Just as flesh is essential to zombies, or sex crazed teens are to masked psychopaths in the wilderness, your staff and acting cast are one of, if not the most important components of your haunt. Regardless if you operate in a limited or all live actor capacity, selecting and keeping the right ones should be handled with the deliberation of a calculating serial killer. Assembling your team may seem like it would be a piece of Halloween candy, but stitching together your family of crazies can be a chocolate bar with a razor blade in it.
Your friends and family may not be the best choice. During the first few years of The Corpse Barn, we chose to only surround ourselves with people we knew. We figured by doing so, our actors would be more invested than a cast of complete strangers but ultimately lost some friendships along the way. We also discovered that if you involve several of the same family members and something happens to someone in that family, you might end up with a night, weekend, or whole season short handed. This is why we also do not hire couples. We have found that with couples, some form of jealousy can arise, they are more focused on each other than their functions, or if one can’t make it for some reason, the other will more than likely not show either.
Don’t be afraid to look outside of your circles. Exploit social media. Post flyers around town. Enquire at local theatre groups or college drama programs. Take in a local play performance and talk with the thespians after the show. Once we started to cast strangers, we implemented a requirement of at least 21 years of age to avoid liability. We have since dropped that to a minimum of 18 years of age since the population of our area is limited. We will give acting slots to people under the age of 18 if we know them but have found in general, teenagers lack dedication, and the consistent ability to take direction and criticism. Keep in mind that not everyone who fits the stereotypical profile of someone who would work well in a haunt has the talent to do so. Just because someone wants to act does not mean they can.
Upon design approval each season, then figure out how many actors will be needed to staff it properly. Once that number is obtained, take the time to explore and assess the skill set of your available talent pool. Someone might be a great screamer where as another has better body mechanics and would be more effective in a different spot than originally planned. Allow them the freedom to patch their natural abilities into the characters you create to make even better ones. Ability is not the only quality to consider. We once had an actress who not only had a great scream and took direction well, but her positive play full attitude infected the entire staff. Dedication is another characteristic that is essentially more important then talent. A performer who may not be the total package, but is willing and present before and after you close every night can hold greater value than a more solid scare artist who lacks reliability.
It is important to compensate your actors and clearly communicate how you will do so. However when meeting a potential actor, if one of the first questions are about money, that should be the end of the conversation. Someone who is only interested in the money will cause problems and be less reliable as someone who enjoys the collaborative art of scare entertainment. Actors in general do not make much money. Some haunts operate with unpaid volunteers. Some pay only at the end of their season. Learning from my 2003 debacle, we feel it is important to feed and pay our staff every night, as well as offer bonus pay as incentive to be present every night we are open.
Get your staff to show up once a month off season to swing a hammer, help paint, or put on costumes and make up and shoot teaser videos for your upcoming season. Support your staff off season as well. Help them move. Attend a theater performance, concert or bowling tournament they are in. Offer your available skills to help their small business. Keep everyone interested and invested by creating a supportive family type environment. This will combat a transient staff and the patchwork quilt of humans you assemble to let out their inner monster will cover all of you for years to come.
If you are interested in becoming a scare artist at The Corpse Barn Shock Haunt, please send a message to our actor manager at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.