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Why Theme Your Event/Attraction
By Drew Edward Hunter

Themeing is not just for large amusement parks anymore! Any attraction can reap the benefits of themeing. Whether you operate a stand-alone haunted house, a hayride, a pumpkin patch, a family fun center, a costume/party shop or an amusement park, your attraction can benefit by the implementation of a clever theme and host character. Anyone with the vision to understand how themeing efforts will pay off by making the attraction stand apart, and therefore more profitable. All it takes is some creative imagination, and the talent to turn this imagination into reality.

What is themeing?
I define themeing as "the planned, design approach, which relates events, decor, scenes, characters, concepts, sound and storyline into one cohesive, identifiable unit". The value of themeing is that it will provide your attraction a unique and unusual identity for the public and for the media to grasp on to and remember.

When making a decision on a theme for your attraction, consider these points:

(1) Is the theme interesting?

(2) Is the concept flexible?

(3) Can the theme be realized within the budget?

You can create a theme out of any concept. I have designed fright experiences themed around the wild west, outer space, a circus midway, the computer age, Jack the Ripper's Victorian London, mind games, pirates, farmers, the aftermath of nuclear war, snakes, the tales of Poe and many, many others. Just be sure, before you begin that you can realize your theme in a professional, artistic, resourceful and effective way.

I have always practiced the "THEME EXTREME" approach, which is an attempt to impose the desired theme on all elements of the attraction or event. These elements including the storyline, the host character(s), the costumes, the scenes, the decor, the scares, the sound, the pre-show area, the signage, the merchandising and the marketing as well. When done correctly you will successfully create a tremendous identity for your show, which the public and the media will remember from year to year.

Why a Host Character?
The extensive use of a host character will help in the identification process of your attraction by the public and the media. The host character is the spokesperson (or spokesthing?) for the event and can be used to great effect in many areas such as, newspaper, radio and television interviews, personal appearances, press releases, mailings of all kinds and merchandising.

When deciding upon the nature of your host character, consider these thoughts:

(1) Is the character appropriate to your theme, attraction or type of event?

(2) Is the character intriguing enough in appearance and personality to capture the fascination and attention of the public and the media?

(3) Can you locate a person who can expertly perform the role of the host character?

Very often your theme will suggest the nature of your host character. Relate the host character to the theme and he, she or it, will strengthen the overall effect and make the impact of your attraction even more dramatic in the memory of the public. I have found that even if a show is comprised of a number of seemingly unrelated scenes rather than a single theme, a dynamic host character will act as a welcome cohesive element through whom the event can be presented to the public and media.

Once you have developed a host character, make certain the performer you choose, follows these guidelines:

(1) The performer must have full knowledge of every element of the event, including the prices, dates, location, times, theme, background of the host character and anything related to the event, which may be asked by the public or the media.

(2) The performer must be able to "think on his feet" and respond to questions in a professional, entertaining and informative fashion. Good improvisational skills are a must here.

(3) The performer must always stay in character. Maintain the mystique! Make the public and the media believe the character. If the media senses that the performer is having fun at what he's doing and is doing it really well, they often will want to do a unique, entertaining and informative interview which will result in superb publicity.

A Theme and Host Can Work for Your Attraction
A well presented theme and effective host character(s) will help provide an identity for your event. It can help generate publicity for your attraction and will bring a sense of cohesiveness to your overall production. The public as well as the media will appreciate the imagination and creativity you have put into your show. The theme will provide a basis for future development and enhancement for years to come, and the host character will provide an unusual, unique and entertaining focus for the media. It's a winning combination for your image, your attraction and your profits.

The Goal
To cause the public and the media to relate Halloween with your theme and host character. When they hear about the theme and host character, they will think of your attraction. When they hear about the attraction, they will think remember your theme and host character. Each element builds on the other, to increase the impact of each. Themeing and creation of a host character will help you achieve this goal!

One Final Note
Once you decide upon a name, have it checked out thoroughly to make sure you aren't infringing on someone else's Trademark. Then protect your host character's name and, if possible, your show's name via a Registered Trademark. Believe me, it's well worth the trouble and expense to do it properly. It would be dreadful to put so much effort and expense into a character, to have someone else use it for their event, because you did not protect it.

Drew Edward Hunter is Design Director of Haunted Attractions for Sally Corporation in Jacksonville, Florida. He created the themed host character "Dr. Blood®-the Physician of Fright™," and is a partner in "Dr. Blood's® ScreamScapes!™ a Haunted Attraction in Dallas, Texas. He can be reached at (904)220-6850 or via email at: hch@mcione.com

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