Give Up the Ghost: An Interactive “Reverse” Haunt

Give Up the Ghost is a new interactive “reverse” haunt happening Friday nights from September 27 to November 15, 2019 at the First Christian Church of Whittier. The haunt is spearheaded by husband and wife team, Aaron Vanek and Kirsten Hageleit of Spectactular Distaster Factory, LLC. I know you’re probably wondering what exactly a “reverse” haunt is so check out our interview with Kirsten and Aaron to find out more about Give Up the Ghost and how you can check it out in person this Halloween season.

Q: In what ways is this haunt, Give Up the Ghost unique from other haunts?

Kirsten: In the fiction of most haunts you are a living person trying to stay that way – there are ghosts, or monsters, or ax murderers, or what have you, but you are vulnerable. You are the person being threatened, the person being affected by what’s going on in the scene. We switched that. Now you are the person who acts, who scares people, and you’re watching someone else be vulnerable, being affected by what you do, or don’t do. We built it so the things you do matter to the characters whose scenes you visit, those things will matter to you, and change what happens to you in the fiction.

Aaron: We think of this more like a sandbox environment for exploration than a “dark ride” where you have to follow a path through a maze. Here, you make your own path-within limits—and your own story. You might not see everything, and certainly not in the same order as other participants. And you might do something different in a scene than someone else. 

Q: What inspired Give Up the Ghost? 

Kirsten: Broadly, we are coming from a live-action roleplay (larp) background, and then got into immersive theater. The immersive theater shows we’ve seen are awesome, but personally I’m always worried I’m stepping on the show by talking too much or wandering around somewhere I’m not supposed to be. In larp, you have both the ability and the responsibility to affect the story, so I got used to meddling whenever I am given a chance. Theater though, even immersive theater, is designed as an experience you get led through, even if you have choices – the choices tend to be simple, like choosing what story to follow. That’s not wrong! But it’s not what we’re used to. So, as we’ve started creating immersive theater of our own, we wanted to find out how much we can ask an audience to choose, how much they can change the narrative, and still have a show. 

Give Up The Ghost is the expansion of a show we did for Hollywood Fringe in 2018, called One Last Thing Before You Go where the idea was similar – the lone audience member discovers during the show that they are dead, and are a ghost, and have been summoned into a seance. It’s now part of Give Up The Ghost, so I don’t want to spoil it, but the choice the audience member had to make during that short scene was very powerful for people. And the nature of that choice is what the expansion is built on. 

Aaron: Kirsten and I saw Waking La Llorna by Optika Moderna in San Diego a few years ago and really liked it, but, like many creative types, there were things we wanted to do differently, much like Kirsten said above. On the drive back to Los Angeles, we came up with the general outline and idea of One Last Thing Before You Go and decided to put it up for Fringe 2018. Based on the success of that—sold-out, award-winning, acclaimed—we decided to make it a bigger production. In this case, we wanted a bigger audience and a longer time span, as One last Thing was one audience member and about 20 minutes. But we still wanted to keep that intimate, one-on-one aspect. We have here both large group scenes, smaller groups, and one-on-one scenes.

Q: What can guests expect during Give Up the Ghost? What “scare” type elements should be expected?

Kirsten: We are asking a lot of our guests—they should expect to figure out what they want to do and see, rather than being told where to go. There’s no maze, and no tracks. Audience members are going to be asked questions about what they believe in, and given the opportunity to act on those beliefs. The right thing to do isn’t going to be clear, and there will be consequences to the choice – even consequences to not choosing. It all matters.

Not that it isn’t scary – frankly, the things we have in our scenes are far scarier to me than any haunt, because our scenes deal with things like, say, your loved ones getting cancer and dying, and having to make the right choice when there aren’t any right choices. To me, haunted houses are easy. They’re like roller coasters. Ours is like a car wreck you walk away from. We want you to wonder if you did the right thing or not.

Aaron: To me, what is scary is often different for different people. We don’t have any jump scares; no one is going to pop out from behind a curtain with a chainsaw—coincidentally, that was exactly how Kirsten and I first saw each other—I was part of a team that made a haunted house in the basement of a UCLA dorm, and Kirsten came to see it. I had the chainsaw. She wasn’t scared. True love?

But like she said, dealing with something like a loved one dying of cancer might be really scary. We are printing trigger warning cards for people who want them. They will explain the elements of most of the scenes, at least the ones we think have disturbing elements. If you are concerned about those elements, you will know which scenes to avoid. At the same time, if you don’t want any spoilers at all, don’t take the warning card and just go where you want. We are all about informed consent, and that also means someone can not consent to knowing more about what is about to happen in the show. 

As for the usual haunt tricks: loud noises, complete blackness, gore, bugs, etc., we only have a few loud noises, but if you are paying attention it should be obvious a noise is about to go off. We have low lighting, but not complete blackness. Participants should expect to be able to touch some actors (fingertip to elbow only, and not roughly), can move objects in a room, and be faced with some intense episodes about life, death, morality, justice, mercy, etc. Interaction is not required at all; if you just want to watch and listen, you can do that. It will affect your story, but you will still get a personal story. 

We also have lighter scenes that aren’t as intense, including a kind of “chill” room where participants can relax and contemplate if they need to. 

Q: Is this family-friendly? What are the appropriate ages for Give Up the Ghost? 

Kirsten: We are an 18+ show, partly because the scenes are intense, but also because they’re intense in ways that aren’t that scary until you get old enough.

Well, are you ready for the unique haunt experience that Give Up the Ghost will bring you? Get your tickets here and save $20 per ticket with code “SCL20” – don’t sleep on this!