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Oct. 23, 2022

Day 52: The Summoning at The San Francisco Mint in San Francisco, CA

Day 52: The Summoning at The San Francisco Mint in San Francisco, CA

During The Summoning, Guests will participate in a real live seance that rips a hole into the supernatural world and takes them on a terrifying adventure! Held at the San Francisco Mint, the show is a unique brand of immersive horror. It combines...

During The Summoning, Guests will participate in a real live seance that rips a hole into the supernatural world and takes them on a terrifying adventure! Held at the San Francisco Mint, the show is a unique brand of immersive horror. It combines scares with show sequences, sexuality, and plenty of queerness. Today, we’ll speak with founders David Flower and Joshua Grannell about the show’s evolution. Follow along to our Hauntathon:


David: I am David Flower and I am the head of production and one of the producers of the show

Joshua: And I'm Joshua Grannell, but people know me best as Peaches Christ, the drag performer, and yeah, I think David's underselling himself. David and I are the co-creator, co-owners, co-producers, we're the master minds behind Terror Vault, the production company that produces an original new show every year, and also the Vampire Bar experience Fang Bang. Like David said, he's definitely the production designer, and the person who oversees all that, and I tend to be more of the writer/director in our relationship.

Philip: Can you give us the top line of this year's story?

Joshua: The tagline, if you will, in the film industry, we always talk about tagline. So, guests will participate in a real live seance that rips a hole into the supernatural world and takes them on a terrifying adventure. Prepare to come face to face with demonic spirits while you attempt to retrieve the severed head of an unethical vampire queen. So, that's the tagline, and basically what that means is you come, and you enjoy some drinks at our Fang Bang Vampire Bar, which we are bringing back from last year.

When you enter the show, you actually go behind the scenes at the Fang Bang Bar. The manager of the bar, the proprietor, brings you back behind the scenes and says, "No, you've been specifically invited here tonight because you are mortals. We typically don't have humans in our bar, but we have a problem, an unethical vampire has gone rogue, and we need your help." The way they stay in the shadows is, these vampires feed on murderers and rapists. These vampires got together, and they decapitated this vampire and staked her through the heart, but they didn't stake her correctly, they made a mistake, and she's off wreaking havoc over in the supernatural realm.

 So, vampires can't communicate with ghosts because they're undead, and so these vampires need these humans, you the guests, to do this seance. So, it's very much, it's very engaging, because the vampires are saying, "What are they saying? What? What are you seeing? Tell us." So, the humans in this show, they actually have to cross over to the other side and go find this vampire head and bring it back to the Fang Bang.

Last year's show with the Immortal Reckoning, we felt like people wanted to do more, and they were really watching a story happen, they were watching the characters do a story and take action, and this year the guests are much more compelled to participate, they have a mission. This is a real follow up to last year's show, The Immortal Reckoning in some ways, but I should say that part of that means that it's a whole new original show. We made the Immortal Reckoning after doing Terror Vault as its own event two years in a row with a concept that we really liked, and we changed out a lot of the show from 2018 to 2019, but the concept of the show was really the same. Even though it was new characters and things, the idea was that you were visiting a secret prison housed in the Mint Building in San Francisco. Because of the pandemic and because of just wanting to do something new, we had a very F-it attitude with the Immortal Reckoning, and decided, "let's scrap everything and start over, create a whole new story, and we'll lean into fantasy, and we'll lean into queerness and camp and grossness, and we'll try to make it scarier where we can get scarier." And just really did exactly what we wanted to do.

I think, in some ways, David and I are actually in the back of our heads, we're like, "Wow, this might be the dumbest thing we've ever done, like people may hate this." But this is totally the show that we want to do. What happened was that people loved it, they really enjoyed it, and we had higher attendance, we had way more repeat business. So, it showed us that, "Oh, doing a new original show every year is really the way we should go." so, The Summoning is not the Immortal Reckoning, it's a new show, but of course it has some of the things that we found that people love that come from our production company. So it's similar, but it's a whole new.

David: We're open for 20 nights total, starting on October 7th through November 5th, and it's mostly Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. We do ramp up and add additional days as we get closer to Halloween. The ticket price starts at $55 and goes up, of course as we get closer, it gets a little more expensive.

Philip: What do you think sets your show apart from other shows?

David: I feel like I should almost read our mission statement. Should I read our mission statement?

 Our mission statement is, to entertain and terrify the masses, utilizing scares, comedy, illusion, drag, horror, sexuality, gore, nudity, shock value, audience participation, magic, spectacle, song and dance, makeup, costuming, sensation, while telling a story. There you have it, it's a mouthful, right?

Joshua: It's a mouthful, but those are all the things when we're questioning should we do this? Should we do that? We look over at that mission statement in the office and we go, Well, why not put a song and dance in our show?

