Parks are increasingly incorporating special events into their seasonal programming to drive attendance outside of the busy summer season. While Halloween events have been a staple of the theme park season for many years, recently parks have begun introducing winter celebrations, food festivals and more niche events — many of which feature live entertainment or other spectacles.
Enter one of the major players in the event and live entertainment industry: RWS Entertainment Group (RWS), a full-service production company that creates award-winning custom entertainment, live events, and brand experiences worldwide — with 1,200 performers across the globe.
Last month, RWS unveiled a new “Experiences” department that offers amusement industry clients “full conceptual design and installation of a wide range of experiential services including theme design, decor, attractions, seasonal activations and light shows year round.”
The Experiences department employs roughly 2,000 people hired to execute the 40 special event designs and themed installs currently in production for fall and winter events alone.
These employees specialize in event, decor, scenic, media, lighting, audio, wardrobe, and prop design — all working in conjunction with casting, voice-over artists, arrangers, composers, technical directors, production managers, stage managers and technical and installation crews.
For the 2018 Halloween season, the RWS team designed and built haunted houses, scare zones and other experiences for the company’s theme park clients. RWS conducts all performer casting internally and trains actors through the company’s customized “scare school.”
RWS also produced holiday and winter events at major park chains such as SeaWorld and Six Flags. Some of their work consisted of light shows, 200-foot-tall LED-illuminated trees and live entertainment.
I spoke with Danielle Kramer, the company’s vice president of global entertainment (production and operations) and Kevin Krezco, senior director of business development (events and attractions), about the new division.
C101: Can you tell me a little bit about RWS and how it became involved with theme parks and the amusement industry?
Danielle: Ryan Stana, founder and CEO of RWS Entertainment Group, began his career on the stage of a theme park. Even as an aspiring young performer, Ryan knew the value of having quality, live entertainment accessible to those who may not be able to experience it otherwise. Built from the ground up, fueled by passion and creativity, Ryan and team began to transform the live entertainment model; one park at a time.
Our clients are able to come to us as their turn-key solution with a focus on raising the experience for each and every guest. Each client becomes like family, and we take a vested interest in not just their entertainment offerings, but their overarching guest journey, messaging and how entertainment affects all areas of the venue. Our creative and logistical staff is able to anticipate their needs and ensures that the entertainment offering has a strong return on investment for every venue as well as an overarching story that ends with an emotional souvenir. Because of that, we are true partners for any organization, and it attracts clients from all parts of the world. What started as one has now expanded to multiple theme parks, resorts, cruise ships and corporate events worldwide.
C101: Can you walk me through RWS’ process from conceptualization to execution? How much input and involvement do the parks have in the process?
Danielle: The involvement of each client varies from being incredibly hands-on with input on every aspect of design to having little-to-no input from conceptualization to realization onstage. We leave it up to the needs and expertise of the team that is hiring us as to what aspects they feel are important for them to weigh in on.
As we take the time to get to know our client’s mission and goals — in addition to the unique demographic at each venue — we are able to customize a package that is highly effective. Clients trust the process and look forward to the end result. From the initial idea to the costume (and) scenic designs and song selections to talent hiring (and) managing, we are able to build and tailor our offerings directly for the client’s needs.
C101: From start to finish, how many RWS employees on average are involved in the production of a theme park attraction or event?
Danielle: Once a concept has been confirmed, a talented team is selected for each park. A producer, scriptwriter and audio engineer begin the process of imagining and developing the original show and writing specifically for the client’s goals. From there, a design team consisting of wardrobe, scenic, prop, media and special effects work to make the show come to life visually and the casting team begins the process of seeking out the perfect talent.
Once all pre-production is complete in-house, rehearsals begin either onsite at RWS Studios’ 52,000-square-foot rehearsal facility or onstage at the venue itself as the director and choreographer take the show from paper to the stage. Sound, lighting and video designers bring visuals and additional detailing to life as the show is just about ready to open to the public. Lastly, but most importantly, we have the audience — the many families that get to come and enjoy the final product.
RWS Entertainment’s revival of “Dance Dance Dance” at Hersheypark won the IAAPA Brass Ring Award for Best Show in an Amusement Park.
