October 9, 2023
SINGAPORE – There are no small roles, only small actors, a famous acting teacher once said, and this is what I tried to keep in mind as someone tried to make it look as if my head was rotting from the neck up.
With this face, his job as zombie make-up artist was already half-done, I joked to no one in particular.
Nobody laughed, because when you’ve been in zombie business as long as Deen the make-up artist has, you will have heard it all.
So, I decide to save “I hope you got the cruelty-free brand of decayed flesh” and “Do you think this shade of blue matches my gaping wounds?” and other knee-slappers for another time.
Since 2012, Universal Studios Singapore has been holding scare actor auditions for its Halloween Horror Nights each year.
I asked it for a zombie gig and it gave me one immediately, perhaps because from my portrait photos, it’s clear that as an actor, I could play either Handsome Leading Corpse or Actively Decomposing Older Romantic Lead.
Scare actors are characters who aim to make haunted house guests shriek with terror using shock, stunts and other ghoulish modes of expression.
I see it as a means to quit writing and finally go where I was always meant to be – show business.
Once I showed up at Universal Studios Singapore, the crew gave me a tour of its new All Of Us Are Dead haunted house, part of its annual Halloween Horror Nights, which is on till Nov 4.
The haunted house is based on the 2022 hit Netflix K-horror series of the same name. The show is set in a high school filled with hostile, dead-eyed creatures who show neither pity nor remorse – teenagers. It’s also overrun by zombies.
The crew was still preparing the house when I showed up in September, ready to take my turn in the spotlight as the Arm-chewing Oppa. From what it showed me, the high-school sets are properly creepy, right down to the sickly reek of decay.
It’s a deliberately applied odour, and it’s intriguing to think that out there, there is someone who manufactures bad smells, then makes money from it. At my age, the first part comes easily, but not the second.
Deen, 34, Resorts World Sentosa’s head of make-up (creative costuming) turned me into the character of the teacher Coach Kang. Spoiler warning: The coach becomes a zombie.
The theme park whips up its haunted house prosthetics in-house, using safe, neutral ingredients, Deen tells me.
That is reassuring to know – at home, I, too, avoid harsh commercial products when I need to achieve a light, clean, no-make-up aura of putrefaction.
Twenty minutes of gluing, painting and costuming later, I am ready for scare actor training.
I am handed over to my zombie trainer, the intimidatingly competent Ms Coral Tong. The 39-year-old is Resorts World Sentosa’s assistant show director (entertainment).
I do my best zombie moves for her.
She looks unimpressed. “Show a little bit more gravitas,” she says.
“What do you mean?” I know what gravitas is, but have no idea how it might apply in the context of, say, face biting.
“More grounded. It’s too frantic.”
“I’m a Singaporean zombie, I rush.”
The patient Ms Tong by now senses that she is dealing with someone too repressed to lose his fear of appearing foolish. So she tells me exactly what to do – twitch, move slowly, then throw in a lunge.
I do another twitch-roar-and-lunge, but I can tell that both my roar and lunge are sub-par, due to the fact that I am laughing nervously throughout. This is not good.
I honestly wish I were not this uptight. This is why speech and drama class should be compulsory for all men during national service.
Ms Tong tries to help me by creating a more authentic performance experience.
Three members of staff are roped in as pretend guests. They will be the shockees to my shocker.
They are great sports and one guy, pretending to be surprised at my pathetic attempt at lunging, yells so loud, I am momentarily terrified. He scare-actored the scare actor.
When an extra upstages the leading man, it is time to call it quits, so we decide to end the teaching. Zombie school is over and I flunked.
However, 2024’s auditions are always there and if I wanted to pass badly enough, I could train and rehearse at home.
Knowing my luck with exams though, I will study for zombie only for them to set tests for killer clowns.