This is day 52 of our 61 day Hauntathon counting down to Halloween. After a hiatus, The Vault Of Souls is back in Tampa Florida, and Scott Swenson, the Creative Director, discuss what those for five nights of elegant fear will be like.
“This is something that I think is very out of the ordinary and out of the box, that it’s completely just unique to this area, and you’re not going to find it anywhere else.” – Guest Review of The Vault Of Souls
Scott: The 2021 event will take place on October 22nd, 23rd, 29th, 30th and 31st. It is a premium experience, so therefore it does have a premium ticket price. To arrange for tickets, or get more information, please visit elegantfear.com.
What Is the Vault of Souls?
Scott: So, the Vault Of Souls is returning. It is emerging from the darkness, and we are even using that very much as our theming: darkness versus light. We’ve done a Halloween event at The Vault throughout the COVID restrictions, but we did an outdoor event that was smaller. Our guests told us that they wanted the full experience, which starts in a 1920s bank building lobby that has been refurbished and restored to be a beautiful event facility, and we call that area of The Arrival.
In this area, it will be filled with entertainment, it will be filled with a hand passed hors d’oeuvres there is also a complimentary cocktail, then you can purchase additional cocktails as the evening progresses. So, it starts with a high-end cocktail party. When you arrive, you will then let everybody know that you are there and you will be called to the next level, or the next act, of the experience which we call The Ritual.
Now, The Ritual takes place in the roughly 12,000 square foot basement underneath this bank building, which was also built in the twenties, and if you know anything about Florida, and Tampa specifically, you know that there aren’t many buildings that actually have basements or lower levels; is very dark and dank and creepy in and of itself. Just before you descend into this lower level, which like I said, we’re calling The Ritual, you will select a tarot card, because in The Ritual, this is where all of the souls from the 1920s who had the money to invest, could keep their souls protected, and at Halloween guests have the opportunity to come and visit, the ghosts of their ancestors, or just to experience; perhaps, maybe this is someplace they will join in the future.
After our last year, which was three years ago now, we thought that all of those spirits had been released, but there’s been an evil entity that has drawn them all back, and guests will explore a little bit more about that too.
The Ritual is a non-linear experience, so it’s not like a haunted attraction where you all stand in a queue and follow through behind the person in front of you. In fact, when we will send people into The Ritual, we will send them in by groups of six and they will be asked, before they descend, to wear a face mask, very similar to the kinds of masks that people are wearing now to protect against the pandemic. But, what we’ve discovered is, the spirits are so eager to escape that in some of our earlier testing the spirits were actually inhaled by some of our test subjects, and a couple of them actually came back up into the world of the living hidden inside a guest. So, we want to make sure that doesn’t happen, we want to keep them quarantined in the Vault itself. So, guests will be masked when they are in The Ritual of this experience.
Each one of [the guests] journeys will be slightly different. They will have their own personalized experience. They will have their own personalized interaction with all of the characters in The Ritual.
Then, when they returned to the world of the living, they can either go back to The Arrival, which is the indoor space, or we’ve also, this year, opened an outdoor garden, which will also have additional entertainment, tarot readers, it will also have an aerialist, fire performer. So, it is three very rich environments of entertainment that will give people the opportunity to have a very elegant evening of fear.
Scott Explains This Arrangement of the Vault of Souls
Scott: We tried very hard to figure out what do we do to take this to a post COVID level. Post COVID is not necessarily the exact accurate term, but a level where guests can enjoy it in the current environment. What we discovered is, so much of what we did originally in the first several years was already in line with what the restrictions were going to be.
What we’ve done is, we’ve created these environments that we can control the number of guests, we can control the access, we can control the egress, so we can keep people socially distance or give them the opportunity to maintain their social distancing. And we also have an outdoor finale which many people are more comfortable in that outdoor environment as well. So, we’ve tried to take into consideration the comfort of all of our guests while still creating an evening that will linger in their nightmares for a while.
Philip: How is this different from previous years?
Scott: What we tried to do is we tried to keep what was working and we tried to modify what our guests told us they wanted more or less of. So, everyone has always loved The Arrival, it is a perfect way to start off your evening in an elegant environment that is loaded with entertainment. Guests also commented that they loved the types of entertainment and wanted more. So, this season we have a more unique variety of performers. We still have characters that represent either current day people who are exploring the 1920s, or the spirits of those from the 1920s.
In The Ritual, which is probably where the most noticeable change is going to happen, we have vacillated over the years back and forth between making it free roaming, write your own story, and more of a release room experience where you had a linear series of tasks that had to be accomplished. There were guests who loved both of these elements. So, we tried to combine them this year in creating these journeys, quests, that people must go on to find the foreword phrases that will help them escape. Each guest who goes down in a group will have a different quest, and in essence, a different escape phrase.
So, we’re maintaining the free roaming experience from the first couple of years, while also integrating a sense of progression and accomplishment that guests enjoyed when we were doing the release room years. The reason we included the quests, or the journeys, was to give guests not only an excuse, but permission to interact with the characters in The Ritual. All too often, guests feel uncomfortable or awkward in immersive theater experiences to actually engage with the characters that are down there, this gives them a reason to do it. Don’t misunderstand me, the characters will also reach out to engage with you.
The one thing that I think makes it most unique is that there are very few jump/startle scares. There is virtually no gore, because let’s face it, ghosts don’t bleed. So, it is a unique experience in the fact that it doesn’t tie into the same things that so many traditional haunted houses rely upon, which are loud noises, gory scenes, and startling moments. This is to create an environment, and I’ve always said, if we’ve been successful, the biggest fear will happen when you get back home at the end of the night and you ask yourself, “did I leave that light on?” So hopefully the spirits won’t follow you out, but their memory will.
Keep in mind, the questions or the interactive prompts are there as a gateway. Just because you ask a character a question, or just because you engage with a character, and it may even be the right character, they may or may not be willing to help you. They may actually make you do even something additional in order to get that answer. So, the questions are not meant to be a script for you to read as the character in The Ritual, they are meant to be prompts that will allow you to interact in an improvisational way with the characters that exist down there.
How Much Time Should Guests Set Aside For The Vault Of Souls?
Scott: The Vault Of Souls is designed to be an evening, and the way we are doing ticketing is going to be a time ticketing scenario. But, this is a time when you are going down into The Ritual. If you have a ticket and say for example, your time ticket is nine o’clock. You can still come as early as seven thirty and enjoy The Arrival until such time as you go down below. We actually encourage guests to come early, because all three elements are filled with entertainment. Everything from paranormal researchers, to dancers, to gymnast’s, aerialists, there’s something to do. There’s a very rich entertainment environment in all three of the acts or experiences.
So, we always like to say you are welcome to experience this as a full evening. What a lot of our guests have done in the past is, they will have an early dinner and then come join The Vault Of Souls for cocktails, a few extra nibbles, a few sweet bites, and the evening entertainment. So, think of it like going to an evening of theater; you will have your dinner, you’ll have this experience. The nice thing about this experience is, it also includes the post experience conversation you’re going to have with your friends, because you have that opportunity to sit in the garden under the stars, be entertained, and talk about all of the things that you’ve experienced throughout the course of the night. So, it is designed to be a full evening of elegant fear.