The themed show, as I’ve noted, is something that happens within the guest. It isn’t the setting, the music, the performance or the story being told… it is the guests’ experience of these things. Thus the true name of the show is not, ‘Main Street, USA’, but ‘Your Experience of Main Street, USA’.
Success, then, is measured by the extent to which the guest’s lose themselves in the story and environment, reacting creatively and spontaneously to the situation created around them. But an arena puts space… lots of it… between the guest and the action. It surrounds the guest with other guests and distractions that can take them out of the story.
This past week, Prof. Young and I were treated by the kind management of Arabian Nights Dinner Attraction to their Royal Celebration VIP Package. This premium add-on to their normal offering, available to any guest willing to invest the extra time and money, turned our evening from a common arena dinner show into an exciting and inspiring experience.
Our evening began with a tour behind-the-scenes to meet the cast of Arabian Nights. A handsome equestrian named Orlando was our guide for a detailed tour of the backstage stables, where the horses are kept and prepared for each night’s performance.
Having worked around horses all his young life, Orlando’s affection for and knowledge of his four-legged co-stars was evident as he walked our small group up and down the row of stalls. Each horse was introduced and named and then he’d share a bit of background about the animal – its heritage, preferences and foibles.
I have a low tolerance for scripted tours… but Orlando – and his fellows – are the real thing. They know whereof they speak, handle questions with ease and are truly ‘there’. Such talent can only be manifest when the powers-that-be hire the right people and treat them with respect and dignity.
Arabian Nights counts about 50 horses in their company, of which roughly half perform in any one show. They are treated like the stars they are, never having to perform too much or on too many consecutive days. Some stalls were empty during our tour, because the residents were out enjoying some R&R elsewhere.
Everything about the backstage area demonstrated the care and affection that the company showers on their equine cast. And it was obvious to this reporter that the same value is put on the show’s human stars.
Everyone we met on our tour went out of their way to be as friendly and welcoming as possible. This carried over into the show itself and the wait staff. Obviously, the folks in charge here know that their greatest asset is their people and that feeling was reflected everywhere, from everyone.
The true effect of our backstage tour, though, really came into play during the show itself…
I’d visited Arabian Nights before; the first time was just after opening, almost 25 years ago. The show was impressive, though I found the ‘Princess and the Genie’ show script a little too precious. The next time was about 15 years later and the Genie was now younger and funnier. With their newly revised show, the Genie is now an attractive young woman (what we at Six Flags used to call, ‘Something for the Daddies’), but the plot hasn’t changed that much. It’s a serviceable framework for the show.
There was some kind of plot device about an evil potion, and a dire moment for our princess… which was curiously interrupted for an aerial act, that ended almost before it started.
My only other gripe was an extended moment where we, the paying royalty, were called on to demonstrate how we planned to cheer the hero and boo the villain in the upcoming chariot race… again and again and again. Such needless cheer-leading isn’t ‘audience participation’… it’s a waste of time. Other attractions may try to build an evening around such nonsense, but, thankfully, Arabian Nights moves briskly along and keeps the focus on their strength.
It’s a celebration of horses and horsemanship, from start to finish.
And that is why the evening was enhanced immeasurably by our preshow experience. Having met the cast, seen the backstage plant, and gained such insight into the operation, each spectacular segment had greater meaning for us. We knew these horses… they weren’t just an anonymous herd… And besides, it was fun picking out the performers we’d met on our tour, watching as they appeared in different roles, demonstrating the different styles of horsemanship and their many and varied skills.
If you’ve got a horse fan in your family, the Arabian Nights show is sure to be a hit with them. Of course it can’t hurt that the food and service is first rate (which can hardly be said for some of its competitors).
And if you can handle the upcharge, I recommend springing for the Royal VIP Package. Besides complimentary bar drinks and a broader menu (including a fine piece of prime rib), you’ll get more – a lot more – out of your evening!