Career Path

Master of showmanship

by Martin Williams

Rico Patel (left)
entertainments show captain
Madame Tussauds London Amy Lau, trainee actress
Madame Tussauds Hong Kong
Photo: Edde Ngan

Entertainments Show Captain may seem an unlikely job title, but Rico Patel's job is to train an array of actors whose performances are anything but run of the mill. If the audience screams with excitement and fear, he considers it a job done well.

Mr Patel is an actor and trainer working in the depths of the famous Madame Tussauds London's Chamber Live. Established five years ago within the attraction's Chamber of Horrors, Chamber Live blends horrid scenery, chilling figures and live actors. Hong Kong's Madame Tussauds is about to open a similar attraction "Scream - escape the asylum".

Appropriately for a man whose career involves entertaining people by scaring them, Mr Patel was inspired to become a showman by seeing Michael Jackson's Thriller video, which features singing and dancing zombies. Not everyone approved of his career choice, but Mr Patel says, "I followed my heart and believed in myself."

Make a difference

Mr Patel studied drama at one performing arts school and dance at another. He has since worked as a dancer, a presenter and an actor. When Madame Tussauds advertised for actors to work in Chamber Live, Mr Patel thought, "That would be right up my street." He auditioned and was one of 15 successful candidates out of 300 applicants.

"Initially, my peers taught me the essential art of scaring," says Mr Patel. He later became a trainer, although he continues acting and looks forward to mixing performing with helping to launch and enhance scary attractions at other Madame Tussauds around the world.

"This is my passion," he says. "It's a job you don't want to leave - on a certain level it's fascinating. It's funny how some people react the way they do." Chamber Live visitors display a range of reactions, from strolling through while admiring the sets and performances to rushing through with eyes half closed, he explains.

Reflecting on his typical London workday, Mr Patel says, "I get up with a great big smile, thinking about how I scare the visitors walking through the attraction." Once at Madame Tussauds, he puts on makeup and heads down to the set to await the customers. "If we can frighten the first customer, it makes our day," he says.

Fear factors

Mr Patel first came to Hong Kong in February to audition actors for the new attraction. Now, as a "scare master", he is preparing the team for their roles in Scream. Interestingly, team members hail from varying backgrounds and cultures. One Scream team member even came from an accounting background.

"The audience's reaction is your applause"

While training the Hong Kong actors, Mr Patel started off with the basics, including the characteristics of fear and anger management. He then moved on to character work and choreography. "The actors will certainly add creativity to my routines," he says. They are free to improvise with scary actions, as situations require.

"Our stage is in there," Mr Patel tells the actors. "The members of the audience are not just sitting in one place — they're moving around us. They won't clap, but when they get scared, they'll scream and then laugh. The audience's reaction is your applause."

The "stage" for Scream starts at the entrance to a "prison", with warnings that the place is not for the fainthearted. The whole experience includes prison cells, a frightening experiments room and hideous figures lurking in the shadows.

Even trainee actress Amy Lau is somewhat nervous of the set, although Mr Patel assures her she will be fine when the show opens. Ms Lau studied at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, and has worked on stage and in film. "This is different from a typical stage performance," she says. "You are close to the visitors, and immediately know what they feel and think about the performance."

Mr Patel has taught her a great deal about the psychology of fear, and Ms Lau finds herself practising her most horrible facial expressions in the shower at home. "I think about making people scared — and it's exciting," she says with a glint in her eye. Once training is completed, Mr Patel will return to London, returning periodically to conduct further training. "Being scared is the new version of being happy," he says.

Taken from Career Times 25 April 2008, p. D14
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