene for a while because not only is it fun scaring people, but it’s a very good way to develop improvisation skills and quick reactions.
Conor: I love scary movies/Halloween since I can remember, I really didn’t plan on doing this I kind of fell into it I started about 15 years ago, I showed up and everything fell into the place and It never stopped being fun… it’s definitely something amazing to look forward to every year. I don’t really have an ultimate goal just take on new opportunities!
Describe a typical night in your line of work.
Joe: A typical night involves me arriving at the haunt and greeting everyone. I like to make sure everyone is ready to rock and just as excited as I am. I always bring a can of Arizona Ice Tea with me and treat it as a meal…. it’s been a prehaunt tradition for me (strange I know) for many years. After that, I will go and get my wardrobe on…. head to makeup and get my makeup on and then I’ll head to the outer perimeters of the haunt. What I like to do is walk around the outer perimeters of the haunt multiple times to psych myself up and get myself mentally prepared for what is about to come and tally in my head a number of screams I plan on getting…some of which I sometimes exceed that number. Soon as lights go on….it’s gametime. Every person that enters my room is my victim…whether it be employee or customer…I will scare them all.
Rachel: I show up to the Asylum about 3 hours before places to get costume and makeup done, and once I leave the chair I start getting into character. My character depends on what location I’m given for the night. If I’m put in a spot that a patient would be in, I fit my feet into the shoes of Shelby, an insect obsessed psychopath whose favorite bug is the cockroach. Regardless of if she’s talking about bugs or not, she is more of an aggressive personality, unusually forward, and incredibly energized, which requires a good deal of getting into the mood. If the position I’m in for the night would require a more authoritative character, I become Phyllis, a 142 year old nurse turned experiment when she was offered eternal youth and was cursed with eternal life. Now she just wants to die, and frankly, that’s the only reason she hangs around the old asylum, anyway. The doctors here promised they’d find a way to reverse her immortality and she’s still waiting on it. She’s still a high energy character who enjoys administering patients with “reflex tests”, but her mannerisms reflect her old age. Once the night starts, I am completely my character and Rachel becomes another voice in my character’s head. My favorite scares aren’t necessarily the ones that make you jump but generally make you feel uncomfortable. I love being able to try new things as they come to mind, and in scare acting, you have a million opportunities to try them out. Every 30 seconds to a minute (depending on where you are) a new audience is here to see you, so you can always change up your performance, or go back to what was working. After the night is over, I often go out with co-workers, but once I return home, I’m up for at least another 30 minutes removing makeup and contacts before going to bed.
Conor: Standard night is essentially showing up and finding out where you’re going getting the proper costume and makeup. Usually, people who pull off something difficult or do something really well stick to something all season so that process is really vary… The best part is hanging out with coworkers/friends before and after the night starts you meet some of the greatest people you will ever know in this line of work.
Joe: I must say it is very challenging when they are people that come into my room and don’t react the way I expect them to….or just walk through and are just looking around. Sometimes I get people that are walking in at an “I want to get out of here” pace…but the one thing I dislike the absolute most are people (mostly men) that are walking through with their hoodies on or hands in their pockets. They have a look on their face like they aren’t enjoying it. Why pay money to a haunted house if you aren’t going to allow yourself to react and have fun!!?
Rachel: The biggest challenge that I face while haunting is my own self-doubt. When I’m placed in a room for the first time, it takes me a few groups to find what will scare the most people. Jump scares are the easiest to figure out because it’s mostly timing, but finding the freaky things to say to people while you’re in a continuous interaction with them can be daunting. Not that I’ve been doing this for a long time, but a couple weeks ago I came to the realization that it isn’t always about the reactions of your audience, but more so about your belief in your own performance. I learned this while working in the elevator where it’s just you and them. A lot of the reactions I get are from people who seem like they just generally want to get away from me, and a lot of the time that’s all I need to know that what I’m doing is successful.
Conor: Customers come in usually groups of 6 to 10 you have to know how your room works and how to operate it given any circumstance, for example, long groups, people who run, people walk slow, all can be worked with to show a really fun time. you have to show what you do with the proper timing and each one of those scenarios to make it work without missing the next group & not back up the haunt all at the same time. It’s also something I do just about every night.. That’s an example of a challenge actors face but it’s not really something I struggle with, again I’ve been doing it for years. the only challenges I’ve ever really faced is doing a room and a character I’ve never done before but I catch on really quick and I never expect to each time I do so. earlier this year we did clown night I was in a spot where I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do, I tried about two things and after about a 30 min I established a routine that worked and I can could expand on.
Advice for potential actors?
Joe: If you are looking to adventure into this line of work, please make sure you are going to have fun with it!!! You want to love your work…and you want to enjoy it. You also must make sure you have a thick skin because you will get customers that come into your room and try to scare you back…or will swear at you or sometimes….accidentally…. hit you when scared. It’s what we call a reaction scare. Sure anyone can scare anybody….but it’s HOW you scare them. Be creative…. don’t memorize lines….learn how to be good at improvising and quick on your feet. If you slip up…make it part of your character. IF they don’t know you messed up you’re in the money …but if you acknowledge it when a customer enters and fumble your words…you’ll be remembered as “that guy/girl”. Basically just have fun. Love everything and stay hydrated!!
Rachel: My best advice for people who want to get into haunting is to lose any apprehension towards acting weird. If you work at a haunt, you’re already expected to be eccentric, to begin with, so you can’t really do anything too weird. If you find something that is too weird, that’s probably exactly what they’re looking for. During our acting training, I did everything I could to be too weird. For example, we did an exercise to practice timing which involved moving towards our partner to build suspense before a scare. While everyone tried running, or zombie walking, or some other bipedal approach, I got down on my hands and feet and spider crawled towards my partner, genuinely scaring her. Needless to say it was impressive, which is exactly my point.
Conor: My advice would be to always try something new and go for what you think would work even if you don’t think it would. you be surprised if the simplicity it takes to get an amazing scare. But also make sure you put in the entertaining effort and establish something that works. I’ve done that with my spot that I’ve had for the last two years and it works incredibly well one is simple and one is physically demanding both of my own idea and it works better than what the room was intended for which I’m very proud of. When you do an iconic character you really want to study that character closely don’t just watch the movie or whatever, it is more so figure out why they do what they do and how they do it they do, how did the character we get that way? what’s the reason for it? For a character like Freddy Krueger, that’s absolutely required. so figure out what works and talk to actors around you who have been doing a long time they can really help you figure out stuff quicker and they are more than happy to do it, people are there at a passion and having a good time.
The Final Word!
Joe: I’ll leave you with this…words that I was told many years ago when I first started…and the basis for working at a haunt as a scare actor. And I quote “The scare is first…. once you get the scare…entertainment follows.”
Rachel: Forget about trying to be “cool” or generally normal when you work at a haunt. Be weird, and theatrical, and dramatic. You’ll get the best results and you’ll have fun stepping out of your skin.
Conor: Really scare-acting is the greatest job I could possibly have you meet the greatest people it’s fun you come here to have a good time you get paid for it sure but when you get people who just love it that’s the best people to be there with and I’m glad for every person who had a good time who came through and every great friend I have ever made because of this place. I’m truly happy and blessed to be part of it.