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Crowd Control & Line Entertainment
by Randy Bates

 

When you ask your customer's opinion of your Haunted Attraction, do they rave about the production or complain about the wait? If you are getting comments about long lines and endless waits, then you need to think about entertaining them before you scare them. When large groups of people, especially teens, get together, they can easily become restless and start looking for trouble. Line entertainment can be the tool that controls your crowds and makes a two-hour wait seem to pass quickly. Line entertainment can also be used to build anticipation, introduce your story line, put your customers on edge, and get them in the right frame of mind to be scared.

Upon arriving at the Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride, in Gradyville, Pennsylvania, the first thing you notice is the packed parking lot. The next thing that draws your attention is a giant video screen facing the waiting areas. For most people, plopping them in front of the "tube" makes waiting seem almost fun. Whether you show clips from movies or behind-the-scenes action of your haunt, watching television is fun and time passes quickly. For our screen, we built a 12' by 16' wood frame and stretched a white painter's tarp over it, then attached the frame to 4" by 4" posts that were buried in the ground. The screen was then staked down with tie ropes and re-bar so it would not blow down. Video projectors can be purchased for several thousand dollars, or rented for as little as $500.00 a month. We use a 400-watt sound system in conjunction with a VCR and show a two-hour tape that was made specifically for our event.

The video begins with a guided tour of certain rooms in our haunted house, as well as shots from our hayride, located in the woods. Rules are then read while the camera pans the signs with the rules printed on them. We have shots of behind-the-scenes action, the creation of props and rooms, and interesting facts about our event that might otherwise go unnoticed. Interspersed throughout the video are commercials from our sponsors. Yes, our sponsors pay us to play their video ads. If they do not have one already, my video guy can make them one. The money generated by the commercials can offset the cost of the video and audio equipment. The last segments of the video are interviews of people coming out of the Bates Motel. This really gets the crowd in the mood to be scared. I have actually seen people stay back when they could enter the attraction, so they could watch the rest of the video.

When we are rewinding the videotape, we usually show live shots from our closed circuit TV system, located inside the haunted house at great scare locations. I would recommend to anyone who wants to make a video to get a professional videographer. They can edit clips, put it all to a sound track, add credits and titles and generally make the production look professional. Even if you cannot afford the video gear for the giant screen video setup, you can at least install an outdoor sound system. Just playing a popular radio station can help your customers pass the time a little faster.

Closed circuit television can be used to entertain your audience, and can decrease your security problems as well. We have eight infrared video cameras placed throughout our attraction, with built-in infrared illumination so you can "see" in a pitch-dark room. Four cameras were designated for viewing in line; they show the patrons in the haunt being scared without giving away the actual scare. This is a real crowd pleaser, however; it did discourage some from entering the haunt. An upside to this type of entertainment is the added security and protection of your props and staff. All of our cameras were recorded for security reasons. Signs stating that everyone would be under video surveillance greatly reduced incidents of actor abuse and damage to props.

Roaming characters is another way of entertaining your queue lines. This can be a lot of fun for both your audience and your actors chosen for these prestigious positions. Be on the lookout for the younger kids, who may want to kick or push the poor actor. By working actors in pairs, one can act as a "bodyguard" for the other. Actors dressed in various costumes that fit the theme of your attraction can work the crowds. I find that if the actor slowly walks up behind a target victim (usually a female who seems frightened), and lets them discover you, the startle is more intense and everyone around them who saw it coming gets a good laugh.

We also use an Ex-Mortis stalkaround for "working the crowd," and it is a huge success; everyone wants to have his or her picture taken with the creature. We sometimes have an actor or even a staff person dressed in street clothes and staff shirt wandering around the waiting area with a small flashlight. He carries a burlap bag with him and pretends to be looking on the ground, behind posts and under trashcans. Before long everyone is looking at the ground wondering what he is looking for. When someone does asked him if he has lost something, he reaches down and "grabs" a snake (a rubber one, which has been wadded up in his hand all along), and holds it out as if to give it to patrons nearby. This is a great gag for the person loading the Hayride wagons; after saying that he is checking the wagons' straw for snakes, he finds one just as the wagon pulls out for the tour.

We have used live bands for entertainment at the event, but make sure to get a band that is good and plays popular music. It is best to preview the prospective band before hiring them. You can usually see them at another function prior to your show. Make sure you get a contract with the band, ensuring that they will arrive on time and play for a predetermined period. We use bands mostly on nights with larger crowds like weekends and Halloween night. Hosting a live band requires quite a bit of set up and a place for them to play. You need some sort of stage, preferably raised, at least a 60 amp power service, and show lights. Position the stage so that most of the people at your venue can see it, especially the ones waiting to buy tickets or enter the haunt. We turned an old hay wagon into a stage by decking it with plywood and adding steps on one side. A lighting truss was added overhead and controlled by the band's soundman. Most bands have their own sound equipment and some even have their own light shows. Be sure that your neighbors will not have a problem with the noise; you may want to invite them to the event for free, so they'll feel bad about complaining.

Other forms of line entertainment include adding a carnival-style midway with games and food stands themed for the season, Disc Jockeys spinning Halloween tunes, face painting booths, fortune tellers and paintball shooting galleries (see Zombie Paint Ball issue # 28). If positioned correctly, these are not only entertainment for the waiting area, but an additional source of income.

In all, good line entertainment helps control your crowds, makes waiting much easier, builds anticipation and leaves your customers with an overall satisfying feeling.

A long wait in line can ruin the experience for a patron at even the best attraction. You can make standing in line a part of the total experience by entertaining your customers while they wait. An entertained crowd is less likely to become unruly, and is easier to control. Line entertainment builds anticipation and helps you introduce the story line of your event. It can keep your patrons on edge and puts them in the frame of mind to have a great time!

 

Randy Bates is the owner of the Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride on the Arasapha Farm in Gradyville, PA. He can be reached at rbateshh@erols.com

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