Tidewater Women’s Fran Ward talked with Busch Gardens’ Phil Raybourn as he was preparing for the opening of the annual, frightful Howl-O-Scream!
TW: Good morning, Phil. I contacted Busch Gardens to ask about the artistry and creativity of Howl-O-Scream. I’m an artist, and I like people to know that things don’t have to be serious. I think you’re in that world, too.
PR: I am! Yes. I agree with you totally on that.
TW: Let me ask first, “Who are you?”
PR: That’s a question that’s plagued my parents for years! My title here at the park is Senior Manager of Show Production. Sometimes I direct. Sometimes I write. Sometimes I design. I’m also the casting director. I tip many hats in many realms.
TW: What is your background? How did you come to wear so many hats?
PR: I taught for 15 years in Texas.
TW: What did you teach?
PR: English for two years. Then I ran the theatre department. My background is in acting. I was a professional actor for a while. That prepared me to transition into this position.
TW: I called Busch Gardens because I saw “London Rocks” at the park. It was such a fabulous production. Did you have anything to do with it?
PR: I was our show producer on that for the park.
TW: Congratulations. It was terrific!
PR: I’m glad you liked it.
TW: I knew that Howl-O-Scream would offer the same high-caliber entertainment. Let’s talk about the magic behind the scenes of Howl-O-Scream. It’s a Halloween event on a massive scale. How do you even start? Who gets the ideas? Who gets to make them happen?
PR: It varies from project to project. Either corporate initiates it, or an idea is internal. We take the concept once it’s approved and work with various internal and external teams to work with talented people.
TW: What kind of talent goes into it?
PR: Speaking of the haunted houses and the “Terror-tories™” in the park, that’s all internal. The sets are all designed and fabricated locally. All the shows you see here were created internally. We’re really proud of that. We’re fortunate to be able to take ownership of all of it.
Creativity is fluid. Take a maze concept, for example. Some would argue that the houses are not mazes. We build on ideas and let them evolve. We take a maze design and adapt it. Then we add character development, design a logo, and a brand. Then there’s the fabrication.
TW: And the performance?
PR: Yes, the performance! Everything we do has to do with art. We keep adding layers of details. For example, we add to the Catacombs every year. We are detail-oriented. There is an element of Gothic architecture in our representation of the dark Underworld City of the Paris Catacombs.
TW: So you add on to the shows every year? Is there anything new this year for people who return year after year?
PR: There are seven houses—more than ever! There are three new mazes. One is a collaboration with Robin Cowier, the legendary producer of “The Blair Witch Project.” called “Unearthed—Scarlett’s Revenge.” It came from the award-winning filmmaker’s darkest corners of his mind.
TW: There must be an art to frightening people and letting them experience horrors. How do you do it?
PR: We call it “beautiful chaos.” We create an environment of uncertainty and anticipation. Then we play on people’s phobias and fears. We look at what is fear and create fear in a safe environment. You know you’re safe. We’re not trying to hurt.
TW: In your blog you say that in the Entertainment Department you pride yourselves on the small details and the “from scratch” approach to everything you do. That’s what sets your shows and events apart. Thank you for sharing your artistic and logistical insights. I always like to ask, “What would you like the readers of Tidewater Women to know?”
PR: Come see Howl-O-Scream! There’s something for everyone. If that’s not your cup of tea, come to Christmas Town!
Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream • Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from September 25 - November 1, 2015 • The park opens at 10 a.m., and the frights begin at 6 p.m. • 1 Busch Gardens Blvd., Williamsburg • 800-343-7946 • www.howloscream.com ($)