We Went Behind the Scenes to Find Out What It’s Like Being a Scare Actor

A woman gets zombie makeup put on for a haunted house
Jennifer Hicks gets ready for Scream-A-Geddon on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018. Hicks is a full-time mom who enjoys scaring people as a part-time gig. "Getting paid to do something fun is always a good thing," Hicks said. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Around 7 p.m. in Dade City, Florida, as the sun is making its retreat in favor of the night, you’ll find a ghoulish scene tucked away in the woods.

There’s a horde of infected zombies, a gaggle of demonic witches, a posse of deranged clowns.

But if you look closer, you’ll notice one of those clowns scrolling through Instagram on an iPhone. A zombie might have a face streaked in blood, but his T-shirt and gym shorts are Downy fresh. And since when did witches chat about the latest episode of “Game of Thrones”?

No, you haven’t stumbled onto the set of a horror movie — it’s a group of scare actors getting ready for a night of work at the Scream-A-Geddon Horror Park.

It’s organized chaos, with the crowd of monsters weaving around the actor area — especially with the blaring music, constant screams and the random chainsaw or two filling the air all night long.

Returning for its fourth year of operation, Scream-A-Geddon is a privately owned haunted event that serves up scares for 36 days each year.

The park usually has around 140 scare actors employed at one time, with 20 to 30 assigned to each of the six attractions. They typically start the hiring process in July to ensure there’s a full cast ready to roll on opening day, and they continue hiring up until Halloween.

“Not everybody lasts all season,” says general manager Geof Kledzik. “People think they’re cut out, then put on a mask for 30 minutes and realize it’s not for them.”

Wearing an elaborate costume, thick makeup or a heavy mask in Florida weather is no joke. Here’s the temperature that night in October for reference: At 8:15 p.m., it was 80 degrees with a “real feel” of 88 degrees… and 86% humidity. Now, that is scary.

A Side Gig for the Undead

A woman waits to get makeup.
Candi Erris waits her turn for makeup. This is her second year working at the haunted house. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

If you ask any of the scare actors running around during costume and makeup why they got into this gig, they all pretty much say the same thing:

The love of the scare.

“I just love gore and horror,” says veteran scare actor Candi Erris, 24. “It just seems like it fits me perfectly.”

This is only her second year at Scream-A-Geddon, but she’s been in the ghostly game for eight years now. She started working in various Halloween haunts at age 16 in her hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, and continued the profession after moving south to Tampa, Florida.

This year she has taken on the role of a “chainsaw zombie” in the Scream-A-Geddon attraction Infected: Ground Zero. Last year she was a table-saw victim — she nailed the role thanks to her “really good lungs.”

Seven days a week, Erris shows up at 6:30 p.m. — the call time for all Scream actors — gets her gory makeup done, dons her bloody camo gear and camps out at the end of the haunted house, chainsaw in hand.

She spends the next several hours delivering one last scare to guests fleeing the house, thinking they’re finally safe.

Scream-A-Geddon closes at 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and at 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, so Erris finds herself getting home between midnight and 2 a.m.

And in case you were wondering — yes, she makes the trek home in full zombie mode, usually freaking out a gas station patron or two when she stops to buy a drink.

Chasing down guests with a power tool isn’t her only job. During the daylight hours, Erris has two others — she works in hospitality at Busch Gardens and also works part-time at a Tampa Bay fireworks retailer.  

Despite working seven days a week at Scream-A-Geddon on top of two other jobs, Erris says she doesn’t get tired of it. That’s how much she loves this side gig.

Clowning Around

A scary clown puts on his costume
Richard Reedy puts the finishing touches on his costume. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

During the day, Richard Reedy works in maintenance. But every night from Oct. 4 to Nov. 3, he transitions to a maniacal clown for Monster Midway, the hub of Scream-A-Geddon.

He typically has to be at his day job by 4:30 a.m. but says the late nights don’t really bother him. He loves the scaring too much — plus, he says the extra money doesn’t hurt.

The hourly rate for scare actors varies depending on the attraction, and wages for seasonal occupations like this are a little tricky to keep track off. But Glassdoor shows that scare actors earn between $9 and $15 per hour on average.

This is Reedy’s third year working as a scare actor. It’s his second season with Scream, and he feels that he’s found his calling working as a Midway haunter rather than one of the house positions.

“You’re not restricted to one area,” he says of working the Midway. “[There’s] the freedom of it… and you get to scare more people.”

Reedy says that when you audition for a scare acting gig at Scream, you get to designate which attraction you’d prefer to work. You’ll typically get it — if you’re good enough, that is.

The Skills of a Haunted House Scare Actor

An actor
Hicks works Rage 3D at Scream-A-Geddon. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

What does it take to be good at this type of job?

Reedy says that being able to think on your feet is a valuable skill. That, and screaming from your diaphragm. He also thinks that most of the required skills can be picked up quickly as long as you’ve got a passion for the scare.

Erris agrees that scare actors need to have that love of scaring and entertaining to succeed, as well as the willingness to show up everyday and get the job done. It’s a highly physical job that demands a lot of energy; guests will notice if you’re only halfway there.

“You’re running around a lot… even if you have a sitting position, you’re getting up, popping up a lot,” she says.

And then there’s always the possibility that a guest might not react well to a jump scare. When confronted with fear, some people respond with flight… others turn to fight and might take a swing at a scare actor just out of instinct.

Reedy has found himself in that situation a couple of times, but the scare actors go through training each season so they know how to handle it: Back away immediately.

Even with the long nights, heavy makeup, sweltering heat and unpredictable guests, both scare actors said the same thing when asked about the most difficult part of the job.

“Trying not to laugh when [guests] say something,” says Reedy.

“It’s really hard not to laugh or smile, which gives away the illusion,” says Erris.

Running a Haunted House

A woman dressed as a do all sits down.
Niccole Stanley waits for the actors to be called to the midway, where she will scare customers. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

It takes a lot more than scare actors to make a haunted house attraction go round — there’s plenty of other spooky jobs that need to be filled.

By the end of the event’s run, the park will have employed upwards of 600 people, according to Kledzik.

In addition to the 140 or so actors, there are six makeup artists, a costume handler, security, cashiers and parking attendants. Also, each of the attractions has a designated manager to ensure things run smoothly and stay on schedule.

Each scare actor only spends about three to five minutes in the makeup chair, and the artists have a system so they know which types of makeup go with each attraction.

Once a house’s group is all made up and ready to go, the manager will round them up, do a head count and get them hyped up for their walk to the house. Then the manager does a walk-through, placing actors in their designated scare spots.

The house manager for Scream’s 3D Rage house, David Hicks, really knows how to run his attraction, considering he started out as a scare actor himself. In fact, several non-actor employees started out as actors before transitioning to a different role, according to Gledzik.

He also says there is a creative team for Scream-A-Geddon that works year-round planning for the next year’s event. Couple that with other year-round jobs in the business such as props, effects and costume vendors, and it’s safe to say that there are other opportunities in this industry beyond the seasonal.  

But if you’re really just interested in scaring people as a side gig, look into haunted attractions in your area. Then next year, start searching for job openings and auditions well before October.

In the meantime, practice making uncomfortably long eye contact.

Kaitlyn Blount is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She saw the secrets of working in a haunted house… and still screamed multiple times going through the clown house.