I scare easy.
I wish I could say it was in my instinct to stand and fight but it’s not. If something bad happens I hide, I scream, I cover my eyes. Or I definitely want to.
In October I took on a day job as a scare actor in a desperate attempt to get out of the hospitality trade which worked pretty well, I haven’t served any food or drink for nearly three months now. Go me! I’m currently keeping up the momentum working as an elf for the big man himself (yes the real one).
These are pretty common character based day jobs for actors like myself and would generally fit into the promotional category of work but ho ho how different they are. Elfing is simple; be disgustingly nice at all times, particularly to children, don’t get stressed and always, always on pain of death keep smiling. This comes with it’s own difficulties, I mean it’s hard to constantly remain cheery when disagreements or clashes occur (introducing passive-aggressive the elf) however being around little children desperate to meet Santa all day has melted even my cold heart.
Scaring is a different kettle of fish.
Generally it is exactly as it sounds; (normally young) actors get paid to dress up like a Zombie (or a Butcher, Victim, Dentist, Mad Scientist, Crazy Girl, Clown, Dead Person, Psychotic Patient you see where I’m going) and frighten people. The whole thing was particularly new to me as scare attractions are not something I’ve ever paid to experience myself. This is mainly because I’m poor but also because I don’t like being afraid, I’ve never liked the dark and as a child I was prone to ‘bad dreams’ so why would I voluntarily put myself in a situation designed to scare me?
That then begs the question why on earth would I want to work there? It’s a good question but not one I fully considered when accepting the job. So off I went for a months prime scaring and I was pretty fascinated by what I encountered.
As it turns out I seem to be in a minority. Millions of people worldwide flock to get off on the fear factor and as a result simulated scare is big business. Theme parks worldwide employ thousands of actors (although it is safe to say that a lot of them aren’t actually actors) every year when they turn their resorts spooky to dress up and jump out at people. Believe it or not this actually requires some skill, I mean, we wouldn’t want to hit the general public in the face now would we…..?
Although a trained and experienced actor besides being in the odd horror film and playing psychologically unhinged characters on stage I have never been a ‘scare actor’ so this was definitely a learning curve. I learned the Impact Scare; very nearly but just missing (normally by inches) actually hitting, kicking or running into someone. This can similarly be achieved by hitting, kicking or running into a wall or object right next to said person, I am not a fan as I bruise like a peach and hate all violence. Then there’s the Jump Scare; hiding behind something and jumping out in front (or behind) of people who don’t know you’re coming to make them jump. This one is pretty fun and I found myself becoming like one of the workers in Monster’s Inc. gagging for a good scream. Obviously scaring can also be achieved the traditional way of simply committing to a character although you’d be surprised how few die hard scare actors choose this route.
I have learned that being a scare actor is a good way of practising technique and actually without any technique they drop like flies breaking hands, feet and voices all over the shop. It also requires more discipline than you might expect as many. many young people will come into the attraction and behave extremely offensively. True story. I was genuinely shocked at the amount of abuse hurled at us every twelve minutes; this coming from a person very comfortable with throwing people out of late night venues.
Watching peoples reactions to being scared is also interesting. Screaming, hysterical giggling (to the extent that I want to join in) some get really moody, some square up, some lash out, some cry and some literally crumple before your eyes. Others are just bare faced rude bastards. I have never witnessed so many variations of frightened behaviour.
See. Learning curve.
However the more time I spent in the mazes the more interested I became in the actors including my own reactions. Now it is tough, you can be in there for up to ten hours some days which can grate at even the biggest scare/horror fans or best actors but regardless of this there should never be a scenario where an actor loses it with a child. However the more I worked there the more I saw this happening. I started to notice that we as actors were picking up the negative energy being thrown at us in droves and reacting to the emotions we were inciting in others. If people came through unimpressed we took it to heart. If people came in aggressively we would become more aggressive. If people shouted insults we shouted insults back. Before you know it you’ve got a bunch of grown adults being paid to do a fairly fun and easy job starting on a group of teenagers.
Worryingly the attitudes of some of the people in power that I experienced were not critical enough in my opinion of this behaviour. I was encouraged to use more impact scares, I watched people more senior than me use what I interpreted to be an unnecessary level of force and fought what felt like a constant mental battle to not get in a bad mood. I attempted to be group cheer leader, rallying the troops to not let the negativity pierce our bubble in between groups. Yet I would often slump into a melancholy of my own, endlessly irritated by something or nothing and latching onto a destructive thought pattern that started with a teenager accusing me of having bad breath and ended with me having a really shit day.
Was this normal? Having never been in a maze as a guest how would I know what was ‘normal?’ Was this merely my gut reaction to an environment I was not comfortable with? I have admitted to hating violence, the dark and being scared in general. Was it even possible to remain in such a heightened negative scenario for such a long period of time and not pick up on it? Sometimes it was for some people, yes.
Interestingly my experience in the scare maze allowed me to reflect on life in general and how easy it is for us to pick up on other peoples negativity. It’s funny how very restricting and closed off environments can do that. You can literally watch a bad mood pass from person to person. And I learned not only from my own and the other actors behaviour but from the guests visiting the maze too. Watching people change as they walked through, witnessing their acceptance of or resistance to an unnatural experience. For me the maze became a metaphor for life whereby if we walk through open to unexpected twists and turns regardless of how uncomfortable it may be at times we are bound to have a better experience than if we walk on determined not to participate.
That being said I think I’ll stick to being an elf.
Janna Fox is an actress, writer, yogi, aerialist in training and creator of many things. She started blogging for The New Establishment in February 2017 and her pieces are published every other Wednesday. Janna also contributes to sex blog Hitting the Spot. For more information please visit www.jannafox.com