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Heritage
Actions Speak Louder

Using your attraction as a stage set and building the momentum before a big reveal can help to increase the wow factor, says the UK National Trust’s Ben Cowell

By Ben Cowell | Published in Attractions Management 2014 issue 4

Many new visitor attractions are highly theatrical in their design, so that guests experience plenty of wow factor. This is true, for example, of somewhere like the Warner Bros Studio Tour London, where visitors begin their tour of the making of Harry Potter by entering the doors onto the set of Hogwarts’ Great Hall. Similarly, the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in London is filled regularly by ­contemporary art installations, conceived on a grand scale. Experiences of these places often hinge around the reveal – the moment where the metaphorical stage curtains are drawn back and the set design is displayed for the first time.

LANDSCAPE DRAMA

But there’s nothing new about this. Artists and architects have long integrated theatrical elements into their work. Indeed, many famous 18th-century garden designers worked on the stage. Landscape designer Humphry Repton (1752-1818) had a fascination with the theatre, a narrative apparent in many of his plans for the grounds of country houses. Repton developed a unique method of illustrating his designs by means of paper flaps in the pages of his famous Red Books. The flaps showed “before and after” views of the landscapes he was commissioned to work on, so that landowners could visualise the changes he was proposing.

Sheringham Park, on England’s North Norfolk coast, was one of Repton’s favourite designs. Subtle planting schemes gave a sense of depth and vitality to the views, seen from a long drive towards the house at the centre. The drive travels along a high ridge before turning dramatically to reveal the house at Sheringham, designed by Repton’s son.

This point in the park, the sudden turn in the path, is still called the reveal, and it continues to delight thousands of visitors each year, long since the idea was first conceived in 1812. Explaining the meaning of landscapes in this way is not at all easy. At Sheringham, we’ve done it with an exhibition placing Repton’s design in its context. It is located in a converted barn at the visitor reception, and the theatrical influences on Repton’s work are evident in the layout of the exhibition itself.

 



Humphry Repton’s design shows the Sheringham Park landscape before his work and, by peeling back the flap, how it would look when completed
 


Humphry Repton’s design shows the Sheringham Park landscape before his work and, by peeling back the flap, how it would look when completed
 
 


A view of Sheringham Park in Norfolk
 
LIVING DRAMA

Heritage is such big business because it’s a principal driver for tourism around the world. Millions of people visit heritage sites every year and they do so to connect with authentic experiences of past lives.

The National Trust has been on a ­mission in recent years to reinvent its properties by breathing life back into them. No more are our properties mere relics of yesteryear, frozen and lifeless. Instead, we’re growing the appeal of our places by introducing much more interactivity and engagement. Fires are being lit, pianos are being played and visitors are encouraged to interact with what they see far more than they ever were before.

In our larger country houses, we’re trying to make people feel as though they’re house guests, able to sit on the furniture and read facsimiles of old newspapers and books – sometimes the real thing, if conservation standards allow. Sometimes actors help recreate scenes from the past.

At Ickworth House in Suffolk, UK, we’ve invested in a visitor experience that brings the basement rooms back to life. Ickworth Lives is an innovative hands-on ­experience that focuses on the period between 1911 and World War II – a time which saw huge changes in society, marking the start of the gradual decline of life in service and the role of the country house.

Visitors have the chance to explore and experience what life would have been like for the servants at this magnificent country house, home to the Bristol family for centuries. They can explore the maze of corridors and rooms, the living quarters and the kitchen where the luxurious meals were prepared for the marquess and marchioness. During Living Histories, a monthly event, actors portray servants to give visitors a taste of working life in the kitchen and basement rooms.

As the National Trust’s chair, Simon Jenkins, puts it: “The point is that you’re using the place not as a house but as a stage set for explaining history.”

 



Actors recreate servants’ daily lives during a Living Histories event the National Trust’s Ickworth House in Suffolk, UK
 


The National Trust uses actors to create a more engaging experience for its visitors
 
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Jobs . News . Products . Magazine
Heritage
Actions Speak Louder

Using your attraction as a stage set and building the momentum before a big reveal can help to increase the wow factor, says the UK National Trust’s Ben Cowell

By Ben Cowell | Published in Attractions Management 2014 issue 4

Many new visitor attractions are highly theatrical in their design, so that guests experience plenty of wow factor. This is true, for example, of somewhere like the Warner Bros Studio Tour London, where visitors begin their tour of the making of Harry Potter by entering the doors onto the set of Hogwarts’ Great Hall. Similarly, the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in London is filled regularly by ­contemporary art installations, conceived on a grand scale. Experiences of these places often hinge around the reveal – the moment where the metaphorical stage curtains are drawn back and the set design is displayed for the first time.

