Few other offerings keep guests entertained for longer or in such great numbers, which is why shows are essential to most amusement park operators. As more and more park owners begin to re-examine their expenditure on new attractions, is live entertainment now rising to the fore as a cost-effective way to keep guests happy?
At Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, live entertainment certainly represents a major part of the park’s offering. This season the park is adding new shows including the Zhejiang Balancing Monks from China, Stomp-style supergroup JEERK and a 28-member Peruvian music and dance troupe.
“From a show perspective, there isn’t a time of year when we are not offering something spectacular,” says Brad Schroeder, director of special events. “Silver Dollar City is like a 50-acre performing arts hall, constantly presenting the best shows we can find and create worldwide.”
Over at Darien Lake in New York State, new productions for 2009 include the park’s first-ever midway concert series, intended primarily to drive early season attendance, and the addition of daily shows featuring licensed properties such as Bob the Builder and Survivor.
With no major new rides or attractions debuting in 2009, shows and special events represent a major slice of the park’s investment for 2009. So is it possible that live entertainment can provide a recession-friendly way of pulling in guests?
“The current economic climate certainly plays a role in the decision process for additions,” concedes Christopher Thorpe, Darien Lake’s general manager. “Last year our guests had a great time with the Motocoaster, but after reviewing guest surveys we recognised opportunities to improve the ‘software’ side of our experience. Live shows and entertainment touch our guests in special ways and are as critical as any ride. Like rides, these experiences need to evolve or become new every season.”
“Each case is unique, but overall live entertainment probably is a good way to go in times like these,” adds Gary Goddard. This season, Gary Goddard Entertainment is extending its Glow in the Park parades to a number of new Six Flags outlets in the United States. “Marketed correctly, live entertainment can do the job as good as a new ride – at a fraction of the cost,“ adds Goddard.
“You really have to look at your park’s demographics,” says Brad Billington, founder and CEO of Mirage Entertainment, which has shows playing this season in China, Taiwan, India and Pennsylvania. “Not every guest wants to do rides. Parks use live entertainment in a number of ways. It’s a great way to welcome guests to the park, get them out of the heat, or help brand a location. I really believe live entertainment is making a comeback at many venues. You only have to look at the success of show-based parks like Universal Studios to prove that live entertainment can attract visitors if it’s done right.”
In the UK, Thorpe Park added live entertainment to help ease congestion on the rides. “The park previously had only minimal live entertainment so asked us to create a concert featuring costume characters,” explains Simon Foulkes of Rainbow Productions. “The shows were scheduled to run on the hour, targeted towards families with young children so that those who were too small to go on the rides with their taller siblings could enjoy the 15-minute spectacle. The appeal to Thorpe Park was that the concerts could play to over 100 people sitting and many more passing by, giving a really good return on investment.” Featuring the Top Rockers, the show is now in its fourth season at the London park.
But if you’re thinking of using a show just to pull in guests, rather then just keep them happy when they get there, Goddard offers this caveat: “Adding a ‘skip and wave’ show with six guys and girls singing patriotic songs might be a nice addition to the park’s overall atmosphere, but its not going to bring extra guests. Shows that bring in people are either large-scale spectaculars, unique touring shows with broad family appeal, name talent shows or original ‘event’ productions like Glow in the Park. The right show or night event can bring more people to the park at a fraction of what a signature new ride would cost. But the key is – the show has to be a cut above any typical theme park show.”
For an exclusive selection of shows playing this season at parks and attractions around the globe see the July 2009 edition of Park World Digital.
Pictured above: Space Riders at VGP Universal Kingdom, India.