Dance of the Dead
Choreographing your action is much like being a CSI detective. You have to re-create the scenes only you have to do so before the crimes actually take place. The empty space where you begin is your canvas. Sound, objects, movement, action and reaction are the paints used animate your sequences. The decision process must have a viral approach while pupateering each action and actor separately and as a whole.
I often sit alone at the haunt late at night inside the dark skeleton of a room I am designing. I sit quietly for awhile, listening to the natural ambience. Those sounds can and most likely will be masked by audio we engineer to fit the tone of that specific room, but still I like to start with the organic sound climate as a base for orchestrating the function and movement of the characters created for our actors to flesh out. Next I pace out the transitions from room to room keeping in mind the average number of people we allow per group to see how effective the last scare from one room flows into the first of the next area. Envision then establish where your scare artists will hide, how they will spring to life and how their actions will affect haunt goers senses.
Almost always designed to directly hit the middle of the group, some scares due to safety, or function must impact the front or rear of the group. I physically pretend that I am a customer and react to the unleashed startles. This is a good way to discover if there is a safety hazard or might reveal a potential scare oportunity not thought of. You can also fill in the holes of your visual design by anticipating where people might end up looking as a reaction to the fright.
In 2003 we had one actor for each spot totaling, I don’t even remember how many people…….alot! Idle hands became the devil’s play things. Between groups, actors decided to move fog machines and props, or even worse leave to go to the store and get alcohol then sneak back into their spots or not even come back at all.
At the genesis of The Corpse Barn, the Co-Owner came up with an idea we still implement to this day. All of our actors work in multiple scare spots. This has been a great way of keeping the actors focus sharp, excitement up, and cost down. This may sound crazy but it does work. Patrons are often amazed when they find out how many actors we really have arguing that we must have more. By doing this, you must devote even more time to mapping everything out, allowing for quick costume and mask changes, ensure a decent re-start point, and make sure no one runs into each other while scurrying around from spot to spot.
This technique, not perfect, can tire actors out spending their energy quickly changing personas with little or no down time and if not on point leave them un-prepared for the next wave of victims. Towards the end of the night, even the most talented actors will fall into speech and motion rhythms while trying to be different characters leaving them vulnerable to be viewed as the same person from before. You can save money and time with this approach by not having to come up with many make-up effects or detailed costumes. Since your actors are undergoing fast character changes, elaborate make-up and costumes can easily be picked out and impede the illusion of many from few you have created. Also keep in mind that fewer actors are less people to worry about not showing up but if just one calls in, several spots are missed. Have a back up plan to have those spots covered or back up actors on hand who may not want to commit to a whole season but are ready to fill in if needed.
Although overall this system works well and we will continue to utilize it, listening to our acting staff and fan base the past couple of years coupled with our continued growth and success, we have made the decision to balance the operation out a bit. To offer more intricate characters, keep actors who want to continue but are getting older and tired, and hold onto the high energy we are known for that is produced from a smaller actor base, we are revising our approach. New actors will continue to be cast in multiple spots but additional ones will be taken on to lessen the amount of running around of everyone. Some senior staff will be complete single characters set at specific points to act as supervisors of different areas and offer the public a more genuine character experience.
Choreograph a dance that is effective for your needs but don’t be afraid to teach it some new steps every once in a while.