In a previous blog I talked about the issue of senseless gore in the industry and the importance of being limited and strategic with your gore applications. Now let’s talk about another issue I have seen in haunts the past few years and that is female actors and the rise of T&A in their characters and acts. I did a seminar once and I was approached by a group of actresses asking me how to avoid customers that tend to cross the lines and being inappropriate. When I reviewed their characters, costumes, and acts…well I hate to say it but in the haunt atmosphere let’s just say they were targets for harassment. Now don’t jump the gun here I’m not saying that anyone asks for harassment or deserves to be attacked. Any customer that attacks or harasses an actor or actress should be removed from the haunt or punished accordingly. What I am saying though is in this environment where we get different types of customers and at times ones that are drunk or worse you need to be more careful of what you are doing and in this case what you are wearing. I’m sorry but that’s the reality of the world we live in. As female performers you are not automatically pigeon holed into “sexy” characters and costumes. In fact some of the most effective and creepy characters can be done best by female haunters.
Part of me is jealous of the opportunities that female haunt performers have available to them as far as characters and acts. I’m being serious and I’ll tell you why. Generally speaking (thanks to Hollywood and years of generalized perceptions) women are often the victims in horror stories or for some reason weak and powerless. Granted they often eventually turn the tables, but the generalization is that women are the victims while men are the stronger of the two. Now of course this isn’t true and not everyone thinks this way, but often in the dark and inside a horror setting the customers subconsciously follow their instincts and what they commonly know. This gives female haunters a HUGE advantage. They naturally underestimate you. They don’t take you seriously at first glance or don’t expect the horror that truly awaits them. This is an advantage male haunters will never have. SO USE IT!
Another thing that I find awesome about actresses in haunts is that natural uncanny level of creepiness they seem to have. I cannot explain it. Maybe it’s because I fell in love with Elsa Lanchester as The Bride in Universal’s “The Bride of Frankenstein”. Some of my favorite haunters to work next to are female performers. These actresses think outside the box and do a wide variety of characters from pure evil to strange and bizarre. I have seen these actresses contort their voices and bodies while looking like the sweet victim. I have seen them look disgusting with a downright mean attitude to match and everything else in between. I have seen these same actresses dropping customer after customer like they were little children. They all have one thing in common too. None of their characters wouldn’t fit into the “T&A” category.
Now I know there are haunts out there that do rather well boosting this type of horror environment. They push their actresses to wear the skimpiest costumes they can think of and then use them in their advertising like they were some type of haunt themed strip club. I’m sorry folks that’s just not scary on average to haunt customers. That’s just not what haunting is all about. Yeah it’s true sex sells, but it doesn’t scare. Now the conversations I have had with customers that have attended these types of haunts all generally say the same thing. Yeah they were cool and some actors and scenes pushed limits, but they weren’t scary. When I asked these same people if they would return they said most likely not.
Now I have also interacted with former actors and actresses from these haunts and they all have the same types of answers about working in haunts that push this sort of theme. They hated it. They felt like they were pushed to fit the haunts narrative and that the customers were generally unruly and treated them like actual strippers in a haunted strip club. They cited a lack of creativity in the haunt that stifled their desires to think outside the box. That type of environment to me doesn’t make sense. Seriously a haunted attraction is a creative driven business so wouldn’t you want to promote and allow your performers to be creative instead or telling them put on a skimpy costume and splash some blood just to use a T&A sales gimmick?
Look I’m not trying to come off as a stick in the mud nor am I saying that these types of haunts and characters are wrong. If there is a customer base for it and you are being successful then continue with what works. I believe strongly that a haunted attraction in order to be a success and appeal to the widest customer base possible it must contain many styles and elements. I also don’t like to squash creativity and if you design a character that looks like it belongs next to Sherri Moon in Devil’s Rejects well so be it. What I am saying is from my teaching experience I have encountered many young female haunt actors that think that is the only option for them. That’s the point here…there are options and damn good ones too.
As I stated before I have worked with quite of few female performers that are downright effective with characters that are horrifically awesome. A female vampire in a gypsy style dress complete with aged sheer scarves giving the illusion of floating movement, a deformed large cranium creature with a sarcastic bad attitude. A demon using her height to rise from the shadows in a loud and violent way. A bag lady so disgusting the customers had no choice but to gag. These are just a few examples, but the options are literally endless. The main point here (and really it should be the mantra to all haunt performers) is to THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX!
To address the issues of being harassed or targeted from unwanted advances and attacks…well let’s face reality again. You will never eliminate it. However you can limit it. Be strong and confident. Learn to turn the tables when a customer starts with you. Stand your ground and don’t show any hesitation or fear. Everyone needs to also learn that as performers in this environment we watch each other’s back. A customer will back off quickly if you stand your ground and there is another performer just standing by your side. This safety technique isn’t limited to just female performers it’s for all performers. Most importantly know your surroundings. Know where others are and how you can get to a safer place easily because although standing your ground will deter most there will always be ones that just won’t care. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Again creatively don’t feel pressured and limited. As a female haunter you have just as many options for characters as anyone else. You will use the same basic techniques as far as movement, vocal change, etc. without a doubt, but please don’t think you are limited to just helpless victims with T&A themed costumes. Plus no matter what character you are or what you wear no harassment or attacks are acceptable so also be sure to be safe…stand your ground with confidence, and know how to get to a safe zone with others around you.