C101: What does RWS offer clients that no other company can offer?
Danielle: What makes us unique is that we are connectors to iconic and legacy brands and are able to offer our clients the ability to partner with these brands. For one check, our clients can secure us to do the licensing deal with a brand in addition to produce, execute and manage the full program. We also offer a unique custom-designed package for clients, regardless of size and budget. We allow our clients, and any brand partners, to view the product in advance of onsite install or opening through a unique workshop process, which allows for all stakeholders to view an actualized version of the show or program — offering the opportunity for final approvals in advance of installation, where we are typically up against time constraints.
We are a company that is innovative and on the pulse of all that is trending in the industry, or we can also offer a traditional and classic approach to entertainment. We employ a hardworking group of dedicated staff members that are experts in creative and logistical elements and are just plain fun! Every client relationship is personalized and goes beyond the entertainment to true care for every person that becomes part of our family. We build trust that every logistical element required to install an exceptional product is thought through and executed without fail. In general, we offer an overall return on experience that is unmatched.
C101: In metropolitan areas with a higher concentration of holiday-themed events — both at parks and in other spaces — what do you do to ensure that your clients stand out in the crowd?
Kevin: Everything we do begins with a story and that story begins with the marketing experience. We collaborate with our clients to take guests on a journey and create unique memories from inception to completion. We are not a traditional “catalog” company. We are committed to raising the experience and that begins with creating truly unique and immersive experiences that focus on brand awareness and guest engagement.
We focus on the return on investment and the return on experience, creating the most “Instagram-able” moments, thus elevating our client’s events to a virtual audience. Whether we are creating an event full of fear or cheer, we are focused on creating a personal memory for everyone experiencing the environments we create. We consistently create something that invites everyone into a story, allowing them to explore the “wow!”
C101: What does the “scare school” entail for those who will be acting at Halloween events and attractions?
Kevin: All of our haunted experiences include the immersion of six senses — what you hear, see, taste, smell, feel and fear. However, we raise the fear when we add the 7th dimension of immersive acting. Our scare school, built on theatrical techniques, elevates the scare and allows us to further develop the horror that a guest is experiencing. Our haunt actors work with our directors to characterize the scare — just as they do in all of our theatrical productions — making our haunted experiences just that more fearful!
C101: In the ever-changing theme park and amusement industry, what are some of the challenges that RWS faces?
Danielle: One challenge that we face is keeping the entertainment both timeless and contemporary. Shows that appeal to both young and old, are forward-thinking and can ultimately work on a variety of budgets. Staying on the forefront of new developments in technology presents another obstacle. Things change quickly and knowing when to utilize a current trend or not can be tricky.
Finally, entertaining the teenage demographic is an ongoing challenge. Competing with screens, hormones and peer pressure, entertainment is constantly evolving for this crowd and we are finding interactivity is a key to keeping this demographic engaged.
RWS also produced Luminosity at Cedar Point.
C101: What excites you the most about the future of the amusement industry in regard to live entertainment and experiences?
Kevin: As the popularity of gaming and television become a staple in the home, the goal of an event and bringing people together will become even more important. As we begin to look at the design of an event, people desire to be immersed in an environment — they do not want to be spectators, they want to be part of it. We are excited to be at the forefront of developing these sought-out experiences, combining the elements of live entertainment and immersion, creating a whole new attraction for the industry.
C101: For those who are interested in working in this field, how do you recommend they prepare for a career at a company like RWS? What do you look for in job applicants?
Danielle: Our staff of “bold makers and mold breakers” consists of like-minded, driven individuals who fulfill our core values of “dedication, innovation, creativity, collaboration, connection, trust and fun. Not only creative, but with impeccable attention to detail and willingness to collaborate, these individuals must enjoy a challenge and the ever-changing nature of the business.
Experience is key to working in our field — the more you do, the more you will bring to the table and have to offer the team. In addition, connections should drive you. The entertainment business is small, and it is surprising how paths cross over and over again. Knowing the key players that will contribute to helping our ideas come to life is important. Be passionate, as passion and enthusiasm equal success!
I’d like to thank Danielle and Kevin for taking time out of their busy schedules to speak with me.
To learn more, visit RWS Entertainment Group’s website.