Being a Halloween worker in a post-COVID-19 world

By Jack Thornton
Boston University News Service

Every October, the lead-up to Halloween sees a peak of immersive and captivating live attractions, from ghost tours to horror movie drive-ins to haunted houses.

As horror fans look forward to this season all year long, the creative minds behind these attractions work year-round to bring them to life.  

“It’s go-go-go, really,” said Ahna Scione, the lead makeup artist and a “haunt actor” at Fright Kingdom in Nashua, New Hampshire.

Scione first started working at Fright Kingdom as a makeup artist before transitioning toward working as an actor as well. She recalled her first time seeing Fright Kingdom alongside a friend and being immediately captivated.

“I was like a little kid in a candy shop, it was epic! It was like Disney World to me. It was so cool,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in set design, so it felt like a home.”

Scione says as a mixed-race, pansexual person, she loves the diversity of the Fright Kingdom crew and describes them as “loving” and an “amazing community”.

“Fright Kingdom is a family — each haunt is their own little family,” she said. “It’s really special because you get to meet the most interesting, creative people.”

Following the release of the COVID-19 vaccines, this year’s Halloween season — or “haunt season” to those in the industry — marks a more familiar season than last year’s, but attractions like Fright Kingdom are still working to keep the experience safe to workers and visitors alike.

“Lots of changes were made to the haunt,” Scione said. “It’s a weird thing … you have to double up because you’re wearing a scary mask, but also a safety mask underneath.” 

Some of the changes to Fright Kingdom included a new air filtration system, the addition of sanitation stations, and plexiglass barriers to keep the actors safe. Scione also says every worker who is able and eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine received the shot.

“There were so many modifications made,” she said. “Haunting was really different.” 

The pandemic specifically impacted Scione as a makeup artist. Last year’s haunts didn’t include makeup, and this year artists pivoted away from their standard application process, using water-activated paints with a sponge and brush, which involves much more physical contact between the artist and the actor. 

Instead, artists adapted towards airbrushing, which allows for a safer distance with less interpersonal contact, and required her to quickly adjust to a new style she was less familiar with.

“I had to teach people airbrush while learning how to airbrush,” she said.

Fright Kingdom’s four main attractions are Apocalypse Z, The Abandoned, Bloodmare Manor, and Psycho Circus. Scione designs makeup for all four, as well as other seasonal special events like a Christmas in July event this past summer.

For an attraction like Apocalypse Z, which has an undead outbreak theme, every actor portrays either a zombie or military personnel. For those with less specific themes, such as The Abandoned, she and the other actors and artists are able to use their own creativity within the character designs.

“[The Abandoned] is all about abandoned items — anything you can think of as a lost item would be found in that house,” she said. “Your creativity can really go anywhere.”

All makeup must be UV reactive in order to fit properly with Fright Kingdom lighting. For attractions with looser themes, this is often one of the only restrictions the actors face. 

“You can be really creative with what you do,” Scione said. “You can do anything, really, as long as you’re playing within the realm of fluorescent paints.”

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