LANDSCAPE DRAMA

But there’s nothing new about this. Artists and architects have long integrated theatrical elements into their work. Indeed, many famous 18th-century garden designers worked on the stage. Landscape designer Humphry Repton (1752-1818) had a fascination with the theatre, a narrative apparent in many of his plans for the grounds of country houses. Repton developed a unique method of illustrating his designs by means of paper flaps in the pages of his famous Red Books. The flaps showed “before and after” views of the landscapes he was commissioned to work on, so that landowners could visualise the changes he was proposing.

Sheringham Park, on England’s North Norfolk coast, was one of Repton’s favourite designs. Subtle planting schemes gave a sense of depth and vitality to the views, seen from a long drive towards the house at the centre. The drive travels along a high ridge before turning dramatically to reveal the house at Sheringham, designed by Repton’s son.

This point in the park, the sudden turn in the path, is still called the reveal, and it continues to delight thousands of visitors each year, long since the idea was first conceived in 1812. Explaining the meaning of landscapes in this way is not at all easy. At Sheringham, we’ve done it with an exhibition placing Repton’s design in its context. It is located in a converted barn at the visitor reception, and the theatrical influences on Repton’s work are evident in the layout of the exhibition itself.

 



Humphry Repton’s design shows the Sheringham Park landscape before his work and, by peeling back the flap, how it would look when completed
 


Humphry Repton’s design shows the Sheringham Park landscape before his work and, by peeling back the flap, how it would look when completed
 
 


A view of Sheringham Park in Norfolk
 
LIVING DRAMA

Heritage is such big business because it’s a principal driver for tourism around the world. Millions of people visit heritage sites every year and they do so to connect with authentic experiences of past lives.

The National Trust has been on a ­mission in recent years to reinvent its properties by breathing life back into them. No more are our properties mere relics of yesteryear, frozen and lifeless. Instead, we’re growing the appeal of our places by introducing much more interactivity and engagement. Fires are being lit, pianos are being played and visitors are encouraged to interact with what they see far more than they ever were before.

In our larger country houses, we’re trying to make people feel as though they’re house guests, able to sit on the furniture and read facsimiles of old newspapers and books – sometimes the real thing, if conservation standards allow. Sometimes actors help recreate scenes from the past.

At Ickworth House in Suffolk, UK, we’ve invested in a visitor experience that brings the basement rooms back to life. Ickworth Lives is an innovative hands-on ­experience that focuses on the period between 1911 and World War II – a time which saw huge changes in society, marking the start of the gradual decline of life in service and the role of the country house.

Visitors have the chance to explore and experience what life would have been like for the servants at this magnificent country house, home to the Bristol family for centuries. They can explore the maze of corridors and rooms, the living quarters and the kitchen where the luxurious meals were prepared for the marquess and marchioness. During Living Histories, a monthly event, actors portray servants to give visitors a taste of working life in the kitchen and basement rooms.

As the National Trust’s chair, Simon Jenkins, puts it: “The point is that you’re using the place not as a house but as a stage set for explaining history.”

 



Actors recreate servants’ daily lives during a Living Histories event the National Trust’s Ickworth House in Suffolk, UK
 


The National Trust uses actors to create a more engaging experience for its visitors
 
 


ADVERTISE . CONTACT US

Leisure Media, Portmill House, Portmill Lane,
Hitchin, Hertfordshire SG5 1DJ Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385

©Cybertrek 2019

ABOUT LEISURE MEDIA
LEISURE MEDIA MAGAZINES
LEISURE MEDIA HANDBOOKS
LEISURE MEDIA WEBSITES
LEISURE MEDIA PRODUCT SEARCH
ATTRACTIONS MANAGEMENT NEWS
ATTRACTIONS HANDBOOK
PRINT SUBSCRIPTIONS
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