Category: interview

2015, Attractions, Florida, General, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Theater, interview

Interview: Tampa, Florida’s Vault of Souls Creative Director talks about what it’s like to wrangle ghosts in the roaring 20s

I had the opportunity to go to Tampa, Florida to attend and review The Vault of Souls 2 weekends ago. This “elegant night out” consisting of food, drink, and interactive theater firmly rooted in Tampa’s local history is possibly the most ambitious project I’ve seen for the Halloween season this year – or ever. Naturally, I had a few questions:

Oni: Hiya Scott! So how did Vault of Souls come about? Is this a collaborative project, or are you running the whole show?

Scott: The Vault of Souls started in December of 2014 when Susannah Smith with The Wilson Company contacted me to create a Halloween event for adults that would utilize their events pavilion, The Vault, and the surrounding environments. We toured the spaces and developed a story that would feature the wonderful history of this gem in Downtown Tampa. Any project of this magnitude requires a “village” to bring it to life…or “after-life” as the case may be. The incredible staff at The Vault and The Wilson Company stepped up to the plate to do things completely above and beyond expectations.

Our Technical Director, Jason Atwell and his company AAG created and refined the many worlds of the experience. Spellbound Stitches created the costumes and Dawn Harlan designed the make-up. The cast created rich characters that can truly interact with guests throughout the night to create a personal and detailed experience. But the real champion and visionary who was brave enough and insightful enough to support this endeavor is Caroline Wilson. She is at the helm of The Wilson Company and has allowed us to build the perfect creative environment.

Flapper costumes by https://www.facebook.com/StarrbirdProductions
Flapper costumes by Spellbound Stitches https://www.facebook.com/StarrbirdProductions

Oni: I am sure you have a lot of elements of the show that you are proud of. If you could pick just one thing what would you say is your biggest achievement while developing this show?

Scott: Its really hard to pick a specific element, so I would have to say the communal and totally interactive nature of the event. The guests affect the growth and path of the story. People spend as much as 3 hours in the Ritual, masked and silent, exploring the details and making the plot connections. Then they come back to the world of the living and sit in either The Gin Joint or The Readers Clearing and discuss their adventure. This sense of communal pretending is by far the most interesting element of the entire project for me.

Oni: The thing that that I noticed is that the food served at the event was really good. Who do we have to thank for that? Is there a kitchen in the building? How hard is that to coordinate?

Scott: In the on-going attempt to bring attention to Downtown Tampa and specifically the Franklin Street Corridor, the catering is provided by Spain, a local restaurant blocks from The Vault. They are WONDERFUL to work with and have a totally professional team of culinary experts and hosts.

Oni: How did you go about picking the actors for the event? Were they all originally scare actors, or did you spread a wider net?

Scott: About 60% of the actors came from a haunt industry background and 40% from the local theatre community. We held several auditions for actors, dancers, singers, variety artists, Tarot readers and musicians. Auditions started in June of this year and continued, on and off, until 2 weeks before opening.

Oni: Vault of Souls is linked to Tampa history, which is something that I particularly love about it. Is Lucy or any of the other characters based on a real person?

Scott: There are a few actual names that appear in the “mythology” of the event. For example, James A. Griffin’s name appears on several communications from The Exchange National Bank. This was the name of the actual bank president when it opened in 1923. The characters themselves are more based on people who could have existed in the 1920’s vs. those who actually did. The character of Wisteria, who resides in The Arrival, for instance, represents the huge popularity growth of “Mystics” during the early 1920’s.

Oni: I loved your book of companion poetry that was available at the event. When you write, how does your writing process generally work?

Scott: Thank you so much! When writing the poetry for “souls”, I tried to get a sense of the character and their surroundings and then “get out of the way”. I tried to let the poems develop without too much guidance. With that collection, the more I tried to force the writing, the worse it got. Some character details actually emerged during the writing process…sometimes they even took me off guard.

Oni: What advice do you have for the kids out there who would love to grow up to do what you do?

Scott: Do it…Don’t worry about “who will pay me” or “I’ll never get anything produced” Find a way to make it work. I have learned just as much about haunting from home haunters as I have from industry professionals. This doesn’t mean that just by wanting it to happen it will. I have studied theatre and story-telling and anything else that struck my interest for YEARS! Realize the “wanting” and “doing” are 2 different things. Take responsibility for your own future. Find ways to work with great teams of people. Learn from them. Make mistakes. LEARN FROM THEM! Take artistic risks but make sure the application is 100% safe! Be a storyteller!

Oni: What do you have planned for the future? Will there be a second installment of Vault of Souls?

Scott: As a freelancer, the future is always in flux…The success of The Vault of Souls has given the team a great deal to think about. Although there is no final decision regarding the future, we have proved that there is an eager audience for this style of interactive environmental performance art in Tampa. We hope that this will inspire growth and new opportunities.


Tickets are on sale now for The Vault of Souls. Up to six people may enter at once. General admission is $100 per person. Learn more and buy tickets here. Read my review here.

2013, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, interview, reddit

Reddit Halloween AMA: I am a Haunted Attraction Reviewer, ask me anything Sept. 30 8PM EST

HI GUYS.

On Monday Sept 30 at 8PM EST I am doing a reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything.)

“I am a Haunted Attraction reviewer, ask me anything.”

you should come to this for a few reasons:

1. It’s awesome, guys.

2. If you own a haunt, work at a haunt, or review haunts its a great opportunity to promote what you do by interacting in such a public forum. All are welcome.We can all talk together.

3. You can ask me questions about things I don’t normally talk about – I have not posted everything on this site that I have done because I didn’t realize it would be a thing until much later.

The link will be posted on my Facebook (Oni Hartstein), Twitter (@Onezumi), my Fan Page, and here when it goes live.

For now here is my account landing page – the thread will also populate here: www.reddit.com/user/Onezumiverse/”

Please spread the word and post this on your social media and/or websites so that we can draw more attention to the best industry in the world!