Creepin’: A day in the life of a UCF student scare actor

UCF student Briana Posner plays two roles: student by day and scare actor by night.

After being rejected from Halloween Horror Nights last year, Posner was unsure if she would get the part at A Petrified Forest, a local Altamonte Springs event also known as the Forest.

The Forest is an outdoor haunt that features two forested trails rather than a traditional haunted house.

However, Posner, 20, started her first job this fall as a scare actor at the Forest.

Posner was raised on Halloween.

“I think I saw a horror movie before I saw a Barbie movie,” she said. “I pretty much live every day like it’s Halloween.”

From her black, Tim Burton-style Christmas tree, to her love of special-effects makeup, Halloween is more than just a holiday, she said.

Morbidity runs in the family as her mother Stacey was a mortician in Hollywood, Florida, for several years, she said.

Briana Posner carves a pumpkin with images from the movie Trick ‘r Treat, which is one of her favorite horror movies, she said. Photo by Layla Ferris.

Posner went through about a month of training before opening night at the Forest. She learned how to scream, how to growl and how to move creepily with different body parts, she said.

This year, the Forest features a 10-year anniversary trail named Memory Slane, which is a combination of favorite scenes from past trails, and Ghost Town, an abandoned town with a Wild West theme, Posner said.

Each trail has 20 to 25 scenes within it, so the spooky atmosphere is always changing, and each trail takes about 15 minutes to complete, she said.

Posner is a natural at being creepy and quiet; she is known to slink around her apartment unbeknownst to her roommates, she said.

Her stealth contributed to her being cast as a hidden, genderless, shadowy tree-monster character on the Ghost Town trail, she said.

“I love it because I’ve always been called a creep,” Posner said. “I’ve always been called a weirdo, but in the endearing way from family and friends.”

Sylvia Vicchiullo, 53, a show director at A Petrified Forest who is in charge of hiring and training actors, looks for a willingness to be weird in a scare actor, she said.

“When you take away our costumes and our makeup and the sets, we’re just a bunch of people being really kind of weird in the woods,” Vicchiullo said. “So I will look for people who are willing to make a fool out of themselves.”

A Petrified Forest scare actor dressed as Voodoo King Adadua poses for a photo. Photo by Layla Ferris.

Posner waits in the shadows for unsuspecting guests to walk by and jumps out at them as she releases a menacing growl. At times she will even crawl on the ground and follow guests, she said.

Although there aren’t many downsides to scaring people for money, one thing Posner didn’t expect was how exhausting the job would be, she said.

“It’s very physically demanding, very fast moving,” she said. “We had a scare actor pass out last weekend, and that’s the worst thing we could have happen.”

But Posner is a student first.

A Petrified Forest is open from Sept. 29 to Nov. 4, but operates on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, according to A Petrified Forest’s official website.

Of those days, Posner, a creative writing major, has class on Thursday from noon to 4:15 p.m.

She wakes up a few hours early and plants herself at either the Dunkin’ Donuts on UCF’s main campus or the nearby All Knight Study to get some homework done, she said.

“As soon as 4:15 hits, my Thursday professor knows I’m out of that room, I’m not hanging around,” Posner said.

Before she leaves for work she fills a backpack, which will be stashed underneath a bush as she works the trail, with essentials: high-protein snacks such as peanut butter crackers or granola bars, a couple bottles of cold water and purple Powerade, makeup-removing wipes for the end of the night, lots of bug spray and butterscotch candies.

“Trade trick is butterscotch candies because if you’re screaming all night and you suck on a butterscotch candy, the candy coats your throat and it relieves some of the pressure on your vocal cords,” Posner said. “You don’t want to bring any cough drops because that strips your throat.”

Without traffic it takes about 25 minutes to get to Altamonte Springs, but sometimes the traffic on University Boulevard can push her commute to almost an hour, she said.

A Petrified Forest scare actor poses for a picture. Photo by Layla Ferris.

Call time is 6 p.m. The hustle is on as employees are rushed to costume and makeup, which takes about 30 minutes for Posner.

Once she changes into her costume, which resembles a gray and black ghillie suit that allows her to blend into the dark environment and a mask that reminds her of a “gothic beekeeper,” she is rushed to makeup. Her makeup is done in just a few minutes, she said.

Her high-coverage outfit only requires a rectangle of black makeup airbrushed onto the middle of her face and around her shoulders to account for any skin accidentally showing, Posner said.

“Some people take a lot more [time] because they’ve got prosthetics or more detailed pieces,” she said.

Right before the gates open the “Creature Crew,” a nickname for the employees of A Petrified Forest, hold a pre-opening ritual, which includes a prayer circle to send out good luck, followed by a hearty “Boo, rah!” chant.

“Boo” and “Rah” are two words the actors are forbidden to use during their scare routines.

“We try to be original and imaginative with how we scare guests,” Posner said. “You have to ‘find your scare,’ which avoids those words and avoids simply screaming at people.”

With the help of her coworkers, she channels a creepiness that comes from hiding in the darkness and jumping out from unexpected places, she said.

“I found that my scare was a very silent one,” she said.

A Petrified Forest scare actor prepares to swing a hammer. Photo by Layla Ferris.

As Posner waits in her position, about half way down the Ghost Town trail, show directors walk through the trail yelling “Hot set!”

This cue means a guest group could be right around the corner.

It’s scare time.

As Posner waits in the shadows for frightened guests to walk by, she throws back some goldfish that are stuffed inside a Powerade bottle. This is her innovative solution to working with her long-fingered gloves that make it difficult to unscrew caps.

Some nights it’s hard to catch a breath, Posner said.

Especially if there’s a heavy rain the night before, the thick air makes it difficult to breathe after a night full of jumping, moving and screaming, she said.

“I do remember specifically asking my set mate, are you having trouble too? I feel like I can’t catch my breath,” Posner said. “I made sure to stay extra hydrated that night. I made sure to keep my movements to a minimum that night unless I had to scare the guests.”

Keith Chacon, a UCF alumnus who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in management in spring 2016, went to A Petrified Forest for the first time last weekend.

“I like going to Halloween Horror Nights, and I heard about this and [my friends] have been here before and liked it, so I wanted to try it out,” Chacon, 27, said.

The attitude and personality of a scare actor is what makes them believable, Chacon said.

“When they’re actually excited about it and just come at you is the scariest,” he said.

A sign at A Petrified Forest warns guests not to enter the haunted trails. Photo by Layla Ferris.

Sometimes Posner seems too scary.

One time she scared a guest so much that she fell to the floor crying and needed to be picked up by her group, Posner said.

Some guests are more disruptive than scared, such as one woman who danced provocatively on Posner until she was forced to break character and instruct the guest to stop, she said.

Posner said she barely checks her phone while she’s working, so it’s hard to tell what time it is, but eventually security guards walk through the trails with flashlights to make sure no adventurous guests are hiding.

As a universal signal that the night is over and guests have cleared out, the song “Dancing in the Moonlight” by Toploader is played over the loud speakers. Posner’s location on the trail is close to the costume trailer, so once she hears that song, she said she hightails it over and changes out of her costume immediately.

Some nights her coworkers grab a late-night meal at Denny’s, but Posner said she’s often too tired to join; she gets home around midnight and heads to bed instead.

Although some nights can be exhausting, Posner said she wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

“What I enjoy a lot about this haunt is that because it is so family-oriented because we really are close with each other, they take care of us,” Posner said.

From an employee, affectionately nicknamed “Nana,” who washes the costumes every night, to the “floaters” – in-costume employees who walk through the trails two or three times a night to check on the actors – everything about A Petrified Forest is done with love, she said.

It is the family of weirdos, the family of the black sheep, it is the family that doesn’t get invited to Christmas dinner,” she said.

Work isn’t work when you love your job, she said.

“As long as I’m invited back, I will absolutely continue to call the Creature Crew my family next year.”