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!

Youth Theatre – The Hundred Dresses in Santa Monica


Theatre is a great way to give children life lessons and experiences in a way that keeps them interested and captivated. Santa Monica’s Morgan-Wixson Theatre does this through their Youth Education/Entertainment Series. Also called Y.E.S., the series offers four youth productions each year and one full-length Youth Musical each November/ December; performances are on Saturdays and Sundays. Most Y.E.S. shows are selected to support national and local school reading lists.

Next in the series is The Hundred Dresses, a timeless tale about the power of words and finding the courage to stand up to others. Wanda Petronski just wants to join the fun of having friends like everyone else. But in 1930’s small town America, a Polish immigrant doesn’t easily fit in. When Maddie’s best friend Peggy starts to tease Wanda, Maddie knows it isn’t right. When the teasing doesn’t stop and the Petronskis move to get away from the town’s prejudices, Maddie is wracked with guilt. She soon realizes that allowing her friend to be a bully can be just as bad as acting that way herself. Determined not to let her fear get the best of her again, Maddie braves the scorn of her classmates and stands up to them, making an unlikely friend in the process.
The Hundred Dresses is showing Saturdays and Sundays at 11:00 am, January 30th through February 14th, 2016. Tickets are $12 for adults, and $10 for children 12 and under. For more information, visit

Deal alert: Print this coupon before you go for a FREE snack from the concession stand! Valid until 2/14/2016. 

The Alone Experience: A Vague Review

Disclaimer: Free tickets to this haunt were provided for review purposes. No other compensation was received.

Alone Experience

Last week, contributors Angela and Jen ventured into Hollywood to experience a haunt like no other. The Alone Experience is described on their website as “A fully immersive 45-minute walkthrough experience, which you enter alone. Your body will move and be moved through our space.” A mix of theater, horror, and art, it’s exactly what it claims to be – an experience.

the alone experience entrace

There isn’t much detail given, and that’s part of what makes this haunt so…haunting. If you look through the site you’ll find vague descriptions, and testimonials that don’t tell you much aside from how amazing of an experience it is.

The Alone Experience is located in a non-descript building on Seward street, off Santa Monica Blvd. It looks more like an office than a haunted house, but once you pass the doorman and enter the building, there is a distinctly creepy air to it.  Even the bathroom is creepy, lit only with red lighting.


In the waiting room, you’ll sign the waiver, check your car keys in (they ask that you leave the rest of your belongings in your car), and watch and wait while others enter into darkness. As you wait for your turn, you’ll hear the occasional banging or screaming, but for the most part it’s pretty quiet, and if you came with friends, you’re free to chat until your turn comes.

Once your name is called and you enter the door, you’re enveloped in darkness and all alone. The combination of anticipation and incapacitation sets you on edge, where you’ll continue to remain for the rest of the experience. Inside you might be touched, guided, spoken to, not spoken to, given tasks, and/or left to fend for yourself until you reach the end.


Angela’s thoughts: “If you like old SciFi Horror Movies you will love this haunt. It feels like a cross between a David Lynch movie and a choose-your-own-adventure book, except the choices are made for you.”

Jen’s thoughts: “The Alone Experience isn’t your typical haunted house. It’s surreal and full of creepy whimsy that will at times, literally have you crawling on your hands and knees.”

jen at alone

This isn’t a haunt where your being chased by a crazed killer through gory rooms and dark hallways. This is a haunt that will make you question your very character.

There are still tickets left for October 30th, and they’re currently discounted! If there’s any way you can make it to The Alone Experience this week, we highly recommend it. You won’t be disappointed.

Helpful Tip: Be sure to read the FAQ page. There’s a lot of important info there that you’re going to want to know.


If you visited The Alone Experience, leave your thoughts below!