“When I look at all of this, I think what we did was more like a Summer Camp. The traditions, hard work, perks, and lifelong friendships (and haunt romances!) gave each volunteer a shared unique experience the same as the best Summer Camp anyone will remember. That is what kept them coming back.”- Cynthia Brown of Haunted Theatre
As a Haunt Leader, we all know that it takes a strong work ethic and a skill for balancing the art of business and family when operating a Haunt. Whether you are a Home Haunter or Haunt Owner, it takes leadership skills to accomplish a smooth night of cooperation and loyalty from your helpers. Cynthia Brown from the Haunted Theatre is here to give you some tips on keeping your volunteers and workers excited and ready to come back next year.
- Imagination: In 9 years, the single best source of volunteers was a banner I put up on a main street that simply said: “Haunted House needs bodies. No experience necessary.” Of course, I still had to explain to a lot of callers that there was no pay, as it was an all-volunteer charity haunt
- Influence: We gathered new and kept old volunteers each year. We didn’t allow kids under 16 unless their parent worked with them, but we still had a lot of kids lie about their age.
- Responsibility: After a local attorney informed me that I had a convicted sex offender working in my dark maze, I started asking for driver’s licenses from all my volunteers, and checking names against offender databases.
- Plan of Action: We used a sign-up form, and gave a short tour at “auditions”, along with all the rules for volunteers. We broke each night into two shifts, and asked people to only sign up for the nights and shifts when they could definitely be there. I then cast 4 or 5 extra each night, and when people didn’t show, the extras went in. If we had a full crew, the extras work the line or work as “break monsters” – changing costume and switching rooms all night to give others a break. Unless the crowds were thin, we never stopped the line for breaks.
- Leadership: To keep them coming back – we made it a tribe. We developed traditions that were exclusive to the haunter tribe. We did a “Magic Circle” each night at opening, with a special chant written for that haunt. We had a traditional final walk-through at the end of each evening by the producer carrying all the ticket stubs, which each monster could fall in behind as we all snaked though the haunt together, singing a song.
- Inspiration: We fed a hot meal each night, giant crock pots food brought in by other volunteers. We had a “monster Mom” who manned the break room and took care of the monsters needs. We had a call-and-response system inside the haunt to keep everyone energized (and make sure they were all checking in)
- Credibility: Monsters who failed to show without reason, or failed to follow our safety rules were not allowed back, and everyone knew this.
- Mindfulness: Most of our haunters did a lot more than act in the haunt – most helped with construction as well, and many helped to design. We let those who wished to take on the responsibility design their own rooms with supervision and guidance. Mind you, we don’t do a kiddie haunt. We focus on making adults and High School kids scream and wet themselves.
- Appreciation: At the final cast party – each volunteer received a special embroidered patch (from stadriemblems.com) that was unique to that year. Haunters were very proud of their patches!
- Creativity: Producers would keep track of the hours worked by each haunter, and at cast party the “Top 20” would get extra special prizes. We usually ran 7 to 8 performances, and the “Top 20” always had at least 50 hours. The top 4 haunters always had over 100 hours. The very top volunteer who was not the producer always got the best gift. Because we usually did our tear down and cast party the week after Halloween, we were able to buy these cast prizes at the after-Halloween discount sales.
Cynthia Brown is the producer at The Haunted Theatre in Wenatchee, Washington. She has a background in acting, producing, and directing plays as well as Haunted Houses. If you want to reach Cynthia, you can find her here: