Halloween has been and gone; we’re sure many of you enjoyed a night out on the tiles dressed as one of many terrifying horrors, or even trick or treating. Even the less adventurous of us probably honoured the age old tradition of All Hallow’s Eve with a night in front of some scary movies.

Cinema has a long tradition of producing genuinely terrifying movies and Hollywood (or Japan, Spain, Italy…wherever you prefer really) is often where we turn to when we fancy a bit of horror.

In contrast, not many people would think of the theatre as the first place to go when looking to be scared. In a piece neatly timed for Halloween, the Guardian summed up the main points for arguing why theatre just isn’t as scary as the cinema.

But actually, we think that theatre can be scary – you just need to do it right. Whether it’s through stage lighting, how you set out your stage or just some good ol’ fashioned ‘things that go bump in the night’, theatre can be just as scary – if not even more scary – than a night at the flicks. Here are some of the main ways we’ve come up with to spook out your spectators; let us know if you can think of any more.

Use Lighting Wisely

One of the big problems with scaring people in the theatre is that people often feel too comfortable and self-aware of their surroundings. Sat in a big comfortable seat in a nicely-lit theatre, the atmosphere of most auditoriums is one that promotes sitting back and losing yourself in a play.

The first task of any good horror play is to alter this atmosphere. Playing around with your stage lighting is a great way to do this. What kind of lighting are most people afraid of? The obvious answer is none whatsoever, so use the dark to your advantage; have your audience enter in total darkness or minimal lighting. Similarly, deep reds can have a disturbing effect.

It can also be good to disorientate your audience by using strobe effects or harsh white light. While not obviously ‘scary’, this kind of lighting can make audiences feel slightly uncomfortable – just make sure that they are aware that you’ll be using strobe effects beforehand.


Another problem with truly scaring a theatre audience is the detachment created by the obvious division between ‘stage’ and ‘audience’. It could be argued this is a problem faced by cinema too, but often the grim locales in your average horror lead us to believe that this ‘other’ world actually exists. In theatre, the actors are right there in ‘your’ world; it’s harder to make that detachment.

Help your audience along by breaking down the staging barrier. If you have portable staging, then set it up to ‘trap’ your audience in, positioning them in the middle and having the performance take place directly around them. For a fixed stage, bring some of the action into the audience and have your performers directly interact with audience members!

Booming Sound

It may be a cheap scare tactic, but it’s an effective one; making your audience jump! With a booming sound system for stage, you can pump through spooky noises to unsettle those watching!

Don’t underestimate the power of a good musical score either. While something like ‘Ave Satani’ from The Omen has been so overplayed that it’s now actually pretty funny, a creepy soundtrack can add an extra element of fear to your overall performance.

If your Halloween performance had people howling with laughter rather than fear, or you want to kit out your performance space in time for next year’s festival of fear, get in touch with PG Stage – we can help you build your perfect theatre of nightmares! Call us on 0161 830 0303 or email info@pgstage.co.uk.

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