Philip: Actually, I love that. I love that because, you know, we often talk about the concept of having a North star in your design and, you know, good shows will have that North Star. With that North Star, it doesn't just mean a thematic component, it also means like what are you trying to achieve and what sets you apart from the show perspective? I love that you guys have that, so you can say when you're doing the writing, does this fit with our mission or does it not? And our mission is what people want us for.

David: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it took us a while to really hone that mission statement in, but it really is a reminder for us on all the components and the elements that we want to put in this show and what we feel like makes it entertaining.

Philip: I do want to try and paint the picture of what the show is for those that maybe have not experienced it before, because I feel like it, in many ways, I don't even want to call it a haunt because, in my brain, it straddles so many different aspects. There is definitely theatricality, there are jump scares, everything you've just listed, all those are in the show. So, it is an indoor linear experience where you are walking, but in my brain, it's not a traditional haunt because the focus is not on the jump scares, the focus is on the overall entertainment value, including all the things that you mentioned. So, that's kind of what I would preface it, but I'm curious from you guys' perspective, how are you explaining this concept to people who may not have been there before?

Joshua: Yeah, I think what you just described is very satisfying for both David and I because we do find that it is tough to explain exactly what we do, because we kind of made up something new in some ways. When David and I met, we were two people who had been successful in other fields. So, David was a very successful nightlife event producer. I had been successful as a filmmaker and a drag performer who created theater. Both of us were producers, we produced, produce, produce.

When we met, we were two kids, basically, who grew up loving haunts, you know? We started talking about all the haunts that we loved as kids and what we loved about them, and then started talking about what we could do as adults who have produced a lot. Especially when thinking about San Francisco and the demographic here, and just kind of knowing that if we were going to do an event at the San Francisco Mint building, and it was going to come from the minds of David Flower and Peaches Christ, what would people expect? One thing that they would expect is storytelling and spectacle. David is really good at doing spectacle, and I hope I'm good at doing storytelling. So, we took those things that we're good at and mashed them up into our love of a haunted attraction, and that's how we got Terror Vault.

Philip: Story is very strong with your experience, especially how everything melds around it. The actors, they have acting bits, there's lots of acting, there's also lots of technology that aids the storytelling. You know, there are DMX programmed moments where the actors have cues, in that way it's very theatrical.

Joshua: It's funny, because we love TransWorld, and we go TransWorld, but when we really think about what would best suit us as far as a financial investment, obviously it's Gantom Lighting, and using things like DMX programs. This new show has four scenes that are run using Q Lab, I mean, so it's theater in many ways, and that's really important to us. So, we go to TransWorld, and we love looking at the giant Pennywise that's dragging some kid, you know, in a yellow rain slicker, and we take the video, we love it. But what we really tend to do is invest money in, you know, really evergreen type stuff, like haunt lighting, fog machines, props. Our spectacle really comes from the story, and so our ooh and awe moments tend to be within the story, and then we use technology to try to enhance those exciting moments.

David: I feel like for us it's always a struggle, because we know the real money is pushing a ton of people through our attraction. But, for us, it's just too quick and we never get to tell the story that we want to tell. So, for us, we kind of say, "Okay, we may not make as much money, but we're getting to do the show that we want to do, the show that we enjoy doing." We're both storytellers and we want to be able to have that as almost the focal point of the show, really telling that story and using all of these different techniques between acting and special effects to tell that story.

Joshua: And it doesn't mean that someday, I mean, I think sometimes David and I think, "Oh, it'd be so fun to go somewhere else and just design a maze." You know? I don't mean it like, just, because I know so much work and...

David: It's complicated.

Joshua: I mean, we are nerds, we are fans, both of us have already sat in our own apartments individually and watched all the mazes from Universal Horror Nights, and then come in work and talk about, "Oh my God, did you see that Subway one?" You know, blah, blah, blah. So, we're hardcore nerds, we admire our colleagues in the industry, but this is what we do over here. Part of it is budget related, you know?

David: Yeah.

Joshua: We can get a lot more entertainment value with a great story than we can investing in a pneumatic, because it would be one pneumatic

Philip: Yeah.

David: Yeah.

Joshua: You know, It would be, you'd come to Terror Vault, and you'd have like one new pneumatic a year, you know? So, I love those haunts where you go in and you're like, "Oh my God!"

David: It's a museum of pneumatics, right?

Joshua: But that's not what we do.

David: Yep.

Philip: A great story is essential, but the execution is equally important, and for that, you need great cast. Especially if you're going to have a cast that is going to encourage the guests to take action, that requires a whole other level of skillset. Of course, we're in the middle of a staffing crisis, right? It's certainly hit haunted attractions very hard as well. How have you navigated that?

David: We've had no problem getting actors. We've had a big problem getting production people, so it's been very strange.

