The American-influenced concept of walk-through scare attractions is an increasing presence at UK theme parks during Halloween.
Thorpe Park and Alton Towers now have numerous scare mazes, and smaller independent theme parks have attempted to follow suit in recent years.
Indeed, Thorpe Park’s Saw Alive walk-through attraction was a season-round addition to the park’s line-up initially, before it was cut back to make cost savings.
A good scare attraction requires a lot of actors to make people jump, scream and run away in fear.
But who are the people that don the make-up and costumes, and how do they learn effective skills in fright?
‘Hugely rewarding job’
Sam Bott is the managing director of Unlocked Vision – an entertainment company formed by three people that had previously worked with Thorpe Park and Alton Towers for their Frights Nights and Scarefest Halloween events.
The company describes itself as a “creative design agency” that specialises in the design and production of “themed immersive attractions”.
Lighting, effects, props and scare actor training are all areas of expertise the young company is able to boast.
Fellow directors Jade Kelly-Haydon and Seb Blaber have helped to set up scare mazes at Thorpe Park and Alton Towers.
Sam says: “Both Jade and I started off as scare actors and it is a hugely rewarding job.
“There is nothing like the rush of adrenaline that you get when you scare someone, and if you were to ask any scare actor they will all tell you how completely addictive it is.”
He cites “confidence and commitment” as being essential attributes of the would-be scare actor.
“You cannot be embarrassed about your performance or afraid of what others are thinking about you.
“Auditions are hard, but for a reason; we look for people who can let go of their inhibitions, commit to the task at hand and really go for it.
“If they can do that in the middle of the day, without being in costume or make-up, we know that as soon as we put them in a maze under show conditions, they will only get better.”
‘Constantly evolve your performance’
Unlocked Vision look for versatility and a willingness to learn in its cast members, with Sam likening the roles to “opening a new show every two minutes”.
“You have so much scope as a performer to try new things, to learn off those around you and constantly evolve your performance,” Sam says.
“If you find that a scare doesn’t work, remember that there is a new group already on their way that you can try a new technique on.”
So how can some get involved, where would they begin?
“Our advice is to be pro-active,” Sam answers.
“Find out which attractions are opening near you and reach out to them, see if you can volunteer one night to get a feel for what it’s like.
“A lot of the smaller companies use volunteer actors for their entire run and are always looking for people to join the team – these are great places to get started and build up your experience.”
“Also keep an eye out for when the large established parks are holding auditions for their Halloween offerings – usually around August or early September.
“Attend as many auditions as you can, because even if you aren’t successful you will learn so much from those around you,” Sam advises.
But it’s not for the faint hearted, the conditions can be mentally and physically very challenging, with hot, dark working environments and the occasional awkward punter potentially adding to the challenges.
Future of scare attractions
Sam thinks that the recent trend of Thorpe Park teaming up with established intellectual properties has been the right move.
“This is something that America – an industry that is easily ten years ahead of the UK – is well-known for doing, and Thorpe Park taking this approach is helping to push our industry into new areas,” he says.
Sam believes that Alton Towers’ Scarefest has “always been a great event” and says that a “refresh” of the atmospheric Terror of the Towers scare maze is being promised by the park.
It will hopefully breathe new life into the event and allow Alton Towers to maintain it’s status as a great Halloween destination,” he adds.
Of the smaller independent parks’ efforts, Sam says that they are helping to bring the Halloween attractions to the wider public’s attention.
“Everyone has to start somewhere, and we fully support those that are helping the industry to grow.
“Every year more and more visitor attractions, farm parks, and small independent theme parks are adopting the idea of Halloween and we can only hope that this continues, that attraction owners operate safely and keep guests happy.
“Scare attractions are a truly unique form of entertainment – there really is nothing else like it.”