Halloween Horror Nights: My Journey to Scareactor Auditions

I have been a fan of Halloween and horror since an earlier age than most would even approve of. I never looked forward to trick-or-treating nearly as much as I did the haunted houses that popped up in October. My mom fostered my fascination - taking me to fantastic houses every year in Texas, and eventually Florida, after our great "family migration" to the Sunshine State. Halloween Horror Nights has been a part of Florida for as long as I have, but I'm ashamed to say that it took me far too long to partake in the event. To be blunt, I already had children of my own by the time I made it to Halloween Horror Nights! Upon my first visit (2002), I knew one thing for certain... Halloween would never be the same for me. 

Halloween Horror Nights is the pinnacle of scare-tastic Halloween extravaganzas!! I've lived in the Orlando area for 12 years, with a 4 year hiatus to the Gatlinburg, Tennessee area. Each year I was away, Halloween season was a depressing and exhausting time for me. No matter how I tried, I could find nothing that compared to HHN. Don't get me wrong - corn mazes, forests, caverns, mountains - they were all enjoyable to visit, but... do you see a pattern in these photos? (Click to view full size)

Where's the scare? My Halloweens had become sanitized! To prove my point, this was my first Halloween costume upon my return to Orlando...

Haunted houses and autumnal events are cute, and they certainly have a place and purpose. But, the fact of the matter is... if you want a true "to your core", spine-tingling scare, Halloween Horror Nights is THE event of the season, hands-down. 

I've recruited many friends and family members to the annual spectacle that is HHN. I sing its praises loud and clear. I've even been known to say that HHN is reason enough to live in Orlando. I've also always had this silly little dream desire to perform in a haunted house. Logic had to step in eventually and push me into researching a role with Universal Studios for my beloved HHN event. If you're going to do it - do it right... right? I have entertainment experience, and I've even worked a ghost tour... not to mention my stints with a funeral home and a phone psychic network. Obviously, I have racked up an interesting combination of weird experiences. It's a natural progression, really.

Last year, I finally decided to go for it! I had the guts to try, and by golly, I was going to! Except... there was one little problem. I mustered my nerve a wee bit too late. They were already done recruiting for 2013. Who knew they started this process in July? I diligently took note of this for future reference, and hoped I could work up the courage to try again in 2014.

Fast forward to 2014... July rolls around, and I'm on the edge of my seat with antici.... (wait for it) pation. Sure enough, auditions are announced! Before I could rethink my decision, I secured an audition appointment online. The process was way too simple... about 90 seconds later, I was staring at an appointment confirmation and wondering what I had gotten myself into. Oh well... I'm in it now! 

I wasn't concerned about my ability to perform the role. I was concerned about potential rejection! No one really relishes the thought of that, and any job-seeking experience can be unnerving. Frankly, I was also a bit concerned that the casting pool would be highly competitive. Hmm... Is 30-something too old to be doing this, in their eyes? It is a "type-out" audition as well, which means that they are looking for certain "types" to meet the appearance requirements of the roles they are casting for. One of the houses this year is "From Dusk Till Dawn". Instantly, I think of bikini vampires. While I am not quite a large woman, I'm not the bikini type either. See where the pool begins to narrow? I suppose it's the realization that it's something you want so badly, coupled with the knowledge that it's really predetermined and out of your control. I compare it to the feeling after you have already purchased your lottery ticket. It's decided, and you want it so badly - you just have to HOPE! 

Audition day rolls around. Apparently, they are doing them every Tuesday night for the month of July. The appointment times available when I scheduled appeared to range from 7-ish until around midnight. Not the usual hours for a job interview, but it makes perfect sense when you consider the work schedule! My appointment time was for the third week of auditions, at 8:24PM. 

*Lesson #1 learned while at audition: The later you audition, the fewer roles remain and the more particular the "types" they seek. Schedule early!!*

I arrived at Human Resources at 8PM. There were a few people clustered at the entry, but we were processed through quickly. This "process" consisted of a check-in, appointment confirmation and a bag check. Then, a handy little snake of a queue leads auditioners to a pit stop for a quick photo and assignment of an audition number, and another to grab a very basic application form. When you make your appointment online, you're also prompted to fill out an online application in advance. That saved a wealth of time, and left very little to fill out on-site. A few questions about sizing/measurements, physical restrictions and availability, and BOOM - done. From here... you wait. 

Applicants are ushered into a room full of long tables and chairs. Comfortable enough, but I have to admit... I was hoping they were going to utilize those screens at the front of the room for a film or two while we waited. Wouldn't be inappropriate to expect an episode of "The Walking Dead" at least, would it? 

Alas, no cinematic entertainment for us. Rather than losing myself in a digital device, I decided to make a few observations about the room full of intimidating competitors. I was so very relieved to notice that I was not the oldest one there... nor the biggest, shortest, sloppiest, strangest, female-est, smartest, dumbest, tallest, silliest... you get the point. They say it takes all kinds, and judging by hopefuls alone, HHN auditions perfectly demonstrate that point. I felt so much more comfortable as I took notice of those around me. I might not be selected for a role, but I realized that it was not at all ridiculous for me to have tried. 