Joshua: I've noticed that the first year was definitely like, "Peaches and David are doing a haunted house," and as much as we would try to describe it as immersive theater, it was harder to get actors. I mean, we were having open audition calls. A lot of the actors actually ended up being haunt actors from other haunts. Then we were tapping Drag performer friends of mine, who are really good actors, to kind of play the lead roles. After that first year, and I think David, you probably noticed this, that next year, it was much easier. I think once actors in the community saw what it was, now we find that we actually have more coming to us. We have more than enough actors, but the staffing issue is affecting us because the actors want to act, they want to perform in good theater, they want to participate in a show, and most of them probably are doing a hustle to some degree, where they probably are working other jobs. It's not New York, it's not Los Angeles, so most of these people are doing acting as a passion or as a hobby on top of another job. But we, you're right, where we're finding it challenging is, you know, security guards, box office people, tech crew, you know, that's really where we're feeling the pinch.

Philip: The last thing I wanted to touch on really is looking at the future, and I think it's especially interesting in the context of the show that you all have, because you can't physically change the building because it's a historic structure, right? Then also, the genre of show that you do, you mentioned it earlier, you can't just throw people through because the genre is, it's a story. You have to let it unfold, not a conga line, and you've added the Fang Bang, you've added a lot of elements where you can upsell and allow opportunities for that. But ultimately, I feel like there is a with the show. So, what do you see as the future? Do you see the future of like expanding to two shows or adding extra more elements, or moving to a different place in the Mint? Or where do you see the future?

Joshua: The thing that we would most like to do is take a show and a script like the Immortal Reckoning that we know worked in San Francisco, that we love, that we understand, that we have costumes and props for, and open it in Los Angeles. So, that's what we're really working toward right now. So, we would have, basically, like a space where we were doing a show in San Francisco in the fall, and a show in Los Angeles, maybe even in the spring. Because our show is immersive theater enough, and because LA has a year-round Halloween and horror community that's big enough to support it, we ideally would like to do a show in San Francisco in the fall and a show in Los Angeles in the spring.

David: I mean, our show is so specific to, it's not like we could just take it and be anywhere. I mean, we don't really think it would go over in certain cities, that it's really kind of specific to a few places that it really could be.

Joshua: Let's face it, it is not your mother's haunted attraction, you know? The sexuality, the adult stuff, every year gets more and more pushed. You know, if you're a racist, a homophobe, or a transphobe, you're going to hate our show. You know, it celebrates otherness, it celebrates queerness, and in many ways, we are looking at where has Peaches Christ gone? Where have David and I had success in our careers already? Because we are outsider artists, we've never been real industry people, and in many ways, LA has been a really great place for me. I do my shows at the Montalban there in Hollywood, and I have a production crew down there, and I have a group of actors down there. So, it just seems like the most natural fit. Of course, we go to Midsummer Scream, we have friends down in LA, we know there's a year-round spooky community. In fact, I actually think we'd do better launching the show in the spring than we would if we did it in the fall.

Philip: Was there anything that we didn't cover that y'all think is important?

Joshua: the only other things that we're offering this year is that we are doing themed party vaults. So, you and your adult group of friends could rent a party vault this year, which is literally one of the vaults at the San Francisco Mint where they used to store gold. We have two themes, we have one that's a satanic cult themed vault, and then we have one that's a psycho clown themed vault. So, we actually have a few people who've already booked their birthday parties and are renting the private room. room comes with an actor who's a concierge performer for your group that night, and it comes with some champagne for your guests. It's just another way for us to, one, monetize the experience, but also just offer something that we hadn't been offering before.

 One other interesting thing. This year we are adding matinees, because have found that there are certain days that our audience tends to want to go to the show more than others, and those are the weekends closest to Halloween. We can't add or create more weekends close to Halloween, so we're just expanding our hours of operation on those days. What that's allowed us to do is, all of our evening shows this year are ages 18 plus, and we're advertising them as a content of a hard R rating. Then our matinee shows, we take some of that sexuality and nudity and we tone it down to a PG 13 rating, and so the matinee shows will be open to guests 13 and over.

David FlowerProfile Photo

David Flower

Co-Owner of Terror Vault

Proprietor and creative director of David Flower Productions, David has been involved in theatrical productions and events for over 25 years. His work ranges from stage and production management to award-winning parade floats, theatrical set designs, specialty costume creations, and special-effects makeup. He brings his wide range of talents to site-specific, immersive, environmental theater in San Francisco, Boston, Provincetown, Los Angeles, and New York.

Joshua GrannellProfile Photo

Joshua Grannell

Co-Owner of Terror Vault

Joshua is an American filmmaker, playwright, event producer, and the internationally acclaimed drag performer "Peaches Christ". Joshua resides in San Francisco where his Peaches Christ Productions company is based. His theatrical productions are created in San Francisco and premiere at the historic Castro Theater before touring North America and the UK. He wrote and directed All About Evil, starring Natasha Lyonne, and is working on his second feature film to be released in 2023.