[Recently, we got in touch with one Mr. Bertram Bertram, soliciting his expert opinion and analysis for our readers. As one of the foremost Haunt Experts around (you may find his expertise readily available here), we were incredibly pleased to hear back from him and are honored to present his writing here today.]
Observations on a Peculiar Entertainment
by Mr. Bertram Bertram
When I was first contacted by the Gravediggers Local to contribute to the publication, I demurred. My time was simply too restricted to allow for proper reflection and coherent narration upon the subjects to which I am most engaged. Yet now that October has again given way to November (which seems to happen with increasing regularity), I found myself idly wandering the stacks of the manor library in vague disquietude.
My manservant, Walter, concerned with my saturnine mood, suggested that I revisit the Gravediggers’ invitation to share with you my vast experience in the field of haunted attractions. Walter’s reminder was timely. After fortifying myself with his excellent cucumber sandwiches and black coffee, I was ready to embark upon this project that I know will be as educational for you as it is enjoyable for me.
The Basic Idea
“Haunting” and being a “Haunter”, in my field, refers to working in the haunted attraction industry. In the broadest possible terms, a haunted attraction (or “haunt” for brevity’s sake) is any dedicated venue that seeks to entertain patrons using elements of horror, the macabre, and/or the supernatural. This definition does not include horror movies or horror based theater plays because the theaters in which they are experienced feature many different genres over time.
However, films, film technology, and many elements of theater are incorporated into modern haunted attractions. Further, dark rides, such as Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, are considered haunted attractions because of the overall theme, not because of any particular use of technology or level of intensity. There are, of course, grey areas to these definitions that I will explore later. But for now, this should provide a basic concept of a haunted attraction for our discussion.
What Do We Do?
Much of my work has been, first, as a performer then as an advisor to performers in haunts. We are often referred to as haunt actors, but I find that label a tad misleading. We certainly do act in our work as haunters, but it’s a peculiar form of acting that incorporates facets of several types of entertainment finally brought together into a unique type of performance.
We haunters create a form of entertainment that is similar to theater, movies, stand-up comedy, and performance art. Like theater, we create artificial characters that communicate their basic natures through costume, makeup, spoken words, embodied actions and constructed environments. We utilize technology and special effects that have been developed for theater and for Hollywood films. We interact with patrons on an individual basis each night like a stand-up comedian who finds source material in the audience, but who also must defend against hecklers. Lastly, we create immersive fantasy worlds in which to perform, complete with sound tracks, odors, props, lighting and pathways for guests. These environments are more akin to site-specific artworks than to 3-walled sets found on theater stages.
We may or may not be required to support an overall narrative. We may or may not say the same lines each night we perform (assuming that our character has lines). We may not even be performing as the same character each night. Lastly, we risk bodily harm each night from the environments in which we perform, but mainly from the guests who may be so caught up in our performance or in their own inebriation that they find it acceptable to physically attack us in ways that only the worst stand-up comedian has ever suffered.
So you see that being a haunter is, at the most basic, a unique type of performing in a strange medium of entertainment. This is an adequate introduction to my series of short articles. I hope that I have whetted your intellectual appetite for further discussion of my peculiar field of study. I will return soon with more commentary on working in the haunt industry.
For now I remain truly,