What does it take to be a scare actor at one of Norfolk’s biggest Halloween attractions?
PUBLISHED: 13:00 26 October 2020 | UPDATED: 14:29 26 October 2020
Just what does persuade performers to put ‘professional scarer’ on their CV? Stacia Briggs spoke to three actors at Great Yarmouth Pleasure Beach’s Fairground Frights which begins on Wednesday
If you go down to the Pleasure Beach after dark this week, you’re sure of a scary surprise – but who are the performers behind the masks?
The Great Yarmouth attraction is the home of four fear-filled family evenings where ghosts, ghouls and scary surprises haunt the rides and attractions for the very first Fairground Frights events.
Running on the evenings of October 28 to 31 from 5pm to 8pm, the park has assembled performing talent from across the country and closer to home and is suitable for anyone over the age of five.
Performances will be based on the age of visitors and the park’s Covid-19 protocols will be in place to ensure customer and staff safety
We spoke to three performers who have swapped the stage for the fairground and who are relishing the opportunity to be in front of a live audience again – even if they are terrified of them!
Joe Press is swapping Mary Poppins and pantomime for pumpkins to be part of the scary spectacular lined up for the East Coast at the end of October.
It is a change of scene for the Wroxham-born performer who starred in Cameron Mackintosh’s stage version of the hit show in Europe and has also been a regular part of the Norwich Theatre Royal pantomime cast for the last few years.
He loves this time of year so being part of Fairground Frights is a labour of love. Joe said: “I have organised lots of Halloween events in the past for my family. We have had spooky trails in the back garden and special activities. It is one of my favourite times of the year.”
The fear factor element is something that he enjoys. Joe laughed: “When it comes to Halloween, I am a bit of a screamer. This is going to be something that is very different though. Because we can’t get close to people and do any physical scaring, it is going to be much more about the stories and characters we create.
“That is something I am really enjoying. It is really interesting to create these characters and build up a narrative for people to enjoy as they go around the park.
“We will also have the freedom to change what we do depending on the age of each group who are visiting so it is a great chance for families to get out and about together in their bubbles too.”
The project is a bit of a reunion for Joe. He will be performing with fellow former Norwich Theatre Royal panto performer Luke Cartledge who has also been a part of the cast of the festive spectacular for several years, and will be directed by former fellow Brit School graduate Ben Woodward.
It is also the first chance for Joe to do some acting for many months. He said: “Things have been so difficult during the lockdown and performing opportunities have been few and far between. This is going to be a great chance to do some acting and I always love the chance to entertain in my home county as well.”
He is also excited to be returning to be returning to the Pleasure Beach and bringing characters to life among the many iconic rides he has enjoyed as a visitor for many years. “I have so many happy memories of going there with family and friends. Who doesn’t love the rollercoaster? The chance to scare people while they are on the Ghost Train is going to be fantastic too.”
By day, Brit School-trained Ben Woodward is sharing his musical theatre flair with young people across Norfolk as co-owner of the Triple Threat Stage School teaching stage skills in Aylsham, Fakenham and Hellesdon.
By night (over Halloween only) his focus is more making us jump than jolly jazz hands by creating and starring in scary experiences for theme parks and attractions around Britain.
His seasonal love of horror began when he finished training and one of his first jobs was being a scare actor at Thorpe Park. Ben said: “Before that I never even celebrated Halloween as a child. After doing my first one and getting an insight into it, I thought I really enjoy scaring people and the reaction you get. I told the Pleasure Beach acting team that this is a chance to release your darker warped minds in a safe place where lots of people enjoy horror.”
There are some challenges this year particularly around keeping things safe and socially-distanced. Ben explained: “One of my favourite types of scaring is invading people’s personal space and that closeness which some people find really uncomfortable. That is not possible, so we have had to work more on characters, storylines and delving into that side of it.”
Ben is passionate about engaging as much local talent as possible and that has also been in sharp focus this year practically because of the rules around travelling from some parts of the country. “We are really lucky we have some fantastic talent here in Norfolk. It has also made things much easier as we do not have to worry about actors travelling from an area under different restrictions,” he explained.
One thing he is passionate about is making sure all ages from five upwards can enjoy Fairground Frights. Ben said: “There are events like this that are for an 18-plus audience because of the nature of how scary it would be. The Pleasure Beach will be a family scare attraction. If we see a group of six adults and we think there is an opportunity to turn it up a notch, we will. With our younger audience, it comes through the storytelling, the suspense building and the mystery behind the characters.”
At the moment, Ben and his team are giving nothing away about the plot but one thing is for sure. The Rollercoaster will not be the only thing at the Pleasure Beach making memories this Halloween.
Self-confessed horror geek Chris Stone is marking his first decade scaring unsuspecting scare fans in attractions around Norfolk at the place which first sparked his interest in all things Halloween. He said: “I came along to the Pleasure Beach when they had a scare attraction back in 1996. Ever since, my love for scare acting just grew and grew. It seems a strange thing to say but it brings me so much joy.”
So, what is it that he enjoys so much? “It is just seeing the fear in people’s eyes and the fright in their faces. I have made a grown man cry when scaring them. It is just fun to watch,” laughed Chris.
Before reducing me to tears and forcing me to retreat from the interview at speed, I swiftly turned the conversation back to Chris’s career highway to horror.
After being inspired at Yarmouth seafront, he honed his drama skills on the arts course at Norwich Theatre Royal where he learned his stage-craft from long-serving course boss David Lambert. “David boosted my knowledge and helped me learn more. I always had a love for theatre and acting and it carried on from there,” recalled Chris.
Forget having his name in lights though. Chris’s motivation was fear, not fame. “Instead of going on stage or TV, scare acting was the thing I wanted to do,” he said.
The big question is why? “It is a psychological thing. You can make someone scream or you can make someone laugh. If they are looking uneasy whatever their emotion, that brings you joy as you know you have got the scare right. It is also priceless seeing the expression on their faces,” he laughed.
Chris’s previous experience includes being part of the popular PrimEvil attraction at the Norwich Dinosaur Park where he learned more about the psychology of scaring. “My favourite part of that was called The Nightmare Clinic. There was lots of shouting, screaming, running, jumping, and strobe lighting too. It was also all in the dark. I loved that high energy scare acting,” he said.
Things will be a bit different from previous similar events with 2m social distancing and perspex screens between performers and visitors, and Chris is looking forward to bringing fear to the fairground. “We have put lots of precautions in place to keep everyone protected. The only thing you need to be scared of are our characters,” warned Chris.
* Tickets are available at www.pleasure-beach.co.uk and cost £17 each.
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