“It’s like an existential, psychedelic experience.”

At the Gregangelo Museum, there will be snakes. There will be ukuleles and looking glasses and floors littered with crystals. For 20 minutes, the world falls away, in its place a winding maze of human venus fly traps, jugglers, and a run in with Scheherazade. All this, called “Phantasma,” takes place within the yard of a home in the St. Francis Wood neighborhood in San Francisco, thanks to owner, founder of Velocity Circus/Arts and Entertainment, Gregangelo Herrera.   

Pre-pandemic, the museum, Herrera’s residence, hosted tours and interactive “excursions” in its many rooms bedecked in mosaic, vibrant installations and circus performers. Herrera, a third generation San Franciscan, says his home is also his studio, where he is able to catalyze new artistic endeavors every day. 

Guests encounter a psychedelic scene in Pan’s forest in the walk-through “Phantasma” experience at Gregangelo Museum in San Francisco. (Photo by Hiromi Yoshida)

“I was always working as an artist—I was fired within 20 minutes from a regular job. I never looked back,” he says. He began studying African and Middle Eatern dance forms soon after. “I got a job as a whirling dervish a couple nights a week, started traveling and learning circus arts.  Everything I do every day, I’ve never done before. Every day is new.”

Decades later, this would manifest into his company Velocity and the Gregangelo Museum. Both had to be closed for the pandemic, and Herrera feels acutely impacted as by the closure of venues and space that enable artists and performers to work. The idea for “Phantasma,” as well as a longer, more immersive tour called “The Riddle of the Sphinx,” came to Herrera and his creative director Marcelo Defreitas in the early days of lockdown. The museum’s garden has become the primary stage as performance venues remain closed even as San Francisco moves into the yellow tier.

“It’s not just entertainment; it’s very deep. People will laugh and cry, come to realizations,” says Defreitas.

As “Phantasma,” many types of specters appear during the experience. (Photo by Hiromi Yoshida)

For Herrera, it hurt “being artists who are told we are not essential, that we cannot perform. We found a way to do this specifically for our youth artists, and it’s been a small miracle to see them have purpose.” 

Phantasma takes guests, up to eight at a time, around to the many universes dispersed around the perimeter of the house, with peeks into some of the rooms. The white rabbit of “Alice in Wonderland” kicks off the tour, which is actually an elaborate funeral procession for the guests. They are led to a wishing fountain, then the palace of Scheherazade, through the forest of Pan, to sitting at a Día de los Muertos altar, and being teased by a sadistic little girl “allergic to humans.” The ghosts are more “fabulous Victorian” than Casper, and there are moments of banter and connection amidst the nonstop visual feast.

“It’s not a conventional haunted house. Rather than experiencing fear, we’re purging it. You’re In the pages of the storybook,” says Herrera. “It’s personal.” 

* Tickets for the remaining “Phantasma” shows are sold out, and Herrera has no plans to extend the shows. A new winter show called “Solstice” is already in the works, which debuts at Gregangelo Museum on Nov. 20. Buy tickets here.