This is a very personal post - my personal spooky bedtime story, so to speak. Halloween has played a huge part in my career and therefore has a very special place in my heart.
You could say Halloween is my favorite time of the year, even though I grew up in a country that doesn't really celebrate it and I'm not the biggest horror film fan. My first contact with Halloween was through theme park events.
The very beginning...
In my first theme park job ever, I danced and sang in a werewolf costume in a Halloween musical called WITCHBOARD.
(Yes, that's me in the picture! And yes, the costume was VERY hot.)
In my first operational theme park job, I was team leader of the largest maze at HALLOWEEN HORROR FEST at MOVIE PARK GERMANY. This is where my "behind the scenes - career" began, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity.
(Yes, I look like I'm 12 years old in that picture and no, I have no idea what I'm looking at!)
The first theme park show I ever directed took place at the same event. THE OBSESSION was a wonderfully spooky jukebox-musical, written and conceived by Jörg Kraft. Put together on a very tight budget in an extremely short amount of time, it taught me to be efficient and on point and I'll always cherish it for that.
And then things got crazy...
Europa-Park had me involved with A LOT of Halloween-related projects, beginning with MYSTERIA, conceived and directed by Ian Jenkins. The show (and budget) was huge, utilizing pyrotechnics, lasers, fireworks, water screens, fountains and more than 30 performers on a 40 meter stage. Managing the project from beginning to end taught me a lot - not least the value of hot drinks at outdoor night rehearsals in October.
2018 had me writing, directing and producing a Halloween-themed character show called THE GHOSTLY FUNFAIR. I loved taking on the challenge of creating a budget- and family-friendly show which was performed in bright daylight on an outdoor stage that made set changes impossible. Not the easiest conditions for a Halloween show.
In the end, we made it work, and we even managed to throw in an animatronic and two magic tricks that baffled not just the kids.
2019 offered me the challenge of creating a Rock 'n' Roll-themed Halloween song & dance show called BREAKOUT! - with a limited budget on the same stage in the same challenging conditions. I went an unusual route, stayed away from skulls and zombies and placed the action in an exotic setting with a story about an (unnamed - but maybe a bit familiar looking) explorer lifting the legendary "Curse of Rock 'n' Roll". I had great fun creating this show and adding several pop-culture and theme park show references!
Halloween on wheels
And OF COURSE, I can't write about Halloween without mentioning one of my favorite projects to date - the EUROPA-PARK HALLOWEEN PARADE. For 5 years, I oversaw the project as creative producer, show director, show writer and creative lead.
More than 100 performers, drivers and technicians, a worldwide-unique pyrotechnics float, the challenge of a spooky but still family-friendly parade operating in daylight as well as in darkness and up to 12.000 guests per performance are just a few things that made this project challenging and extra special.
Since then, I have worked on IP-based and non-IP-based storylines and concepts for mazes and events for several clients, including a large theme park chain in North-East Germany. I've always looked at Halloween-related activities as an opportunity to immerse guests deeply into the story, bring them face to face with their fears and in touch with their emotions and thereby create a deeply fulfilling experience with an extra thrill - all within a safe environment.
My professional theme park journey started with Halloween - and though I've done (and enjoy doing) a lot of other creative projects in several genres - I will always keep creating scary adventures!
So that's my spooky bedtime story...
To all of my colleagues out there working this year: Please have a safe and frightfully fun time!
And to everybody else, I look forward to enjoying your future creations, reading about them, collaborating with you on them and most of all - when the time comes to provide safe adventures again - seeing thousands and thousands of people enjoying them!
Times may be scary right now, but remember that this won't stop us forever!
Because nobody does scary better than we do!
About the author:
Julian Sylva is the founder of Julian Sylva Creative. He provides storytelling and consulting services for the themed entertainment industry. Being a writer, show director, creative producer and project leader gives him a unique perspective on blending creative ideas with their affordable realization. He is based in Hamburg, Germany, and a lifelong enthusiast of theme parks and immersive experiences. To contact Julian, please send a message to: firstname.lastname@example.org