Yes. It’s true. I was paid to perform as Leatherface at a year-round Orlando attraction called Terror on Church Street.
As you may know, I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to do for extra money. Naturally, this has led me to think about the insane things I’ve done for money in the past. My job at Terror was by far the most unusual. I mean, how many people can say they once paid the bills with a job as an acrobatic exorcist or a ghostly bride? Maybe 30.
To give you a better idea about the kind of place we’re talking about (click for video), you need to understand that this wasn’t your average haunted house. This was a 22,000 square foot historic building with 25 rooms, each themed with a movie-set quality and high-budget effects. The Eternal Dwellers Theatre Company was a professional acting troupe with make-up calls and show times. Depending on the role, you could be in make-up for as many as three hours. Every October, we’d scare more than 1,000 people in a weekend.
Terror was the real deal. When you walked through the vampire-infested swamp, you had no idea you were in the middle of an indoor attraction… you were there. And someone was about to suck your blood.
I could wax on about all the things I loved about each of the roles, but I’m not telling you this story to encourage you try your hand at the fine art of horror performance. Instead I’ll tell you what life lessons I got so you don’t have to go to all the trouble…
Lesson One: Fear is all in your head.
No matter how much you try to scare the guy who is determined to mock your attempts, you’re not going to do it. You might startle him, but you’re not going to scare him. Why? Because he’s already made up his mind he’s not going to be afraid of you. When you refuse to be afraid, you’re brave, whether it’s a conscious effort or not. This isn’t just a truth reserved for spook houses. This is everywhere… Think about it…
Lesson Two: Your head doesn’t work right when fear is in charge.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen doting boyfriends run fifteen feet from their scared girlfriends because I popped out of a dark corner wearing fangs. People who knew it was all lights and make-up have punched me in the face. The most delightful people do crazy things when they’re afraid. The reason is simple: people don’t think straight when they’re scared. Not only does it cause physiological changes…it inhibits your ability to make good decisions. No bueno.
Lesson Three: Even scary places have dark corners where you can sneak a smoke or a quick make-out session with Hellraiser.
This has little to do with what I’ve been talking about, but it’s the truth so I thought I should include it. Seems only fair.
Lesson Four: As fun as it may sometimes be to scare people, you’re the one who ends up scared.
There was this room at Terror that was referred to as “the doll room.” You dressed up as a clown and waited for people to come through your hall before you made the room come to life. On slower nights, I hung out with the Exorcist and whoever was working the morgue until the people came. Once you had the rhythm of any given room down, you knew exactly how long the delay would be and just how close the leader should be to your hiding place before you jumped out.
In my opinion, this was the scariest room to work.
On the few occasions I was cast as the clown, I enjoyed the role until it was “showtime.” As soon as we heard Freddy Krueger call out, we knew it was time. I dutifully waited in a hallway that backed to the hydraulics on the Exorcist bed. Between the creepy music and the lulling hiss of the pipes, I would often be more scared than the people walking into my room. I’ve entirely missed groups because I freaked myself out so badly awaiting their arrival (see Lesson One).
In my employment history, I’ve been in a number of positions that could have benefited from fear-based messages, ie. “You’re going to pay too much,” “You’re missing your one big chance,” “Our competitors will make you fat,” “You’re killing baby polar bears,” and so on. Every time I consider such tactics, that same feeling curls up at the back of my neck and I just can’t do it.
Fear is magnetic and will attract more fear, much like strength attracts strength. If what you’re putting out to your “guests” is a message of fear, fear is what will return to you (see Lesson Two).
Lesson Five: People love to be scared.
When we’re scared, adrenaline is released in huge amounts and directs the oxygenated blood supply to all our muscles to allow us to run away. Our mouths dry, our hands get hot, and our hearts beat out of our chest until we realize it’s all in our heads. And damn, that rush felt fun…
My next job (post coming soon) was at a comedy club where we didn’t have half the paying customers that the spook house had. The people who came into Terror were on edge because they knew what we were going to do. Comedy customers would come to relax and laugh, but customers who pay for professionals to scare the crap out of themselves are entirely different. Yet Terror made more money…
Since we’re really nothing more than a collection of experiences recalled as knowledge earned, I’m glad I worked there. Again, scare-acting is not for everyone…but most jobs aren’t. The one thing I’m walking away with from this employment expedition is that fear is the answer to everything and nothing. On one hand people love it, yet it renders them unavailable on the other.
Fear creates a one-sided relationship where one delivers and the other eventually runs. Sure, there’s money to be made, but do you want it that badly?
I did once, but I don’t think I could do it again… The exception to this is October 31st, on which date I’m not satisfied unless at least one person seriously thinks they could pee themselves. I should allow myself at least one night to unleash my talent, right?
More soon… thanks for reading