Behind the Mask: What It's Like to Work at a Haunted House
If you’ve ever visited a haunted house, you know how fun they can be. With a new surprise lurking around each corner, you’ll be scared silly when you go. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be on the other side of the experience? Tracey Marr, a long-time actress at Field of Screams tells us what it’s like working behind the mask.
“This year will be my 7th year working for the field” Marr said. Having worked at the Prairie Pines location for three years and the Watson Park location for three years, Marr is seasoned in haunts.
“I have visited it [Field of Screams] many times in high school and thought it would be a fun job to have. One summer they held auditions and I decided to try it out,” Marr said. After making the cut, Marr returned year after year to haunt the field.
Affectionately referring to her fellow performers as her “field family”, one of Marr's favorite parts of working for the Field is the bond that exists between the performers. "It feels like a big season long reunion," she said.
Tracey in Full Haunt Makeup
Each summer, auditions are held for Field of Screams actors and performers. Each person auditions alone, in front of a panel of three to five people.
"A lot of people don’t realize that the auditioning process is stricter than they think," Marr said. "Field of Screams turns down almost half if not more each year during the auditioning process."
Actors and performers are placed where they best fit or where they are really needed, though the staff will accommodate the performers, placing them in roles that they are comfortable with. (For example, some actors may thrive in a speaking role, while others may feel more comfortable with non-speaking parts.)
"The staff is also very open to suggestions if someone has a unique talent," Marr explains. This openness to the actors' talents was instrumental in developing the role that Marr plays today.
Incorporating Aerial Stunts
Marr began practicing aerial stunts in her spare time, and they eventually found their way into her performance at Field of Screams.
In the past years, Marr had been the slider girl, where she would slide, suspended by a harness, above where customers would walk.
“After years of being an actress, the owner [of Field of Screams] knows me pretty well. One day he just asked if I was still doing the aerial stuff and wanted to know if I would be willing to incorporate that into the haunt,” Marr said. “To me, it was just like moving from their invented aerial apparatus to my own personal apparatuses. So now, instead of being an actress in the field I am a performer and more of an entertainer for the waiting line.”
Field of Screams guests will find Marr performing on her apparatus of choice, the lyra, which is a metal hoop suspended in the air. Here, Marr sits, poses and does tricks, which, when mixed with full haunt costuming, are very creepy.
“This year I will perform on the lyra and may also try aerial chains a few nights to add to the haunt-like effect. The metal apparatuses fit well in a haunt setting, especially with the crazy circus/clown clothes and demon mask or makeup I usually wear,” Marr added.
Haunting: Harder Than You Might Expect
Even though it's a fun environment, performing in a haunt is still work.
"A lot of people come to the field and say 'I could do that' or 'this seems like an easy job'", Marr says, but this isn't the case. Due to fire codes, the Field must be torn down every year. This means that the Field is rebuilt mostly from scratch each year. For the builders, this turns into a full-time job when July hits.
"The public thinks 'anyone can scare people', which could be true for most. However, it takes a dedicated, mentally strong person to work at the haunt for hours and hours attempting to give each group a better scare than the one that went through literally two minutes before." Marr says. "Saying 'anyone can scare people' is like saying anyone can hold a glass of water above their head. But when you’ve been holding that glass constantly for a five-or-more-hour shift, that glass gets very heavy," she explains.
Each season, a large number of actors leave after the first weekend because they realized how tough it is to keep their energy up. This is just the beginning. More will leave as the season gets colder. No matter how many actors leave, the show must go on.
"We don’t get to go home until all the customers have left. This can make for a long night of screaming, strobe lights, cold weather, headaches, lost voices and often bodily bruises in the scaring process that can all take a toll on your body, health and happiness with your role," Marr said.
Despite the challenge that a job like this brings, Marr returns each year, ready to face whatever comes her way.
“I think any actor would agree that the best part is the scares. I especially love the off-the-wall reactions we get when someone doesn’t even realize we are there," Marr says. "This is what I miss most about working in the actual field. Being in the queue lines, I don’t get as good of startle scares, but I do get a lot of good creeped-out reactions when I am performing.”
How to Have a Great Haunt Experience
The Field's actors feed their energy off of each individual group that goes through.
"If you are scared, prepare to get more people trying to scare you. If you find comedy in it, prepare to get a few more good laughs in. If you are acting tough, mad, or defensive, prepare for your experience to not be as good as other groups," Marr said. "Honestly, there have been a few times myself and other actors have not even interacted with customers because we can hear that they are trying to get in actors’ faces, yelling or cussing, or just being rude. Safety is our number one priority and sometimes that means not putting ourselves in a situation like that. If you are paying money and waiting in long lines to go through a haunt, make it a good experience and the actors will provide that back."