Monday, August 2, 2021

California’s Great America WinterFest: Transforming a theme park into a holiday wonderland.

On the heels of the successful Halloween Haunt, Cedar Fair introduced WinterFest in 2016 at California’s Great America, located in the heart of Silicon Valley. With millions of lights and thousands of decorations, the nighttime holiday event expanded the park’s operating calendar and provides additional incentive for both day and season pass holders to visit. WinterFest has expanded to six additional Cedar Fair parks, including Canada’s Wonderland, which introduced the event this year.

InPark’s Joe Kleiman interviewed Bradly Irish, the new Entertainment Manager at California’s Great America about implementing this year’s festivities.

Tell us a bit about your work history prior to your current position at Great America.

I’ve spent 11 years in the theme park industry, most recently at Six Flags America. I have also worked with parks in Dubai and China.

How has your previous work experience prepared you for your current job at the park?

Working with parks across the country and around the world has given me a unique perspective. I have worked with different companies and seen different cultures, and I am able to approach entertainment and events with added creativity and address issues in ways I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Where I’ve been and what I’ve done has allowed me to have the widest field of view possible. The deeper our understanding of different cultures is, the more we can infuse that knowledge into shows and songs and the culture of Great America.

What is the timeline for the event – both for design and installation?

WinterFest is a year-round undertaking. Planning for this year’s WinterFest began before the event even wrapped up last year. We met year-round to discuss what worked best and how to streamline this year’s design and installation. We had less than a month to switch from Halloween Haunt to WinterFest and worked strategically throughout the season to find ways to install WinterFest components out in the park while keeping them hidden from Haunt guests.

SLIDESHOW (photos by Joe Kleiman):
WinterFest is a huge collaborative effort between entertainment and a number of other park departments (operations, retail, food service, etc). How do the various departments work together in the overall development and implementation of the event?

Initially, it’s daunting, but everybody has a willingness and desire to be part of something big at California’s Great America. I feel lucky to be part of a team that allows us to coordinate so closely and keep such open lines of communication. Each department brings unique assets to events like WinterFest.

What role does PEANUTS Worldwide play in developing the WinterFest PEANUTS shows?

Most shows are initially concepted by Great America and then the PEANUTS crew takes that idea and brings it to life. Over the past four seasons of WinterFest, both teams have worked together to refine any returning shows, which has continually elevated the event. We feel lucky to have such a great partnership with PEANUTS Worldwide.

How do you recruit talent for WinterFest?

We keep talented associates with our team by engaging them in new ways event after event. We often have associates working a technical position in one event and performing in another. I love having associates on the team who will help build and create a show and then perform in it. The ultimate performer is taking part in all aspects of the show.

Since WinterFest is now at a number of Cedar Fair parks, which elements are used throughout the chain and which are unique to Great America?

Across the board, Cedar Fair parks share foundational best practices, like our learnings on installation, implementation and execution. Since Great America was the first park in the system to hold WinterFest, many of the elements used at other parks were developed right here.

What elements cater to the unique design or audience of the park?

Incorporating high-tech elements into WinterFest is especially fun, since we live in such a tech-focused area. Our guests love seeing new tech in the park, like video walls and unique lighting.

Is there any particular part of WinterFest of which you’re especially proud?

Seeing WinterFest open for the first time this year was a proud moment. Being new in my role, I recognize how big of an undertaking this event is, and I am incredibly proud to be part of a team that can deliver such a world-class event.

What are some of the changes and additions we can look forward to next year?

WinterFest at California’s Great America is a large investment that continues to grow each season as we add more lights, shows and attractions. Although we can’t share specifics about next year’s WinterFest yet, we can promise even more fun. We’re always looking to take the event to the next level with new entertainment, added lights and more holiday cheer.

Joe Kleimanhttp://www.themedreality.com
Raised in San Diego on theme parks, zoos, and IMAX films, Joe Kleiman would expand his childhood loves into two decades as a projectionist and theater director within the giant screen industry. In addition to his work in commercial and museum operations, Joe has volunteered his time to animal husbandry at leading facilities in California and Texas and has played a leading management role for a number of performing arts companies. Joe has been News Editor and contributing author to InPark Magazine since 2011. HIs writing has also appeared in Sound & Communications, LF Examiner, Jim Hill Media, and MiceChat. His blog, ThemedReality.com takes an unconventional look at the attractions industry. Follow on twitter @themedreality Joe lives in Sacramento, California with his fiancé, two dogs, and a ghost.

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