Halloween is an opportunity to dress like a freak and frighten people — but it’s only once a year. The other 364 days, scaring strangers is frowned upon — and, as the recent creepy clown trend shows, it may well get you arrested.
For Will Galarza, a musician and performer living in Studio City, being scary on Halloween isn’t enough. He turned his passion for horror into a paying gig by becoming a “scare-actor.” Galarza has been performing in haunted houses since he was a kid; he currently works at Universal Studios as a chainsaw-wielding psycho in “Halloween Horror Nights.” By day, he performs in Universal’s year-round Walking Dead attraction. Here’s what the man behind the blood-spattered metal mask has to say about scaring people for a living.
How did you get involved in this world?
I’ve always been a horror fanatic. When my brother and I were little kids in Philadelphia, my dad made us watch scary movies. We were maybe four or five. I remember never getting scared, because my dad was always telling me, “It’s fake, it’s all fake.” I’ve never had bad dreams about it or anything like that. I find it familiar and comforting.
When I was 10, I moved to West Palm Beach to live with my mom, and I brought that love of horror movies with me. I started doing mini-haunts with friends in the neighborhood on Halloween. I never went trick-or-treating, because I would rather be scaring people.
When did you start scaring people for money?
There’s a place in Florida called Fright Nights, and I got a job there when I was in 10th grade. When I started, I didn’t have to do the audition process. They asked, “Does anybody have theater experience and a lot of confidence?” and I was the only person who raised my hand. They told me, “You’re going to be the circus barker.” I wasn’t even supposed to scare anybody. I was just supposed to be bringing them in, but that got boring. I started climbing things and jumping down in front of people with my megaphone. They saw that and created a room for me to work in.
What’s the audition process like?
Auditions are usually held around July. You go into a room without about 40 other people, and four or five judges. They give everybody a number and have everybody line up, and one by one, do their most bloodcurdling scream. They also have everyone act like a monster of their own creation, and everybody runs around the room. It’s the funniest process. Another thing you have to do is act out your own death scene, so if you know that when you’re going in, you can prepare for it ahead of time. People will act like someone slit their throat, or like they’ve been shot. One girl mimed bending a piece of metal over her knee, and throwing it. It came back like a boomerang and killed her. Some of it is really funny, creative stuff.
What advice would you give someone auditioning for the first time?
Don’t be afraid to be ridiculous. Commit to it. They’re looking for confidence and commitment.
Is the process pretty similar at other places?
At Six Flags, they’ll get everybody in a room, and say, “Okay, you’re all going to be zombies.” At Universal, it’s more intense, because they’re picking you for the exact role you’re going to play.
Working at “The Queen Mary: Dark Harbor,” you have more freedom. You’re allowed to talk to the guests, and they want you to take pictures with everybody. There’s a lot more improv involved, and a lot more creativity. I love that. Universal is very character-driven — they’re borrowing characters from movies, so you’re not allowed to talk.
Who do you think this job is good for?
I work with all sorts of people. If you’re a horror buff, it’s the place for you.
What’s the schedule like?
At Universal, it goes from September through the beginning of November. Most of the others have shorter runs.
Are many scare-actors women?
This year at Universal, there are quite a few women, because there’s a scare zone called “The Purge: Election Year,” and it has a mostly female cast. I like that. It’s cool to see a small woman running around with a chainsaw.
What’s your favorite part of working at Halloween Horror Nights?
The end of the night, when everybody is tired, and they’re walking toward the exit. People are leaving, and they’re fed up with being scared. If I’m able to scare them and make them laugh, and really make them enjoy it, I feel great.
What’s the most challenging thing about scare-acting?
That you have to keep going. You get breaks — it’s usually 45 minutes on, and then 30 minutes off, but sometimes it’s an hour on and 30 minutes off. Within that 45 minutes or hour, we are constantly moving. We can’t really rest, especially in a maze. We have to keep popping out, trying to get people, and there’s a lot of physical exertion. We’re always trying to stay hydrated, and we eat all the time, because we’re losing so many calories. The amount we sweat… Our costumes look like we jumped into a swimming pool.
Sometimes guests even punch you, right? How do you handle that?
At Universal, we’re never allowed to talk to guests or touch them. Even if a guest punches us, we’re supposed to stay in character and go to the show host or the maze host, and let them know, “The guy with the red hat and the striped pants hit me.” They’ll watch him on the cameras to see if he does it again, and if he does, he will be escorted out. Sometimes it was just an accident, because somebody was surprised.
We get injured a lot, and it’s not just from guests hitting us. Sometimes we fall. My first year at Universal, I was working in a maze, and you’re constantly doing certain movements. They have an onsite occupational health clinic, like a mini-hospital. If your injury is really bad, they send you to a hospital.
This year, I haven’t had any problems with the guests, because I’m holding a chainsaw. Nobody wants to mess with a guy swinging a chainsaw around his body like a maniac.
What do you do when you’re not scaring people?
If I’m not working at Universal, I’m working on my music. I’m the lead guitarist in a band called Dylan ‘N’ Alice. It’s funny — even as a musician, I’m wearing a mask now. My friend designed masks for us to wear while we’re performing. I’m in a mask, like, 24/7. I can’t get away from it.