Ghost and goblin actors demand better labor rights from the Haunted Houses

Originally published at: Ghost and goblin actors demand better labor rights from the Haunted Houses | Boing Boing


Capitalism is scary, ain’t it?

Not as scary as the phrase “general strike” is to the masters of capitalist society – just mention the possibility and they morph into violent monsters.


It does seem strenuous.


I was a haunt as a side gig for a couple of seasons in Atlanta back in the early aughts. I did it more as a labor of love than for the money (which was, as the article notes, minimal). It was at a fairly professional haunted house with some animatronic scares and a very talented ex-Hollywood makeup artist.

Because a lot of the scares involved jumping out into relatively cramped corridors just in front of or behind patrons, and sometimes required actors to share small backstage spaces, I can see covid putting a real damper on the proceedings. I bet this year a lot of haunted attractions are going for a haunted hospital theme to integrate surgical masks into the costumes.


I had a friend in highschool who was an actor for a haunted hayride. He would run out of the woods in costume and harass the riders. One year, he slipped on some wet leaves and went under the hay wagon, which rolled over his femur. Luckily it hit just right that it didn’t break but he was seriously injured for weeks. Because I’ve always accepted the informal nature of the work, I’ve never thought about that as a labor issue until now. It’s bizarre how powerful implicit labor categories are in shaping my perception, but honestly the “It’s kids doing some weekend work” has been such an integral and purposeful lynchpin of conservative anti-labor strategy. So gross how well the evil tautology of “c’mon it’s low-value work, that’s why we treat it like low-value work” works.


Nope, or at least not from the pictures I’ve seen in social media. I used to volunteer at a charity haunt, and a lot of people from there went on to manage and staff for-profit haunts, and I follow their feeds during Halloween season. Seems like there’s no masks incorporated, and the first-hand reports from a number of places say there’s no pandemic awareness at all. No masks required or requested from actors, staff, or customers.

There’s already been a few COVID cases at the haunt this year, and the “joke” is that this year’s haunt plague is a real plague. But it doesn’t stop them from not having masking, social distancing, or proper ventilation in the makeup room and behind the scenes.

Haunt acting is physical, and even with safety seminars and proper planning, you still need clever set design so EMTs can get into anywhere easily and quickly. Most of the accidents fall into self-inflicted (“I thought I could stand on top of this 4 foot decoration made out of dust and spit and was surprised when I fell through it and broke my leg” or the perennial slipped-on-gravel-and-sprained/strained/tore/broke-something) or customer inflicted (you’d be surprised how often a startled person throws their arms out and smacks an actor in the face), but the toll of working 4-6 hours moving in exaggerated ways, not to mention the running after people, is hard even for able-bodied physically fit people. It’s like any other semi-skilled labor job with no benefits, except you get the satisfaction of horrifying people who have paid you to do so.


It probably varies based on haunt density. If you’re the only one in a reasonable distance, a single theme might work, but in areas where the competition is more intense people will reach for other themes to differentiate. I’m pleased to see that at least one haunt in our area seems to have worked masks into all of their costumes. They worked them in as muzzles, jagged teeth and painted over clown designs in addition to the obvious medical themes.


Picketer: Who are you?

Actor: Uh, I was told this place had an opening for someone who could play “horrifying skin lesion jump scare zombie?”

Picketer: Oh, great… scabs.


I mean, this is really the best version of customer service.


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