Looking back on a frightful year, I’m happy I conquered my own fears and became a scare actor — becoming the undead for the time of my life.
I don’t think anyone is going to argue that 2021 was a stellar year. Like the one before it, this year brought its fair share of challenges, frustrations, fears, and real-world horrors.
However, there were some bright spots for me personally. And those are certainly worth celebrating.
As Covid restrictions continued to be lifted, at least temporarily, and vaccines became available, I was fortunate enough to make the most of this Halloween season.
It felt strange to go back to normal. My own feelings about a year of lockdowns lead me to try things I might have otherwise avoided. When people are dying and the things we take for granted are stripped away, it can grant a form of mental clarity. So, with Halloween approaching, I decided to do something I had previously avoided due of my own fears.
Being an actor, performing for the public, being stared at by strangers, and judged are fears of mine that cause me a high level of anxiety. But for Halloween 2021, I made the decision to face my fears and overcome them.
I volunteered to be a scare actor for the Haunted Red Mill in Clinton, New Jersey.
The Red Mill is a historic grist mill and non-profit museum near my childhood hometown, and one of the state’s most picturesque spots.
The Haunted Red Mill was celebrating “30 Years of Fear,” and ran a haunted attraction for four October weekends in 2021. Every Friday and Saturday night, I made the trip to Clinton and turned into a ghoulish, pun-spewing bartender.
The event opened to guests at 7 p.m., and I was at the mill by 5 p.m. to get into costume and have my macabre makeup applied by a team of talented artists. My character required latex work to make it appear as if a cocktail cup had been smashed into my head. Makeup gave me a ghoulish grey appearance on my face, head, and hands, and blood was then applied to my “wounds,” the cup, and face.
When 6:45 p.m. rolled around, actors were instructed to take their places throughout the haunt. There are mazes, a terror trail, a hay ride, the inside of the historic mill, and actors who roam the property.
We are reminded how important it is to stay in character outside of the cast members’ building in order to maintain the illusion for the guests who were lined up at the gate, ready for a night of terror.
I was assigned to Skully’s Tavern which is situated on the Terror Trail, and left to my own devices as to how I would portray the bartender.
My only instruction was to hold the guests inside the tavern for about one minute to make sure groups were spread out as they made their way to the maze at the bottom of the trail.
On opening night I quickly realized that the tavern wasn’t a great spot for scaring the guests. The tavern was well lit inside and had no “scare spots” to hide in as guests entered. As Skully’s was stationed between a portion of the trail where guests are chased by chainsaw-wielding maniacs and a clown maze, the tavern acted as a breather before the next major scare.
Holding the guests inside was a puzzle to solve. If a scare I did was too effective, the guests would want to run out.
I quickly channeled one of my favorite horror hosts, the legendary Zacherle, The Cool Ghoul. My idea was to welcome guests, or victims, to the tavern and hit them with a series of groan-inducing puns. The adults generally appreciated the puns, and the teens were horrified at the “dad jokes.” In a way, I did scare and traumatize those kids!
With each new night, my performance evolved, and I grew more confident in myself.
I even found ways to give a few quick scares to guests. I also discovered that being a scare actor was more fun than I had originally anticipated.
I didn’t anticipate the sense of community with the Red Mill volunteers. This was a group of people lending their time, energy, and resources to help with a fundraiser for a local museum and to create an event to delight and scare the guests who paid to be scared.
It was a joy to come in on event nights to talk with the other volunteers, prepare for the night, and at the end of the night come together to relax and discuss how we had scared the guests.
After performing in the Haunted Red Mill in 2021, I have no doubt I will return in 2022 (perhaps in a different role).
I encourage scare fans to apply to their local haunted attraction as a scare actor, set decorator, or makeup artist. Take the time to see these events from the creator side; you will gain a new appreciation for the work that goes into making a haunted attraction a safe, fun, and scary experience for all.