Justin Meyer & Tanya Cyr reveal the secrets lurking inside the 2022 installment of Hollywood Gothique’s favorite Halloween haunt
House of Spirits: A Haunted Cocktail Soirée returns this October for another season of spirited entertainment, including themed libations, live music, sinister scares, and one-on-one encounters of the paranormal kind with the spectral hosts of this year’s all new haunting. This Halloween’s theme is The Legend of Vaughan Hall, inspired by Irish folklore and myths, particularly the story of Loftus Hall, one of Ireland’s most famous real-life haunted hot spots.
Legend has it that on a particularly dark and stormy night, a mysterious horseback rider was granted shelter by the current residents. During a game of cards, the lady of the house leaned down to pick up a card she had dropped – only to see that her her guest had cloven hooves for feet. Unmasked, the Devil disappeared in a ball of flame, after which time servants and family members frequently encountered spectres roaming the empty halls during the hours of darkness.
Don’t expect to see the satanic pyrotechnics described in the legend. The proprietors of House of Spirits like to use history and legend as a starting point from which to build their own mythology. In The Legend of Vaughan Hall, the haunted cocktail party will depict the unfortunate fate of Lady Medb, who gave birth to the devil’s child, instantly igniting the fires of Hell and destroying everyone inside. At least, that is the story that has been handed down for centuries. Guests at Vaughan Hall will have an opportunity to learn an even more disturbing truth hiding behind the legend.
House of Spirits has ranked among Hollywood Gothique’s favorite Halloween haunts since its 2019 debut, Casa Vega – about a painter whose series of “spirit paintings” opened a door to the supernatural realm. After a year off during the 2020 pandemic lockdown, House of Spirits returned with Volkov Manor, which reprised the concept of a haunted cocktail party but peopled it with a new set of characters, this time based on Slavic folklore. Vaugh Hall follows suit, retaining the basic template but filling it with a new theme.
What stays consistent from one Halloween to the next is the free-roaming nature of House of Spirits, which allows guests to explore the event’s attractions at their own leisure. Typically, guests can interact up close with the cast of characters in a main room featuring live music and/or magic acts. Elsewhere on the premises will be walk-through experiences: some may be games or challenges; others are more like scary haunted house mazes. Along the way, clues and information will be revealed, so that determined guests unravel the story underlying the haunt. Less ambitious guests can simply enjoy the many craft cocktails included with the price of admission. It’s a winning formula that provides almost too much to do in the two-hour block of time allotted for each group of guests.
To get a better grasp of how House of Spirits manages the neat trick of feeling both familiar and new every Halloween, we interviewed Justin Meyer and Tanya Cyr. Meyer (of Meyer2Meyer Entertainment) is the mastermind behind the “Halloween sandbox” approach to House of Spirits. Cyr designs the incredible array of creatures haunting the events darker depths, eschewing traditional ghosts and banshees in favor of a more avant garde fanciful approach. Together, they explained their approach to House of Spirits in the past and how it will be applied to The Legend of Vaughan Hall this year.
You can watch the interview in the video embedded at the top of the page or scroll down to read the transcript below. Both have been lightly edited for clarity.
House of Spirits 2022: The Legend of Vaughan Hall Interview Q&A
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: What lessons have you learned from previous years that you’re applying to 2022?
JUSTIN MEYER: Well, every year we’re learning more and more lessons on how to do the show. For example we do a lot of test marketing to see what sort of images are capturing people’s attention in terms of our marketing. We will do a lot of experimenting with how many guests, to see what the best ratio is so that the guests have an opportunity to have a more personal experience even amongst a crowd of people without losing the party vibe. If it’s too little number of people, it’s not as much fun. If it’s too many people, it starts to get crowded so there’s a balance.
