What’s it like to be a scareactor? We chat with the Rosta family about people’s reactions, their favourite scare moments, the process of getting into their characters and more.
Never would I have imagined being in an elevator with a Pontianak, a bomoh, and a ghost. “All in a day’s work”, I think to myself. As part of our new Beyond the 9 to 5 series, where we explore unique jobs in Singapore, I spent the day with three scareactors at Halloween Horror Nights (HHN).
Organised by Universal Studios Singapore (USS), HHN is one of the biggest Halloween events in Singapore. This year features three haunted houses, two scare zones, and a laser-tag challenge, amongst other spooky experiences. You may have experienced the event at least once in its 10-year run. Ever wondered what it’s like to be on the other side of the fun?
I chat with husband, wife and daughter trio – Rosta Dahlan, 63, Florence Joseph, 63, and Isabelle Rosta, 37. Along with their son, Rosta and Florence have been scareactors at Halloween Horror Nights for a combined number of five years. Soon after, their daughter Isabelle joined in 2019. They’re fondly known as ‘the family’ among staff and other scareactors.
This year, you can catch Florence as a wall ghost at the Hospitality of Horror haunted house and Rosta as a bohmoh at The Hunt for Pontianak scare zone. Isabelle’s role is a little different. As a swing actor, she rotates between different actors, standing in for those who aren’t around. On the day of our interview, she plays a ghostly victim at the Hospitality of Horror.
Behind the scenes with scareactors of Halloween Horror Nights
As Isabelle has a different schedule, I begin my chat with Florence and Rosta. You’d never think they’re scareactors when you first meet them. Florence is more comfortable with the whole interview set up (having dipped her toes in freelance casting for projects, this is no biggie for her). However, Rosta is more reserved. After warming up and with some guidance from Florence, he opens up too.
They recall their first audition for HHN 8 back in 2018. Florence was a mid-wife and Rosta played a bomoh at the House of Pontianak. “My son was already a scareactor and he asked me to go for the audition”, Florence says. “I had to ask my chauffeur here (points to Rosta). When we reached, he decided that he wanted to join on the spot too.”
“There were about four to five people from the crew [at the audition]. The first thing they asked us to do was give our loudest scream. They also gave us a storyline, with characters like a wolf. We’d have to act accordingly – even in reverse. It was all quite interesting.”
Their candidness continues as I ask them how people react to their jobs.
“It’s usually disbelief – maybe because of our age,” Florence says. “They’ll go, ‘You can act? Are you sure at your age they still want you?’ I don’t blame them because when I joined, I had the same perception that these types of events are just for youngsters.”
“Another thing is the remarks that people give. Some have even called us hypocrites. But I know it’s just role play and acting,” Rosta adds.
Being a scareactor may be fun but it’s no easy feat
The day starts around 4.30pm for the scareactors. An employees-only entrance takes us to a tentage for costume collection behind the New York zone at USS. We say hello to Isabelle and they all proceed to collect their costumes. As a swing actor, Isabelle only finds out about her character that day. After a quick trial of a costume, she receives her character name – ghostly victim.
“There’s a difference between playing a character in the scare zones and haunted houses. We have to be in character at all times when we’re at the scare zones as there are guests walking around, and some even ask for photos. Whereas in a house, you’re behind a door, and that’s when you can breathe for a second before your scares. The challenge is being in character at all times. You can’t even sneeze or blink,” she says.
We’re taken to a separate room for hair and makeup. Rosta’s is done in under 10 minutes – all he needs is a wig and he’s ready to go. It takes about 40 minutes to an hour each for Florence and Isabelle. But boy, is it worth the wait. The makeup does the job of fetching scares but there’s a whole process before they get to this point.
“We have a team for [each haunted] house. They tell us the backstory so we’ll understand it better. The costumes, wig and makeup are decided by the team. They’ll also bring us to our zone and tell us how to scare. But ultimately, it’s up to us to decide,” Florence says.
Isabelle shares that aside from adding her own spin to the characters, there’s a training session where they’re briefed on what to do. “We can’t touch people when we scare them. If the guests get too scared, we have to stop,” she says.
Backaches, correct timings and winging it
The job takes a toll on their body, too. “As a bomoh, I have a lot of bending to do with the help of a cane,” Rosta shares. “I have some back pains, so to avoid that, I do some stretching. As for my appearance, I practice how to look scarier in the mirror.” To avoid working throughout the night, each character has two scareactors. They rotate every 45 minutes so everyone has sufficient rest.
Ever wondered how the scareactors get you every single time? Florence says it’s all about the timing. “In my role, I’m hidden so it’s quite difficult to see the guests coming in. I just have to give it a shot and get the correct timing in order to give them a very good scare.”
“I love the job I do. Sometimes I scream, but afterwards, I’ll lose my voice. So I give people a hard stare and frighten them that way. The credit goes to my makeup artist who makes me look horrible. Aside from that, I just wing it.”
I can confirm that Florence is a natural. As soon as she got into her full makeup and costume, she channelled the character of the wall ghost perfectly, giving scary glares to the crew, and scaring people in front of the staff-only lobbies. No one seems to be bothered though. Perhaps they’re used to witnessing too many scareactors in character. Tough crowd.
Favourite scare moments and the highlight of their day
“My highlight is spending time with my cast mates and acting with my family,” Isabelle shares. “I acted with my brother in HHN 9 where he played a character in a jail house. Even though we were in different houses, we still got to meet each other during makeup and while collecting our costumes. We also shared tips with each other like how to scare in a certain character.”
“I’ve had guests scream in my face (not on purpose, of course). But I do feel happy when I scare them. Some even say “wow, good job!”. And that makes me feel satisfied. I was a charred cadaver for HHN 9. I stayed still and a lot of people thought I was a prop. They’d come near me asking if I was real, and they’d get scared and run off when I suddenly moved.”
It’s safe to say that they enjoy scaring people. What about their most memorable scare moments?
“There aren’t a lot of people you can scare. Especially the guys – they come in [looking] so tough and all of a sudden, they’re falling back. We get the satisfaction from seeing these things,” Florence recalls.
“There was one incident where my door got stuck and I couldn’t open it. So I decided to go to the back door. I was just standing there, but when three gentlemen walked by, they saw me and almost fell backwards. One guy even decided to turn back and run. The crew stopped them and asked them to pass by. But they refused to do it because perhaps they thought I was a real [ghost].”
It was finally showtime!
Time check: 6.45pm. As Isabelle, Florence and Rosta get ready for the main event, I suddenly find myself in the thick of it all. Multiple scareactors – I’m talking zombies, ghosts, clowns and pontianaks – are walking around in full hair and makeup as they get ready for showtime. Experiencing the rush firsthand makes me want to join in on the fun too.
The next thing I know, it’s showtime. We proceed to their respective scare areas to get a shot of them in character. No doubt they managed to scare us – even our videographer was spooked out.
I’d say it’s no easy feat being a scareactor. But what makes it fun is the organised system behind the spectacular event, the actors’ passion, and their camaraderie.
What interesting job should we explore next? Drop us a DM @honeycombers.