Few places embrace the Halloween season like a school of dramatic arts, and that Halloween spirit was on full display at the “Halloween at SDA: A Conversation About Horror Acting for Stage & Screen” event in late October.
The event was moderated by SDA alum and filmmaker Michael Schwartz (BA ’06) and featured a panel of students including Princess Isis Lang (BFA Musical Theatre ‘24), Storm Reid (BA ‘25), Amanda Angeles (BFA Musical Theatre ‘24), and Clare Foley (BA ‘24), seasoned horror actors one and all.
The conversation ranged from technical advice (how to scream bloody murder without damaging your throat) to the unexpected levity on horror sets, with plenty of weighty topics covered in between.
Schwartz, whose recent Halloween short Snatched is currently streaming on Hulu, brought up horror’s capacity as a vehicle for social issues. He recalled an experience watching Jordan Peele’s Get Out with a predominantly Black audience in New York.
“The police car comes in at the end, and the white members of the audience think, ‘Oh good, he’s saved.’ And the Black members of the audience had a different reaction,” he recalled. “It was an opportunity to experience a real-life horror from another perspective because we’re in a shared space.”
Clare Foley, who has been appearing in horror films since starring opposite Ethan Hawke in 2012’s Sinister, agreed that the communal and visceral experience of watching horror allows people to have conversations they might not otherwise have. “Horror sticks with people,” she said. “People aren’t usually just casually watching a horror movie. They’re watching in groups, or watching at a sleepover. People always tend to remember the scary movies.”
Princess Isis Lang, who recently played the antagonist Chris in Carrie the Musical, noted that opportunities for women are expanding in horror.
“We could be the mass murderer in the room right now,” Lang said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “We’re not just the mother, the daughter, the one that goes to college, the one who doesn’t know much. We have so much more depth. It’s empowering.”
Storm Reid, who is currently making The Nun 2, talked about the need to take care of yourself and be part of a respectful environment, especially when difficult subject matter—which is found in most horror movies—is concerned.
“The things I choose to be a part of are dark and hard,” she said, referencing a body of work that includes HBO’s Euphoria, a show noted for dealing with difficult subject matter. “When I was younger, being very emotional and crying specifically was more of a process. There were thoughts that I went through to get me to a space of being emotional. I’ve trained myself to where I can just cry whenever I need to, so it’s not as hard for me emotionally, but it’s still taxing physically.”
Horror can be notoriously inexpensive to produce, and therefore serves as a good entry point into film for actors and directors. Schwartz told the story of Jaws, which famously benefitted from the temperamentality of its mechanical shark.
“They said: ‘Sorry, you can’t show the shark as much,’” Schwartz said. “Did that end up working in [Spielberg’s] favor? Of course it did!”
Amanda Angeles recalled her performance in Carrie the Musical, and the inherent fun of being able to observe audience reactions night after night.
“It was really fun that this was in front of a live audience all the time,” Angeles recalled. “It was fun to, every night, hear audience reactions to scary parts of the show.”
The panel then had a lighthearted discussion about various horror-related topics, including their preferred way of kicking the bucket in a hypothetical horror movie.
“I had never done anything in the realm of horror until I’d done the Carrie musical,” Angeles said. “I found it very fun being scary, being this grotesque, scary version of me.”
“Afterward, you get to laugh about it,” she said. “Like, who does this? Well, I just did.”