Mikey talks to scare actor, scenic designer, and consultant Keiron Quinn about how he got into the haunt biz.
This blog is based on episode 129 of the Scaretrack podcast, in which I talked with Keiron Quinn from Scream Effects Co. I first asked him how he got into scenic design.
“It happened quite a few years ago, really, in 2012. That was when I first set up Scream Effects Co. We were operating out of the spare bedroom at the time, mostly for cosplayers, friends, and family that wanted props and costumes for conventions or going to Halloween places and things like that. Since then, I got the bug for it, and then I went away and studied certain aspects of it.”
I then asked Keiron about his performance background.
“I always wanted to be performing in some way,” he said. “I started studying theater, then went off to drama school at the Academy of Theater Arts, studied there, and never left it. I’m still performing odd parts here and there. My time at the Academy really grew me as a performer, which led me to jobs since. I graduated in 2013 and went straight into the scare world.”
Keiron pointed out that theater and scare have many common elements. Both have extensive backstage and behind-the-scenes components. He also mentioned that most people do well being a Jack of all Trades when it comes to theater and scare.
I wanted to know more about Keiron as an actor. He went to drama school, he acted, and he scared me out of my pants a fair few times. I asked for a rundown of the scare attractions he’s worked in and about his favorite attraction.
“My first scare attraction was a maze called The Royal Asylum. My next major maze after that was Carnival of Screams at Alton Towers in 2013. It was at Carnival of Screams, the first maze, where I met Jack Lewis. I’m sure a lot of listeners know him. He was my show captain and, if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t know half the things I know now. I got the love of scaring from him. Jack made it entertaining and fun, and he told stories from days long past at other attractions he’d worked. That led me to working many years at different places, and doing lots of different characters as well. Would you believe I even played a little girl in a maze for a short period of time? I’ve had so many fantastic opportunities and experience at different attractions, but Sanctuary was my most favorite attraction to be working at as an actor.”
Working at Sanctuary
A lot of our listeners have been to Sanctuary, which has some fantastic concepts. There’s the marmalization room, which shouldn’t be scary, but which it pulls it off with astonishing quality. So, I can definitely see why that was one of his favorites.
“For my money, Sanctuary had the right marriage of everything—the architecture and the style of it, without a lot of sets, just a couple of curtains here and there to separate the rooms. It was free-flow, and it worked like no other attraction I’ve seen in that style. I think that’s why it holds such a special place in the heart for people,” said Keiron.
“There’s music as well,” he continued. “‘Charlemagne’ played on loop, and something about that music is so haunting but beautiful. Again, that shouldn’t work either, that shouldn’t be scary, but you hear that now and you just go, “Ahhh!” You hear the klaxon in your head, and it takes you back to a time when everything was completely different, which is what a scare maze should do. That’s why I love it so much. I don’t think we’ll see an attraction like it again. If you were able to experience Sanctuary, you were very lucky. The enthusiasts use to love it as well. They were smiling, and the whole point of it was to make people smile. They’d come through and just be smiling because, at the end of it, they loved it so much. They got the scares as well, of course.”
I completely agreed with Keiron. If you asked someone about their favorite maze at Towers, they’re likely going to say it was Sanctuary. I next asked him about his favorite attraction to work on from a scenic point of view.
Kieron’s Favorite Job on the Scenic Side—Death Cell
“I’ve done a few mazes scenically, but the most recent, and probably the highlight, would be Death Cell. However, I have two attractions that I love for two different reasons. First, in terms of scaring, there’s Death Cell by R Space Productions, which was a massive team effort among three companies but all titled through one. I was subcontracted along with UVE—Unlocked Vision Entertainment—who are fantastic. They’re so lovely, just the nicest people. Second, There’s No Tomorrow was amazing, because Steff Rickets was the creative lead for the project. She put together this amazing team, and a lot of people in R Space had never done scenic before. They were just the actors for it. Everyone was all-hands-on-deck for this. So, it was such a nice chance to collaborate with everyone.”
I wasn’t able to get down to Death Cell, but Sean from the show went through, and he filmed a little bit. There’s a lot to the set. There are some attractions took people weeks to make, and it’s purely black walls and black walls and white walls and white walls with blood on them. Don’t get me wrong, some attractions like that work well, but there’s a lot of attention to detail in those rooms at Death Cell.
Keiron continued, “Steff’s vision is absolutely fantastic. She’s one of the best creators I know currently working in the field. Her vision is just spectacular, and she’s very open to collaboration as well. Steff suggested having half-split walls with green at the bottom. I said, ‘I don’t think we should, because, if we do, people are going to come in and compare it to other attractions.’ Steff brought in the medical bed, which is actually a massage chair that we themed up. You can’t see it in the lighting of the photos, but it’s a dark, purply-blue, and we matched the color to the walls, so the stripe and the bed are actually the same color. So, it’s like a little link, not just random bit of stripeage. If the Doctors came in wearing uniforms those were blue, because that’s the medical color for Death Cell. The Flies were in black, and the medicals were in a darkish blue color. Obviously, you never see those characters, because they don’t exist. The only characters that exist now are the Flies. They’ve taken over everything, because they’re the guards,” he explained.
“The prison cell room was in total darkness. For those of you that didn’t experience the attraction itself, it was a room where you got split up. You were in cell block B, which is kind of the preshow to the escape rooms, and then you were split into two groups by the Flies and military marched through. It was a case of ‘I’m going to jump scare, get you, grab you by the shoulders, and put you into the maze.’ One group would go straight into the dark room and miss out on Ryan’s room, the hospital-themed area, and the other group would go into the hospital room and stay there. The door in between was padlocked so you couldn’t get out. But, not to worry—there were still two doors you could go through. We didn’t just trap people in a room. That’s how that section worked,” Keiron explained.
