Revenue / 10.29.18
Halloween Events Offer Treats, Tricks and Tradition
There's no denying that Halloween has become big business in the United States. Overall, the National Retail Federation estimates that roughly $9 billion will be spent on the Oct. 31 holiday. Sensing opportunity, venues around the country have crafted Halloween-themed events that have proven to be hot ticket sellers.
We went behind the scenes with some creative venues to peer into their diverse “spooktacular” offerings.
Bringing Halloween Classics to Life
For the Halloween season, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Southern California makes use of its famous organ each year by presenting a classic silent horror film with its original organ score performed live. This year's pick was "Nosferatu," which followed staples like "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde" and "The Phantom of the Opera" in previous Octobers at the venue. Joe Carter, Director of Sales and Customer Experience at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, isn’t looking to end this tradition any time soon.
"The organ was installed in 2004,” said Carter. “To help launch the first season with the organ, this event was developed. It was an immediate success, and we have continued to present these films ever since. They continue to sell out every year."
The Philadelphia Orchestra also offers spooky Halloween musical extravaganzas each fall. Vice President of Communications Ashley Berke was especially high on “Halloween Tricks and Treats,” part of the Orchestra's Family Concert series.
"This year's event takes the audience on an eerie tour of the Mexican traditions of Día de los Muertos, including music from the popular Disney/Pixar film ‘Coco.’ Family Concerts are a long-standing tradition of the Orchestra, offering fun and engaging programs for young people. Each year, families are invited to come in costume to this 'spooktacular' Halloween concert."
Carter and his colleagues have the benefit of being part of the Hollywood entertainment community, and they use it to their full advantage each year.
"At the Hollywood Bowl, our partners Andy Hewitt and Bill Silva from Live Nation recently have presented 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' with orchestra for three nights,” said Carter. “Danny Elfman conducts, and actors provide the voices live, including original cast members from the film. They have done this three of the last four years."
The Colorado Symphony Association also features Halloween season screenings of "The Nightmare Before Christmas," albeit without the big stars and Elfman. Regardless, it still fills seats.
"With a tremendous product, audiences return year after year for these performances," said Nick Dobreff, Manager of Publicity and Community Relations at the Colorado Symphony Association. "The Colorado Symphony is a cultural cornerstone in the Denver community. We're thrilled to be a part of the city's holiday traditions throughout the year, including during the Halloween season."
Theatre Professionals Know How to Put on a Haunted House
Other venues actually become the Halloween event itself. One of the best known is The Gateway Performing Arts Center of Suffolk County in New York. Each October and early November, the entire theater is transformed into a haunted house, and the venue is temporarily renamed the Gateway Haunted Playhouse. The popular annual event is now in its tenth year, but Executive Artistic Director Paul Allan said it had modest beginnings.
"The first [haunted house] was a small event," said Allan. "We opened it on a whim almost. But we saw so much interest that the next year, we put more effort into setting it up and promoting it, and we pretty much tripled our business. In our third year, we doubled again. It became a good recipe for giving people what they want.
"People look at haunted houses from the outside and think, 'Oh, that's pretty easy: Get a bunch of people with creepy makeup on, they pop out and scare you, and you make a lot of money.' But there's so much more to it. Coming from a theatre background, I've spent my whole life putting on productions, going through casting sessions, selecting the right actors, and hiring the right scene designers, props and makeup people. There is so much that goes into a stage show, so we brought all that expertise to putting on a haunted house. Not only do we know how to do it from an artistic standpoint, but we also have the resources within our own employee community. People who work for us throughout the year stay on and look forward to Halloween, because they can be even more creative than putting on the Broadway-type shows."
Getting to the 'Roots' of Halloween
To be sure, venues have to have a hook to draw people in when there is so much competition each year for spooky thrills and chills. Erin Bird, Communications Manager for the Denver Botanic Gardens, delights in offering several Halloween events.
"Our Chatfield Farms location in Denver’s south suburbs has had a Corn Maze — nighttime haunted — and a Pumpkin Festival for many years. The York Street location in Denver has presented Glow at the Gardens, a real pumpkin sculpture event, for four years. We also do after-dark Ghost in the Gardens tours that share stories of our haunted history and staff supernatural encounters."
Bird noted that many elements of Halloween have botanical connections, including pumpkins, corn, apples and cider. As a result, it has been an easy connection to the Gardens’ programming and event design.
"Our mission is to connect people to plants, and we love to highlight botanical beauty in all seasons. Our education department designs classes for kids and families that explore how pumpkins and apples grow and how they are used in some favorite fall foods."
The Gardens has also celebrated Día de los Muertos (Day of Dead) for the past eight years running, appealing to Denver's growing Hispanic population and others, said Bird.
"We have an art exhibit of Catrina sculptures on view throughout the Gardens and host a special one-day celebration that features community altars, Aztec dancers, kids crafts, face painting, food, Lucha Libre wrestling, a candle lighting ceremony and more. Admissions to the Gardens and the event are free on Saturday, Nov. 3."
Raising Awareness and Assessing Year-Round Impact
Of course, these events would be nothing without proper advertising and marketing. Carter and his staff primarily promote their events via digital advertising and social content. Berke, meanwhile, said both the “Halloween Tricks and Treats” Family Concert and an annual “Organ and Orchestra Halloween” concert have been promoted through email, direct mail, outdoor posters and social media advertising — including onsite coverage.
Some, though, still find there to be surprising challenges. Allan's marketing team have long been confounded that the haunted house would attract a completely different crowd than those who typically come to the venue during the rest of the year for musicals and plays.
"We really had to learn a whole new marketing strategy that targets the people who do go to haunted houses. It's more of a concert crowd, a bar crowd and young teenagers. Social media has been a really big help."
Putting on Halloween events each fall has been a way to build community connections and just have fun. Berke shares how The Philadelphia Orchestra’s Halloween events brings in venue fans old and new.
"It's exciting to be part of the vibrancy of Philadelphia's arts offerings around Halloween. The classical repertoire lends itself well to the festivities, and these concerts provide a great introduction to the Orchestra for patrons who may not be familiar with our work as well as those who enjoy coming to our concerts all year long."
Lead image taken by Jessica Griffin.
Tags: Music, Social Media, Theater, Digital Marketing, Arts, Broadway