We play with our cocktail styles each season as well. We track everything at House of Spirits in terms of what are the cocktails that are exciting people: Which ones were the most popular? Do we have the right balance of cocktail experiences in terms of flavor profiles across the board so not every drink tastes the same? So there’s a lot of experimenting that goes along with that. Even the flow inside of our attractions – we are dialing in on those every single season, trying to figure out what are the unique things we can do that don’t repeat ourselves too much but still make it feel like it’s a brand new show each season. But we do like to stick to the things that work so there there is that fine balance of finding the route each season, and every time we do it in every market we do it, we learn more and more lessons. The one big one I can tell you is we no longer do late night sessions; those are now no longer going to be a thing. We enjoyed those its first season [but] very quickly we learned that after a certain witching hour we should just stop doing the show.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: I assume that had something to do with the fact that cocktails were being served. What – the crowd got rambunctious?
JUSTIN MEYER: You know, the super late crowd – they’re coming from someplace else so to make sure that the audience is safe, to make sure my actors are safe, to make sure that people are enjoying the experience the way we intend for you to enjoy the experience, we felt that that was a a session that we no longer needed to to do. So we did add in matinee sessions instead when we wanted to do those weekend three-show days; we would add in a an earlier session, which actually are very popular so that’s it’s another lesson to learn – that there’s there’s a crowd out there across the board – it’s a wide range of audience coming to the show for different reasons. The matinee sessions did go over very well. It was actually rather surprising because I wouldn’t necessarily think people would be ready to go to a haunted cocktail soiree in the middle of the day but they do, and it seems to be going well.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: The same question but in terms of like the creature and design, because obviously there’s some issues in terms of live sessions. If you’re making a movie and you do something really intricately detailed, there might be extreme close-ups that really show it off, but you’re doing something that people might be rushing by in the dark and I’m wondering what you’re learning about what registers. What do people perceive when they’re going doing Veles Blue [a walk-through from 2021] or whatever the maze happens to be that – the stuff that’s actually going to read to someone you know who’s had a few cocktails and is not sitting in a movie theater.
Tanya Cyr: I think dealing with the customers who have had a few cocktails might be the hardest part, but the first lesson i ever learned with creature design is silhouette and contrast, right. No matter what, you can always get somebody to look at something if it’s big enough, if it’s weird enough, and if there’s enough popping out of the dark, that will burn into their image – they’ll see that no matter what. So I do put in a lot of detail to my creature suits even though I know that they won’t always be seen. But we do hire professional photographers who come through and take pictures so that’s nice to have a full pictures in the setting and all the details showing.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: Obviously House of Spirits it has a template that works and you can fill that template with a new story each year, new characters, but I’m wondering how much room is there to fool around with the actual template. How can you expand? Can you add things besides just saying we’re gonna do the same kind of thing but with a different set of characters?
JUSTIN MEYER: Absolutely. That’s the goal is to keep it fresh each season. In our grand scheme of the show, we’re aiming to have a lot of connective tissue between the seasons so some of the formula and some of the template is built in so that you recognize it, almost in a sense like a brand to some degree. There’s also these characters that will overlap in future seasons and so those are the fun little Easter eggs that we build in that the template allows us to to really play with. But we do try to each season add in some kind of new attraction to see what direction we can go with our kind of haunting. For example in some of the seasons upcoming we’re adding a thing called the Seance Experience. That’s gonna be built into House of Spirits, and we haven’t done it yet. This experience is going to be like a new attraction just like we do our creature zone or just like we do our dark maze. We will always have these template things that exist but we will try to make them different experiences each season so when you come in you don’t know what to expect and it’s something brand new to experience [even] if you’ve come multiple times.
So there’s room to grow in terms of the template but we don’t want to shatter it too much because we feel like that’s a big component of what’s missing in the haunt industry right now, is this template that we have found and this this formula that seems to be working really well for us. It’s a way we like to tell stories. We have discovered that the audience likes to go to a cocktail party. There’s elemental things that we just know as people: people will always love to have a cocktail in their hand; people will always love a an environment that’s constantly evolving and changing in terms of uh the vaudevillian style entertainment that gets rolled out for House of Spirits. So that rotating content the keeps the pace and keeps the energy alive, and so those are the things we like to bring back each season.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: Did you see an empty niche in the Halloween landscape that needed filling, and do you now see other people trying to fill that niche.