After a waiting period, an announcement is made to come locate the photo that was taken when you arrived. It's been printed on a sticker, and you're to affix it to your application. I'm not often the most photogenic, but this one came out okay. I'm starting to think I'm on a roll tonight. Back to the waiting room we all go, after clamoring for our photos in the main hall. 

Not that I'm the type to eavesdrop, but it was hard not to hone in on some of the louder conversations of the groups of applicants around the room during waiting round #2. I was surprised that many had little to no familiarity with the event. There were a few that were very obviously fans - much like me. A few of those types were practically in Halloween attire already, and still other hopefuls looked like they just left a rough day at the gym. All of this quelled my petty concern that I had "tried too hard" by purchasing a new shirt from Hot Topic - complete with a crocheted skull across the front. It takes all kinds, indeed!

After this productive round of waiting, my number is called as part of the next batch to audition! By now, I've waited just over an hour since I arrived, but I get the impression that this is not common - our group received an apology for the wait, along with an explanation that we were scheduled in conjunction with a dinner break for the panel of audition judges. 

We're all led into a warehouse-esque studio room. Three people - two male, one female - are seated behind a long table. (Of course, I did not choose to photograph the audition experience. That would be ridiculous. I've also opted to eliminate the names and roles of the judges, as I feel that wouldn't be appropriate either.) We had been counted off in rows of five before entering, and we smoothly fell into place upon arrival. The jovial judges greeted us, and announced the task to complete the audition process - when it came to your place in line, you're to step forward, announce your name, and make the sound of your favorite animal.

Did I hear that right? Yes... yes, I did. He repeated these instructions to confirm, with the explanation that we were being tested on our ability to come out of our comfort zones. Well, that'll do it alright! I had heard that the judges tend to ask your favorite scary movie. I was prepared for that. Simple as my favorite animal may seem, it was a moment of instant panic. Thankfully, I was in the third row, and I had a few moments to contemplate my options here. 

My scrambling thoughts were frequently derailed by the many varied dogs, wolves and cats in the first two rows. 

My favorite animal is a penguin, but does a penguin sound like a bird? How am I drawing a blank on this all of a sudden?
(Three cats in a row. Maybe one was a lion?)
Meerkats are cool. I like meerkats, but what do they sound like?
(Whoa, that guy did an impressive howl. Maybe he really is a werewolf!)
I like cows - maybe I should let out a mighty "moo"?
(This poor woman's favorite animal is a giraffe, and she is as lost as I was with meerkats!)

My turn? EEK! Thankfully, I have a knack for pulling it all together in a pinch! I step forward without stepping on my own feet (an accomplishment, at this point). I've got the name part down, easy enough. Stalling for just a second: "My favorite animal sounds something like..." 
Then, it happened... I just had to be ME. There's a little something I've done my whole life as a sort of tension/ice breaker. It's always a hit, and I suppose it did fit - this is Universal after all! I threw my head back, and let out a fairly decent version of my famous Woody Woodpecker impersonation. I was nervous as I was doing it... was this incredibly idiotic? Maybe it was, but it still has the same effect as always - I was greeted with applause and laughter from my auditioning peers and the judges. Just like that - audition over. My heart stopped racing, and I waited patiently for what came next. 

When the last person in my batch did their "thing", we were graciously thanked for our interest, and ushered into the next waiting room as the judges pondered their decision. This room was a complete sweat box, and not just because of the nervous anxiety. It was a hot storage-type room with a few sofas, and a big open area for us all to sit out the grueling wait, staring at each other. A few conversations began, along with a mini sing-along. The wait was occasionally broken up by a request from the judges to briefly speak with an auditioner regarding the requirements of a role they were being considered for. We all even had a much needed laugh during an awkwardly-quiet moment. Fireworks broke out at the park outside. Someone near the door where all eyes darted casually said, "That's the last audition group. They didn't make it".

Waiting, waiting... maybe 15 minutes or so, even though it felt like an hour. A woman emerges, finally... calling a list of numbers to join her outside. I took notice of those she called as she continued - they included the people the judges had requested to speak to. When she skipped over my number, I felt my heart sink a bit. The selected group went outside, and we all strained to hear what news they received. When we heard cheers and applause, someone in the room said, "That's it - we're done, guys". In a flash, that was confirmed. Though we were told that there is the potential for call-backs if needs arise up until the event, it was essentially over. It was a long walk of shame through the parking lot.

Okay, that may be a bit harsh. Although I am extremely disappointed in not being selected for an HHN role, I am actually very proud of myself for even going in to try. I sometimes restrict myself from things based solely on my own perceived limitations, shortcomings, etc. - even when I should know better. I am a harsh self-critic! I do hold out a bit of hope that I'll hear from the powers that be at HHN before the 2014 event begins, but I'm not going to allow myself to be too disappointed if it remains as-is. Let's be honest... it's not like it's too much punishment being forced to attend on the visitor side of things! Even if I can't be a part of the hired entertainment, I've been told that I'm entertainment of my own sort for those who attend with me. AND... there's always next year, right? This one remains on the bucket list, for now!

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