BTT: What is the hardest part about being a Director of Entertainment for a company like Knott’s, and do you prefer to maintain a more directing role or a more hands-on role?
LH: The most challenging part is being the visual guide for all events, shows and the park itself. I am fortunate to have a very creative staff that develops an abundance of ideas. The key is to know what to support and what to shelve for later by considering the application, time and budget. Being from a design background, I am often hands on in developing renderings, designs, paint elevations and occasionally pitch in on the build. I prefer to utilize my employees, but it’s a nice break in routine to join them in the production.
BTT: What was your favourite gag that you have created or helped develop?
LH: The most recent would be Trapped, our Halloween Haunt interactive experience. It was a new venture for us, and turned out to be quite successful with the guests.
BTT: You can go back in time and change or alter one project. What would it be and why?
LH: Just one? Every time we hit that deadline of opening day, there is a sense of extreme satisfaction with what we have created as a team; but it’s not say we don’t learn a few things along the way. We are constantly striving to improve our product, so every remount will end up being different, whether it’s in the efficiency of build or visual upgrades. Just like a painting, you have to know when to walk away and call it finished, but that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t change anything if you painted it again.
BTT: You worked in the 3D modelling and conceptual art, etc. before moving to your current role at Knott’s. How has this helped you and what led you to the Theming Industry?
LH: My background is in Theatrical Set Design, and the process of theatrical production is the same process we use for every project. It’s a collaborative effort that uses the standards of theatre, from ground plans to paint elevations as means of communicating an idea. I understand every aspect of the process, which allows me make informed decisions when coordinating a project. Being able to realize a vision is the same in the theme park industry, whether it be as a show or a themed attraction. When I discovered this, it was a natural progression.
BTT: What is worse for a project, running out of money or running out of time?
LH: Time. I have always felt having boundaries forces us to be more creative. There are many ways to execute an idea, and money may dictate the materials, but not the end quality. Time management is extremely important in my job. To know how much time a project needs to reach our goal takes a lot of pre-planning and dependence on the crew’s ability. If the time is misjudged, you run the risk of lowering your standards or not reaching the desired completion. Time is definitely a show stopper.
BTT: How do you feel the theming/haunt industry has changed over the last 10 years and do you feel it has been for better or worse?
LH: The haunt industry has definitely grown in the last 10 years. Just like movies or theatre, people need an escape, and haunted attractions allow you to take a moment to be vulnerable in a fun way. And with the growth, the competition has been getting fierce. After being the leader for 40 years, we want to maintain our edge, so we are always looking for new ways to scare, and immerse people in the dark side for the thrill. Even we have expanded Haunt to nine of our other parks. It’s a strong industry, but the challenge is to overcome the complacency some people have due to the oversaturation of Halloween. It makes it harder to scare people when they have learned what to expect.
LH: Haunt has become a year round job, from planning to operation, however we are also responsible for every event and show Knott’s provides. The Stunt Show, Saloon, and Camp Snoopy Theatre are maintained and operated year round by my staff. We produce Ice Shows, Spring, Summer and Christmas events. I am also responsible for maintaining a vision for the park, so every sign and color you see goes through me. There’s always something to do, so there’s never a dull moment.
BTT: What is your favourite attraction or themed maze/attraction that you did not work on?
LH: It would have to be Berry Tales. It was a huge part of my childhood memories, down to boysenberry scent. I really love dark rides and always wanted to be a part of creating one. I’ve done concepts for other parks, but nothing that came to fruition. I think it’s the one element that Knott’s lacks.
BTT: What is next (that you can discuss) for Knott’s Scary Farm?
LH: We are busy planning next year and should have our concepts solidified by February. I’m excited about a whole new Trapped that will explore more of your deepest fears, bigger and more terrifying than before. I’m sure the Green Witch will make her presence known again. She seems to like taunting us in her evil ways.
BTT: In your role you have to be able to wear many hats. What is the one hat that you are not able to wear, and who do you rely on most to fill that role?
LH: I have always preferred being the “queen” of backstage, and never had a desire to be in the actual spotlight, so I would have to say all the performers that make our sets come to life. Haunt would just be a Ghost Town if it wasn’t for the monsters that inhabit it.
BTT: What does the term “Theming” or “Theme” mean to you? (i.e. theme park or themed attraction)
LH: Theming is the aesthetic atmosphere that can transport you to a different place. It’s an escape from reality, and the theming fools you to believe you are in a different world by mimicking a reality that doesn’t exist. When you sell that illusion or theme, you can tell an entire story without saying a word.