JUSTIN MEYER: Yeah. When we were attempting to design a Halloween program for our own company, we had come from 10 years of working at the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride and doing shows like the Great Horror Campout, and we’re also from Los Angeles where we’re right next to Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights and all the other big theme parks and their Halloween attractions. What we wanted to kind of revitalize was this idea of a boutique haunt experience where it was going to be more intimate; it was going to be more focused on the guests’ experience directly with our characters. I have a theatrical background, a storytelling background, and I was always very excited to tell create fully thought out, fleshed out storylines and almost make them like theatrical pieces but to have our own sort of take on this. Delusion was doing it for many years – having the theater concept built into their haunt, where it was like you were walking through an immersive play – and we felt that we wanted our niche to to feed the people that wanted to come to like a Halloween party and then once they were at this Halloween party we would then transform their experience into something more theatrical. That was the niche market that we were able to find. This open world where you get to walk around and explore things at your leisure – you see it in some other haunts, so that’s not a new concept. But [we tried] to apply it to this cocktail party event and then build out from that a story line and then add into that our background of creature-suit building for Tanya’s sake, like having monsters in our show and not just ghosts – not just focus on some of the tropes of Halloween. We root a lot of our story lines in history and historical figures and we love traditional folklore from other cultures, so we try to implement those into the program each season, which is really I think what’s finding us our our own sort of style and our own sort of voice in this industry.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: You’ve got shows going in different cities, shows that debuted in L.A. now appearing elsewhere, so it’s almost like L.A. is the Broadway of House of Spirits: it opens here and then the roadshow version goes elsewhere. I’m wondering what kind of changes and adjustments have been made maybe, starting with creature design. Having had the experience of doing the characters for Casa Vega and then Volkov Manor, were there any adjustments design-wise, making it more practical for application and for the actor to wear.
Tanya Cyr: Absolutely. I think every year we like to make something better than we did the year before and that does not fall short of any of the creatures or the costumes that we make. We joke around that L.A. is like our prototype city and we love our actors that we’ve been working with for so long and we build a lot of these creatures and characters for these wonderful actors because we know that they can pull it off amazingly. A creature suit is fantastic but it’s nothing without the actor inside of it and so going on the road we have to take that into account, that we’re going to be with new actors; we’re going to meet people that we haven’t worked with before, so [we try] building them more comfortable and easier to get out of and to look a little bit better. You’ve seen it in the lights; you’ve seen how it holds up throughout the month – all these things as the show goes on. And so then the next year I’m constantly improving and remaking things. Sometimes i shoot myself in the foot a little bit because I’ll be like “this could be better” and then I load up my plate with stuff that could have been okay but I personally pull myself to a standard to constantly make things better. I’ve learned so much over just the few years we’ve been doing House of Spirits as far as making creature suits so much more accessible to people who may have never been in a creature suit before – breathable, lighter weight. All these things are constantly improving and changing.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: How much if at all does location, in both sense of the words, affect the show location. What brings this to mine is the other day I was talking to some of the people from Paranormal Cirque, and they were talking about how they adjusted some of the comedy because what works in Ohio doesn’t work in South Carolina?
JUSTIN MEYER: We do our absolute best to try to find the best locations we can in our cities to put on our show. It’s got that name House of Spirits so you want to find the right location for it in every market, although in some markets it’s more difficult. For example, in New York city you don’t get the old grand mansion haunted houses that exist out in some of these other places so just adjusting to be in a turn-of-the-century brownstone five-story building changed the content based on needing to fill the space in a certain way.
Same thing with last season when we were in Los Angeles. That venue, the York Manor, the layout of the house dictated a lot of how we were going to explore the content. In some of these cities the buildings aren’t as big so maybe we have to adjust the size of our dark maze; maybe we replace the dark maze with a seance experience so that we have enough equally equally good content but it fits the space better. That way we’re not trying to do something that’s going to be lackluster in that space. If you’re trying to do a big massive dark maze, but the basement is only this big, it’s not going to play as well, so we do certainly adjust our content for that.
And then of course our show is geared towards adults. It’s a 21 and over event; our show has had nudity in it at times, so when we take it into these other cities, we also do take that into account, like what’s the level of content that we are gonna do. Are we going to go all the way with some of that kind of content, or are we going to pull back based on the audience, based on the house that we’re inm based on a lot of different factors. So we will make certain adjustments in certain cities for that.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: I guess you would have to adjust the creature from Vellus Blue [the suit featured a prominent phallus]. What adjustment could you make to that?
