Articles 20/07/2017

Show Services Q and A

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Over the past couple of years, there have been many improvements made to the Resort's AV. Some of this has been noticeable, whereas other work had been behind the scenes. We've been fortunate enough to have a chat with Jonny, who leads the Show Services department at Thorpe.

As well as looking after the AV systems, they are also responsible for a variety of events across the resort. Here's what Jonny had to say...

Tell us a little bit about your self, how did you get into the theme park industry and what are the Show Services department responsible for day to day across the resort?

Hi TPM, I’m Jonny and I’m Show Services Technical Manager here at Thorpe Park Resort. I’ve had an interesting career spanning Film, TV, Education and Entertainment – and theme parks are an amalgamation of all of these industries (and then some!) I was a Cast Member at Walt Disney World and worked as a coveted bellhop on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios as well as working on some of the technical resources at the resort including their audio and show systems. I’ve now been at Thorpe Park for just over a year and a half, and I’m immensely privileged to lead the fantastic Show Services department.

We are a creative department providing show support across the resort. This relates to anything lighting, sound, video, scenery or theming and therefore spans the entire island from our rides and attractions through to shops and F&B units. We are also responsible for events including our Ministry of Sound club nights, a range of corporate events and of course, FRIGHT NIGHTS. We are a very small team comprising AV and scenic professionals with a passion for theme park technology and theming! Our work is never done and we strive to keep the many integrated systems on the island up to date and functional so that guests always have a great experience.

Thorpe Park is known for utilising advanced technologies - can you tell us more about how the resorts park wide audio system works and any unique challenges it entails?

Our park wide sound system is a great asset and we are very lucky to be one of very few parks in the UK with a system which allows park wide paging, messaging and music. For those who don’t know, ‘project link’ was a major project over 10 years ago to consolidate the individual systems across all of our rides, attractions, shops, restaurants and dwell areas so that we can control audio across all zones from a central location, pushing out emergency and marketing messaging as required as well as being able to control and schedule background music. The system is extremely versatile and should we ever feel the need for a Thorpe Park Resort 3’o clock parade, the system would be capable of providing synchronised audio across a parade route (or throughout the entire park). We make use of the system as regularly as possible, playing Ministry of Sound anthems throughout the resort on our club nights for example.

How it works is very simple, it is the infrastructure that makes it a truly park wide system. A central location supplies audio from different feeds into a transmitter, which is then received and decoded at over 13 ‘nodes’ across the park to then be distributed into individual amplifiers for local playback at each ride or area. Global inputs like emergency microphones and messaging can then duck the BGM in various zones or the whole park to ensure that they are heard. The system works two ways, so each node can also supply the master with an input (such as a DJ in the stealth caravan) which can then be distributed park wide.

The challenges have become less so since Show Services took on park wide sound, when the system was first installed there were interesting issues with music playing in the wrong area, but they have long since been resolved. Our main challenge is to keep the system operational and ensure that the hundreds of speakers across the resort are maintained. You’ll have noticed many speakers or zones coming back online over the past year, keep your ears peeled for more!

We've enjoyed hearing some of the new IMAScore music across the resort, can you tell us a bit more how you commission new music with IMAScore, Does the resort approach them with them with a mood or feeling they want conveyed, or do you provide them with a tune to produce?

Thorpe Park Resort has always had fantastic soundtracks and so changing any of these will always be a big task which can’t be undertaken lightly.  After a number of years playing pop music, we felt it was time to develop a new sound for the island which needed an iconic and striking melody which could then be used as a leitmotif across all areas and rides. We have a terrific relationship with IMAScore and the process of commissioning the new sound was very carefully executed. It involved many different people from the resort and we met with IMAScore regularly to discuss our ideas and requirements for the right sound. Each track undergoes much scrutiny, change and development from our marketing, entertainment and show services teams before we approve it and play it out on the resort. We need music that will captivate our regular visitors (like you guys) with nods and hints to music from our extensive history, but we also need music which sounds fresh, current and exciting for guests who may only visit us once. The music has to augment the territories across the island to really immerse guests in our world.  The great thing about working with IMAScore along with our own park creatives is that we can together create something as bonkers as The Big Top and on the other end of the scale, something relaxing, subtle and serene like the theme for the Shark Hotel which also plays at the end of the day.

We have to ask! - any plans to release more of the IMAScore music for guests to buy?

Our music project is ongoing and we are thoroughly enjoying hearing the reviews and the positive feedback whenever our guests hear something new on the island. You’ll have noticed that we’re keeping the music very close to us, as we really want our guests to experience the music as it was intended, on the Island Like No Other. For that reason, historically we have never officially released any of our attraction music that has played on the resort, but as the old saying goes, never say never.

It's great to see the queue line TVs return along with the big screens at the entrance, in the dome and across the resort being utilised more - are there more plans for these?

We are very passionate about digital signage and displays and have gone to great lengths to keep Thorpe Park Resort at the forefront of signage technology. You won’t see a windows desktop or blue screen of death on this island, and we are always looking at new and exciting ways to utilise the many screens we manage across the park. We’re thrilled that you’ve noticed the re-established queue line screens as we’re always keen to keep guests entertained when queueing for our attractions. We are always looking to utilise our screens more and more, and hope you’ll always see something different every time you visit. Can you remember what the queue times used to look like on the two totems? We are constantly evolving and updating and this will never stop!

Moving onto Fright Nights, when does planning / construction of the Fright Night attractions start in preparation for the event?

This is a great one. I think everybody believes there is a date where FRIGHT NIGHTS preparation begins but in reality, it never stops for us. As soon as the last guest has left the island in November and we begin to strip out the mazes, we are already planning and preparing for the year ahead. We take on board all of the feedback, the reviews and the guest experiences to get to work instantly on how to make the next year bigger and better. And trust me, this year is going to be big! We love bringing FRIGHT NIGHTS to life and as a newly formed team (we established in 2016) we have an exciting future!

What's been your favourite Fright Night attraction to work on to date?

That’s easy. The Big Top in 2016 was a fantastic attraction to conceptualise and build. We spent a long time putting together ideas for the ultimate refresh of a great idea which had its setbacks in 2015. Thorpe Park has built mazes and horror attractions for 15 years and we wanted to put together the best bits to make The Big Top both terrifying and great fun at the same time. Combine that with a brilliantly wacky soundtrack and we were thrilled with the positive response it had.

We've seen the resort start to introduce more scare experiences outside including Platform 15, The Blair Witch and the original Big Top - are extra measures required to ensure the outdoor attractions remain as immersive as possible within such a busy environment?

Absolutely. It’s relatively easy to build suspense and atmosphere indoors, where it is always pitch black and you can use corners and walls to great effect. Outdoors, even if it is the dead of night, there are so many variables and it can be much more difficult to immerse guests in a story when they are outdoors in a busy theme park. What we love about Platform 15 is its remote location, at the back of the park away from the rides and attractions. You really feel like you’re out in the middle of nowhere and that in itself is chilling, but making the experience truly terrifying is the real challenge, something that we are very focused on for 2017.


 Are there any other events you'd like to work on at the resort in the future such as Fireworks?

The great thing about theme parks is that they are ever changing. Thorpe Park Resort has played host to summer festivals, televised concerts and fireworks displays in the past and there is nothing we would be opposed to developing for our guests. My team is made up of professionals with backgrounds in theatre, film, TV and live events so we are well positioned to deliver the needs of the Island as they change and develop. Whenever you’re driving past the park and you see Stealth lit up in the night sky, that’s the Show Services team letting you know that we’re here, and we’re excited for the future!

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