“If you were in the prison cell, Blue’s room, you were in complete darkness. There was only one light through a section of holes in a wall that lit up the scene behind the wall. In there was another of the characters, Blue, who’d try to give you clues. The guy that came up with the puzzles, Chris Blackmore, is a genius. I went through it as a guest with some friends and, I got to tell you, I built those rooms, I knew what puzzles were going in there, and I couldn’t even do it. They were so, so good, and so well thought out. Every little detail had been taken into account. There were so many decoys in there, and so many things thrown in for grim effect. It was just brilliant what they managed to do with that. You were only in the rooms for about 15 minutes, but when you’re in there for 15 minutes and you’re like, ‘I genuinely don’t have a clue,’ it feels like you’re in there for an hour. It genuinely feels like you’ve been locked in a room and that’s it. You’re a prisoner in Death Cell,” he said.
“The rooms presented a load of challenges from a scenic point of view, because we didn’t have time to do the processes we’d have liked to do to the walls and everything else. The walls themselves weren’t new. All of Death Cell, except for about five flats, were recycled flats from a previous scare maze.”
I visited Death Cell, and everything Keiron said is correct. It was scary.
I then asked Keiron to provide a list of what Scream Effects Co can offer to haunters.
“We offer, obviously, scenic design work across the board—models, on-site painting, and services like that. That’s the scenic side of things. We also offer props, which is how we started originally. These are mostly for cosplayers, although we do a lot of Halloween props as well. It’s safe things like. Are you familiar with the term LARPing [live action role playing]?
I told Keiron I knew a few LARPers and had been invited to a few LARPing events but was yet to participate in one.
When you got to LARP conventions, you’re not allowed to have real guns and knives or other weapons, for obvious reasons. LARPers do a lot of reenactments, so they need weapons that are safe. I’ve tried to bring that into the scare world a little bit,” he said.
What’s Coming Next from Scream Effects
I asked him what can we expect in the future from Scream Effects Co? What’s happening in 2019 and beyond?
“We’re doing a lot more consultancies this year, said Keiron. “If your attraction isn’t working for whatever reason, I’d love to be to come ‘round and, using the knowledge I’ve gained over ten years of scaring, make suggestions. For example, I might say, ‘This room here doesn’t need any actors if you change it to a psychological room. Make the room itself the scare.’ Things like that. I also like to make recommendations about general operations—like the most efficient way to run a scare maze. Also, you can’t just get actors and throw them in. You need to make sure they’re energized and working together as a team, because there’s nothing worse than getting thrown into a scare maze where you have to shout at people when you really just want to cry and have a cuddle. In addition, you’ve got to have the right medical team in place. If you don’t have anyone on your team who’s medically trained, make sure you get someone who is. Advertise for it. Finally, security is becoming a big thing. You need to have people situated in the maze—whether that be dedicated actors or dedicated hosts—to assist with the evacuation of guests or whatever that doesn’t break the immersion.”
About Scare School
I asked Keiron to talk about Scare School.
“Scare School is still a happening thing. We’re currently looking at dates for this year. We’re going to try and start it in summer, which will be nice. We want to be able to come out and provide as many people as you like. You can have just me or you can have other veteran scarers as well that are on my books come along and do a master class,” he explained.
“We have different levels. The beginning class is for people who’ve never scared before but are interested in it. We’ll come in with the basic techniques and tell you how to do a safe but fun scare. It’s not just going ‘boo!’ because that’s wrong. If you’re a basic scarer, we teach you things not to do. For the return scarer, we go over the basic techniques and then go more in-depth: character development, character name, character backstory, etc. The highest tier of Scare School is the trainer class. If you want to do training yourself in-house, if you’re the manager and just starting up a scare event or have a scare event but want to refresh yourself, we’re more than happy to sit on audition panels, run auditions, and go over the basic audition techniques as give managers and actors a taste of how to scare. We give managers a better understanding of what’s involved in a good scare attraction,” said Keiron.
“I’m not saying I’m amazing or any of my team is the best, because you constantly learn things. I’ve had students throw ideas at me in class that were really good. I suggest we workshop the idea and see how it goes. I encourage people to come up with ideas. It’s very loose. There’s no set way to do things but there are basic principles of how to make it work.”
Wrapping Up with Three, Quick-fire Questions
I asked Keiron to tell me the hardest thing he’s had to do so far with Scream Effects Co.
“Probably a bumper car. We had to produce a bumper car for a show called All Shook Up, which was for the Gate House Theater, on a limited budget. We pulled it off, though.”
My next quickfire question was about the biggest difference between working in a theater or working in a scare attraction—either acting or behind the scenes.
“Behind the scenes, the biggest difference is, in a theater show when something goes wrong, you’ve got to fix it while the show’s going on, usually. Whatever you do, you don’t want to have to close that curtain and go, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve had to stop the performance because…’ You just don’t want to do that. If the lighting bar messes up completely or you completely lose connection, you have to do that, but, if a cast member comes off stage and their shoe is broken and they need it in 30 seconds, you’ve got to think fast. ‘How can I fix this shoe in 30 seconds? Is there a replacement shoe I can run and get?’ That’s a massive challenge. Whereas, in a scare maze, if something breaks and goes wrong, you can leave it a little longer or you can close your attraction for a little bit as long as you’ve got other options in place. So, the time you have to fix things is probably the biggest difference.”
My last question had to do with what Keiron was working on at the moment for Scream Effects Co.
“It’s top secret, but I’ll say a little bit. I thought of coming up with 31 attractions in 31 days. So, for every day in December, I designed a new attraction.”
I’ve seen this on Keiron’s Facebook—and you should, too. Go to Facebook.com/ScreamEffects. He has the same handle for Instagram.
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