Being a haunted house actor is a real niche job and one with a fairly short season. But that doesn't mean it's easy, says Mythica von Griffyn. In fact, acting in a haunted house takes a lot of work, with make-up, costuming and the constant need to frighten people for hours on end.
Westword: Tell us a little about your history with haunted houses.
Mythica von Griffyn: I grew up in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia. There was a local community service group called the JAYCEEs. It was a young adult group that did stuff both social and service oriented. One of the ways they raised money was running the annual haunted house. It was for a local grant for young teens, in honor of one of the member's nieces who passed away. Iwas fourteen and volunteered to work in the house. I was very creative and helped them come up with the ideas for each of the fourteen or so scenes in the house. I was hooked. Prior to that I was terrified of the haunted houses! I helped with make-up and making the scenes I helped come up with. Seems I had a knack for it, so they kept asking me to come back.
Every year was like a family reunion! Even when I moved to other states I would find a house or state park to work at and had references so they were excited to have me on board. I would go to other houses looking for new and cool things I could adapt to the houses I was working in. It was sort of like continuing education.
When I moved to Colorado it was the same thing. I found a new "family." It was called the Carnival of Fear. It's sort of like joining the circus! Sometimes people come back. Sometimes they don't, but it is a great way to meet new and interesting people.
Why did you decide to start working in the field and when did you know it was what you wanted to do?
Well it's a seasonal job. You start off volunteering. Some places you can get paid for it after you sort of "prove" yourself. Not only do you have to show up on time, but you have to be good at what you do. You don't do this job to get rich, you do it because you love it and if you get some money it's a nice little nest egg in time to buy Christmas/Hanukah/Yule presents. If you stay in it for ten-plus years then you start to think of it as a real job because the houses then make you staff.
As for when did I know, the first time I ever did it. There is nothing like it. It is a powerful experience to be given permission to scare people. There is an excitement in the air like no other!
How would you recommend someone get started in your field?
The month before October the various houses have web pages where you can fill out applications or send emails for work and volunteer opportunities. They are always looking for new people. Be sure to go to a house near where you live because trying to get from work to the house can be challenging.
Can you describe an average day?
When you start the sun is low in the sky and getting ready to set. No one is in the parking lot. You enter the house. It's quiet. Sometimes you already know what scene you are working in. Sometimes you find out when you get there. Find the house manager (or mom) and find out what you are doing. Then you know what costume you will be wearing. Usually you are asked to wear all black before even getting a costume. Black shirt, pants, and shoes. Anything lighter can be seen in the house and they want as little to be seen as possible.
After getting your assignment, getting the costume on, stowing clothes and gear, it's time for make-up. Usually there is an area where the monsters and characters stand in line for make-up. I do my own. Then I help others till it's show time.
Then it is hours of group after group. Sometimes we hear a name and pass it along in the house, "Sarah... oh SAAARRAHHAA!!!!" or Josh, or whatever. Creeps them out when the monsters know your name. Job ends at midnight. You go back to the make-up room grab baby wipes and clean up, take off the costume and you do that as many times in a row for thirty days.
What's the best part about your job?
Making friends. Getting to be six different kinds of creative. From concept, to construction, to costuming, make-up, character acting, and switching to different scenes.
What's the worst part?
The end, every year. It's really sad when it's over.
How about the biggest misconception?
That it can't become a real job. It can, but you do this because you love it.
Anything you're particularly proud or embarrassed of?
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Pride in haunted houses comes from how badly you can scare people. They pay to get scared. They get mad when you don't deliver. So I am proud when I can scare a jock three times as big as I am, and make him drop down on the floor scrambling to get away from me, usually screaming and cursing just like in the movies.