The Art of Fear: Character Creation

When I first started one tool that I was told to do to help my ability to improv act as a character was come up with some sort of background or back story. Over the years as I traveled to different haunts, I noticed that this concept was adapted by many performers. I’ve also heard several opinions on character back stories from those that really go all out with them to those that think it’s a total waste of time. I’m here to tell you from experience that it works wonders especially if you are first starting out creating a stable of haunt characters.

Yes, I do really think it helps, but the degree of your character’s background does vary from person to person. I know actors that come up with a character name, age, how it became whatever type of “monster/killer/whatever”, where it grew up, what its life was like, it’s favorite food…well pretty much everything you can think of. I also know performers (and myself) who just comes up with basics like a name and a quick synopsis of how I envision the character and how it acts. There is no right or wrong way to come up with a character background. Seriously whatever works for you…but why do it at all you may ask…well…

Coming up with a character background with however many details helps you develop your act. You pull from that background and develop dialog, movement, and reactions to different types of situations. Since haunt acting is a very different style of performing and mostly improv acting it’s good to have something to refer back to as you perform. Even before you act you look to the background you create to figure out, you’re costuming and how your makeup should look.

When I first started out at my first haunt as I was trying to make an impression and move up the ranks of the acting troupe, I would write ideas down all the time. The process went something like this…

  • Late 1800’s Early 1900’s carnival barker combined with traveling preacher
  • make-up – minimal darkened eyes, sunken in face
  • dress in top hat and suit carries cane
  • Insane
  • had a questionable life always trying to pull a fast one over on people to survive eventually cursed to walk the earth for eternity because of his questionable past
  • Call him Mr. Maniacal

That was pretty much how I started to develop the character I still do today in haunts and as a horror host. Obviously now I’ve done the character so much that it has developed and grew into its own entity, but that is how I would pretty much do all my characters. It helped me along the way to give Mr. Maniacal his unique insane personality and his signature look.

As I said before character background can be anything. They are just a tool to help you fine tune your performance. However, that is just the first step in character creation. When first starting out you will be assigned a room and depending on the haunt a character and costume. Blood Prison (which I consider my home haunt) in Mansfield, Ohio operates in a similar setup. They assign their actors to a set or a zone for the season, provide costumes, masks and/or makeup, and in most scenes even outline your act. If you are in the cell block prison ward as a prisoner or guard well, there you go it’s all outlined for you. Even still create YOUR character. Ok you’re a guard…what kind of guard were you? Evil, sadistic, remorseful, etc. My point is even if you are assigned an area and character make that character your own so you can shine as a performer. Most haunts give actor of the night to people and the more you shine the more the management staff will begin to give you more opportunities to do something different and new.

If you are given an opportunity to create your own character and given an area to play that character in sit down and brainstorm. The next few essays I’ll talk about the general types of character commonly seen in haunts (loud/aggressive, slow zombie like, crazy, etc). Choosing a type of character is based solely on your personality. The best advice I can give you is to think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to experiment and run with an idea. Be creative. You will fail at times, and you will succeed at times. That’s just the way it goes. However, the more you flesh out your character in your head or on paper the greater the chance is you will succeed.

Next, we will talk about the common types of haunt characters there are and how to tie everything together. In the meantime, start thinking about those character ideas.