Big Top success
Drayton Manor in Tamworth, England, is putting a renewed emphasis on live entertainment. This season the park invested in a 1,200-seater big top theatre complete with a 30-metre stage – and watched attendances climb. Entertaining audiences inside this new space is London-based show producer Hammond Productions. Here Drayton Manor managing director Colin Bryan and Paul Hammond from Hammond Productions explain why live entertainment is so important to the park mix.
Colin Bryan – Managing Director, Drayton Manor
Drayton Manor park has been offering live events for many years. Our circus shows, for example, attracts a loyal following at the Drayton Theatre, but with seating for just 400, we decided to invest in the big top to increase capacity and give our live events supplier the opportunity to take productions to the next level. The capacity for the daily shows is now 800, but we have up to 1,200 seats if needed.
Our summer show for 2007 – Paul Hammond’s Voyage to Rainbow’s End – had a cast of 30 international performers and ran twice daily. Despite asking guest for an £2 (€1.40) to see it, we encountered little resistance. In fact, the comments to customer services were extremely positive, with many guests saying they would actually pay more!
This winter we will stage Wrestle America and a pantomime co-production with Hammond Productions, Peter Pan. Meanwhile the success of Rainbow’s End this summer means that for 2008 we will be extending the show to run over the full park season.
Live entertainment is important to Drayton Manor and has contributed greatly to our revised marketing campaigns. We believe it has been a significant factor in helping us achieve our best season since we went to pay-one-price. Live events bring a new dimension to the park, which we can adjust according to our seasonal programme, and we feel this helps generate repeat business. The tent show in the summer, our Halloween event in the autumn, and our Christmas pantomime, all add something fresh to our brochure.
The target market for the park’s live shows will always be family first, and for many families our live shows are their first live theatre experience. Live events are in no way a replacement for our rides and attractions business, but as our summer show proves, today’s guests want more from parks, and in this competitive environment, live events help us stay ahead.
Paul Hammond – Managing Director, Hammond Productions
Live entertainment has always been a popular part of the in-park offer, appealing to all ages. Faced with the ongoing challenge of providing something unique to their guests, more and more parks are beginning to understand the role that shows and other performances can play.
Be it a single costume character or a full show production, live entertainment comes in all shapes and sizes, and also offers operators a great deal of flexibility. It can be “chopped and changed” with ease to cater for fluctuations in, say, visitor numbers or the weather, with no apparent impact on quality.
As far as stage performances are concerned, there are many things to consider when producing a show, and there are certain core ingredients that must be incorporated if it is to be a success.
Live events in theme parks generally run between 25 and 45 minutes in duration, and we believe they need to be fast moving, action packed and full of fun. At Hammond Productions we try to offer a unique experience by asking audiences to expect the unexpected. That’s because theme park guests are not generally a theatre-going public. We therefore tailor the show to the park audience, which is used to moving around from attraction to attraction. If you keep them captivated for 45 minutes you know you have done your job!
Live events should complement the park’s existing attractions. Before I put any proposal to a client, I like to go and experience the park and get a feel for what it is all about. I like to know the attendances for the period in which the show is to be presented and, through careful marketing, watch the impact the live shows have at the gate.
As far as many parks in Europe are concerned, live events are generally presented in the peak Easter, May, July, August and October school holiday periods. However, by working with the park’s education department, a production can be written to coincide with the school curriculum and attract educational groups at other times.
Although budgets will inevitably come into play, as with any new park attraction, a big budget does not always mean quality, although of course it helps. As long as the core ingredients are met, a good live show can offer a cost effective alternative to adding a new ride.
Although many believe it important to utilise a well-known, licensed character in a production, the extra ‘edge’ this can provide does not always justify the costs involved. We work with some excellent licence owners who understand the park market, but there are some that are not in touch with the industry’s requirements at all. They command huge fees for the character but give little else, no script, no music, no support, so in many cases having your own unique character or brand developed can be just as rewarding.
Hammond Productions works in partnership with a park when developing ideas for a show production but never dictates what should and shouldn’t be included. In the case of Colin Bryan at Drayton Manor, where he knows exactly what his guests want, he has an idea and we have the task of creating the live product to realise his vision.
But live entertainment is not all about shows! There are many ways live events can enhance the park and its atmosphere. Animation in the queue lines and the interaction of performers before guests board the ride are examples of ways in which we can take a standard attraction and give it something special.
And by adjusting the live entertainment offer throughout the park during the season, guests can enjoy a fresh experience each time they come back. We, like Drayton Manor, want guests to return again and again and to feel a sense of missing out if they do not come back to see our subsequent offerings.
The skies above Drayton Manor will be ablaze at the end of this month as the park stages its biggest ever firework spectacular.
Managing Director Colin Bryan will set off the first firework on Saturday, October 27, joined by stars from the park’s 2007 pantomime, including Garfield the cat. The night’s display will have a seventies theme and be set to a funky musical backdrop, while Sunday will feature up-to-date chart hits from the new millennium.
“Our annual fireworks display is a hugely popular event with both young and old,” says Bryan. “This year we are featuring new presentations by the award winning company Fantastic Fireworks.”
All rides will be open each night until 9pm, with the fireworks lit at 7.