Tanya Cyr: Yes, that is the perfect example.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: What adjustment could you make to that?
Tanya Cyr: [Remove] a few inches.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: One of the things that interests me about these events is there’s a certain participatory element, Everybody’s experience is going to be different depending on who they are and what they’re looking for, so however much you plan, you must have had some surprise reactions, stuff that landed better than expected or maybe other stuff that you expected to get a bigger reaction but maybe people missed it either because they had too much to drink or they were distracted by something else or they were walking through a dark maze and they were so scared they were had a head buried.
JUSTIN MEYER: From my perspective, the things that land – I don’t know why it surprises me to this day, but the simpler the better. Sometimes I’ll be like this is too simple; this isn’t gonna be that fun. Like last season in Volkov Manor we did this thing with candles: you’d go through the maze, and your candles were being taken from you one by one, and for some reason I said to myself that’s too simple – how’s that really gonna play? And I got a great reaction out of it. People were screaming; by the end of it they were running out because they had no more candles so now it’s pitch black and they have to cross that last 10 feet in total darkness, and that was just enough to to cap it. I keep having to remind myself that if I keep things simple, it really resonates with the guests, and it’s usually when I over complicate it in my mythos or in my need to say more things or to have more intelligent dialogue or have more of a story – that where I start to lose people. They start to not quite understand what they’re supposed to be understanding. I think we’re working towards making our storyline, the overarching ghost story, clearer for the audience every year. We’ve been trying to figure out how do I simplify this or how do I get the audience to understand the story a little bit better, and so this year we’re working on an idea. I won’t spoil it, but there’s a way that people are going to really be able to fully visually and understand the back story and the ghost story if they complete certain tasks, so that’ll definitely help. I think keeping it simple is the thing that I tend to shy away from but I shouldn’t. That’s the thing that always surprises me every year.
Tanya Cyr: I’m gonna echo Justin here and say keeping it simple – people really respond to that because it’s recognizable; it touches something inside everybody. I know that there are several times I’ll be making something like a headdress or a costume or a creature suit and I’m putting so much work into this: “this is gonna be great everyone’s going to notice,” and they don’t. That’s fine, but then some of the ones that I find really simple or relatively on the nose – for as much of our creatures can be on the nose – they get the most impact. I think that also goes back to what actor is wearing what costume. There’s a moment where you have to give up control and just trust that whoever you have wearing that thing is going to carry on your impact and so some times I’ll have an idea for creature and I’m like “it’s gonna be like this and it’s gonna sound like this,” and then the person in it is is not that thing but turns it into something completely different which is equally as effective, but it’s not it’s not the baby that I created. That’s an interesting thing for me at the end of the month – to look at my my creatures and sort of absolve in my head what they’ve become and and take that to the next year and hope that the actor next year can probably do just as good of a job but will also be different ultimately. Its always so different, even market to market: will do the same show in different cities and the same person who looks the same way is just a completely different character.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: I wanted to ask the chicken and the egg question. Is it always the story first, or sometimes do you come up with an idea and ask Justin whether he can incorporate this his story.
Tanya Cyr: Justin gives me a lot of freedom to design my creatures and my characters, and he’s given me more and more over the years. Season one House of Spirits, together we decided what the creatures should be, and then from there I designed them. Last year he told me we’re gonna base these loosely on Slavic folklore, but this year was probably my most challenging because usually I have a nugget to start with. This year was super hard because I had no nugget; I had no egg to start with. So this year it is totally creature first, and then from there we’ve added things to the stories. That has happened in the past, where I’ll create a creature or a character and Justin will take that and run with it and embellish his storyline and give it to the actor.
JUSTIN MEYER: We don’t have any I.P. that we have to match so we don’t have to worry about making creative decisions that we change in the middle of our thought process. Actually that’s the part of the process that I really like the most – when this idea leads to a better idea. That’s where the growth of these shows comes from; that’s where the growth of the character design comes from.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: We’ve been talking a lot about process which is really interesting but people are probably going to want know a little bit about what’s new that they’re going to see this year. I know you don’t want to give away too many spoilers but maybe you can give us a hint about what The Legend of Vaughan Hall will offer.
