From one holiday event to the next
by Courtney Llewellyn
The growing and harvesting season for farmers can only be extended so far. The entertainment season, however, can be year-round for those who are investing in agritourism ventures to expand their offerings. Perhaps you host a Halloween haunt or a winter wonderland, but not both. A professional event planner provided tips on how to take advantage of both.
Scott Swenson of Scott Swenson Creative Development LLC shared some practical ways to transform a Halloween event into a Christmas event. With a bachelor’s degree in acting and directing, Swenson has previously worked as the director of creative services for a major theme park. A writer, director, producer and performer, he started his own company eight years ago, providing his event planning services worldwide.
“I’ve always defined myself as a storyteller,” Swenson said. “I want to elicit an emotional response from an audience, and the most obvious response comes from Halloween – if they scream, cry, run or laugh, that’s a job well done.”
Halloween and Christmas are on two opposite ends of that emotional spectrum, though. With Halloween events, things need to be new to elicit new responses. Christmas harkens back to tradition. Planning to host events for both can be a delicate balancing act, but it can be done. Swenson, who has experience with both, offered some tips.
“Don’t think of them as separate events,” he said. “They are just Act I and Act II of the same event. You can train your audience where to look for stuff.”
First, make certain you’re setting up infrastructure for both holidays, both visual and audio. Run your power supplies for Halloween the same way you would for Christmas. “Christmas starts on November 1 these days,” Swenson noted, so a quick turnover can be critical. He advised looking at ways to utilize the same assets for both seasons – look at lighting, for example. Can RGB (red-green-blue LED) lighting be used and just reprogrammed and not rehung? RGB LED products can combine their three colors to produce over 16 million hues of light. Changing their color combos from orange and purple to red and green is much easier than taking down and hanging up new strands of lighting, and it saves a lot of space in storage.
The same goes for audio equipment. Install it once and make it a permanent fixture for multiple events. “Don’t underestimate the power of audio to change the environment,” Swenson added.
Invest in things you can use for both seasons – and perhaps even spring and summer events. “You can keep your infrastructure the same, building a core product out of lighting, audio, pathways and power drops,” Swenson said. “It makes it really simple to change the content.”
To save time and space, he suggested figuring out how to install Christmas decorations behind Halloween decorations, since the spooky holiday is much more claustrophobic anyway. For example, place haunted house walls in front of the walls of Santa’s workshop. In the same vein, if you have food available on site or have vendors coming in, try to have that food in the same place for both holidays.
When designing for winter, Swenson suggested first looking at what else is being offered in your area. Try to find a niche that’s not being filled. By focusing on ice, snow and winter, rather than just Christmas, for example, your event can run into February. “Consider something like ‘Snow Fest’ or ‘Sparkle Fest,’ something that’s not in direct competition with everyone around you,” he said.
One of his clients, Space Center Houston, hosts Galaxy Lights, which features thousands of lights, focuses on color, the science of light and space exploration. Rather than being simply a holiday event, it runs from mid-November and into January.
“If you’re trying to be culturally diverse, that’s kind of tricky,” he cautioned. “If it’s Christmas themed, call it Christmas, not a holiday event. If you do make it a holiday event, make sure all the winter holidays are represented.”
To really draw visitors in, find something unique to you and your farm. Create a holiday brand that ties to your overarching brand. Consider a “statement” attraction, such as a Christmas tree made out of cornstalks or hay bales. Invent a signature for your location.
Swenson said one of the biggest mistakes he’s seen made is that people are too cautious the first year they host a holiday event. “You only get one chance to make a first impression,” he said. “Don’t be too timid in the way you invest. Go at it so it’s the way it should be. It’s always cost-effective to do something really cool.
“We do five Christmas trees in our home each year, and they’re themed,” Swenson, an avowed Halloween and Christmas lover, laughed. “I put together a Christmas tree light show for Zoo Tampa. We weren’t able to get a gigantic tree during the pandemic. Instead, we built a series of circular platforms, like a wedding cake, with six-foot trees, nine-foot trees, 12-foot trees and at the center 22-foot trees. We put lighting on all the palm trees around the circle, and on flat triangles on posts around the circle, creating a plaza where the show takes place around you, timed to music. People want things that involve them, not surround them.”
For those interested in learning more about the art of event planning, check out Swenson’s “Green Tagged: Theme Park in 30” podcast, which he co-hosts with Philip Hernandez. They discuss entertainment trends, how they affect those in industry, haunt attractions and more.