JUSTIN MEYER: Our inspiration for this season is the Loftus House. It’s one of the most famous hauntings in Ireland. So like I said I enjoy doing historical nuggets that we then build out from and create our own original story. So Loftus House was our jumping point; the original tale takes place in 1300s so it’s a very challenging era
Tanya Cyr: Yeah, we have a lot of historically based costumes; creatures are very rooted deeply in Irish folklore but they are not anything that we’ve seen before. We’re not giving you banshees; they are original creatures.
JUSTIN MEYER: We like to create our characters to be a little bit bigger, more avant-garde, a little more artistically designed. We don’t worry so much about trying to give you the traditional werewolves and the scary monsters. We were looking to try to expand the artistic vision of those characters, so it’s a little more fashion forward.
Tanya Cyr: Yeah, this year is a little more fantasy. Especially the creatures are a little more fantastical.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: What’s the the biggest challenge for The Legend of Vaughan Hall, either technically for making a creature or artistically for topping the first two years.
Tanya Cyr: Creatures this year are, as I said earlier, much more challenging than previous years. Season One House of Spirits – we based them on emotions, so we had anger and depression and physical illness and paranoia, and that was a blast to dive into what those emotions would look like especially walking around and terrorizing you. For example, our paranoia creature was covered in worms and full of parasites and I think that embodies that emotion. This year there was nothing to base them on so I really had to dive deep into what sort of creature would you see from the 1300s Ireland. There’s also a lot more freedom in it, which sometimes you can impale yourself on your own sword if you have too broad of a palette to work with, because as artists we want to do everything, so narrowing it down has taken some time. But as far as physically building them, it’s the easiest year.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: Justin, what are you trying to do to make The Legend of Vaughan Hall top Casa Vega and Volkov Manor?
JUSTIN MEYER: My goal is not necessarily to outdo ourselves every season but rather to make sure that, if you’re coming back to the show you love, you’re still seeing those kinds of things built into the program, but it should feel completely fresh and new from the visual palette to our creature design, down to the cocktail tasting, to the one-on-one experiences with the characters on the show floor. Those even change. First season, we were doing spirit games where they would play an actual little game with you on the side. This last season we did a lot of monologues these long monologues that were really cool, and meanwhile you’re interacting with an object. I think pushing our boundaries every year, we are looking for ways to not always push the boundaries in the same way. I think that there are ways that we can shock an audience or surprise an audience, and it doesn’t necessarily have to come out of the same ways we do it every single season. Tat’s a challenge for me to figure out every year, and I feel like in this upcoming season we definitely are going to have some moments like that built in, where I feel like we’re going to be able to surprise you and and shock you in the ways that you’re used to but we’re going to look for that to come from a different place altogether so that you don’t really know where to expect it. That’s the way we we try to challenge ourselves every single season
Tanya Cyr: I do have to say it also helps having different themes every year uh it would be a much more of a challenge if we had the same theme right because we would be trying to top ourselves.
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened at House of Spirits that you totally did not expect?
JUSTIN MEYER: This is sort of a funny story. It’s a little gross it’s a little gross….
Tanya Cyr: You are dealing, I think as Justin was about to say, with people who have been drinking, so often times their inhibitions are lowered and we’ve seen some pretty wild things. Season One I think [had] the most absurd thing we have ever seen. One of our areas is like a scavenger hunt, trying to find certain things, and you bring it to a person to prove that you found them. That person was collecting them in a metal bucket which he happened to have down on the floor at a certain point, and this girl who had clearly been drinking heavily came over, hiked her skirts up, and used it as a toilet – just peed all over it right in front of a whole hallway full of people and then just got up and walked away. And I had to clean it out which you know was not great
HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: I don’t see how we can top that!
House of Spirits: The Legend of Vaughan Hall will take place at Casa Vertigo on October 15-16, 20-23, 27-31. The address is 1828 Oak Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90015. Tickets start at $69. For more information, visit houseofspiritssoiree.com/los-angeles.