How Maze Theme Develops
How the Maze Theme Develops
It’s no secret that the employees at Cherry Crest Adventure Farm are a creative bunch. Not only can you see it in the signage and aesthetics around the farm, but we’ve been open for 20 years now and not ONCE have we repeated a maze theme! We get asked quite often how we choose the theme each year, and truly it’s a fascinating journey.
Believe it or not, we start planning for the next year’s maze theme before the current season even ends! This is because we like to work as much as we can over the winter. The sooner we can nail down a theme and what we call “maze play,” the sooner we can start bringing our ideas to life. We form a sub-committee of supervisors who meet frequently in the fall to come up with maze theme ideas.
The Ongoing List
Going back as early as 2002, we’ve kept an ongoing list here in the office of possible maze theme ideas. The list isn’t always physically written down, but generally bounces around our discussions as we brainstorm for the next season. Even after we’ve decided on a theme for the year, the list sticks around. It’s not unusual for an idea to be tabled for a few seasons and then show up several years later. For example, the “Batter Up” and “High Seas Adventure” themes were all on the table for the 2011 maze theme. When we selected “Once Upon a Time” for that year, the other ideas were put on the back burner for the moment and then brought up as possible ideas for the 2012 theme.
Sometimes the themes are planned out a few years at a time, to make the selection process easier. This is what happened in the years leading up to our 20th season. The idea of bringing back the train theme to celebrate our 20th season was put in place as early as 2011—four years before the actual theme came to pass!
So where do you begin to look for new and exciting maze themes? Well, there’s a couple of places that we start when it comes to our maze theme ideas. One place we look is at upcoming famous “birthdays” or anniversaries. For example, 2014 was the 50th anniversary of the 1st Beatles album (Introducing the Beatles), which is what sparked our “Music Through the Decades” theme. In 2010, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America with our theme “Outdoor Adventure.” The 2003 maze featured “100 ‘Ears’ of Flight,” in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk.
Another place we look at for theme ideas is within our own community. Our 2005 maze theme was in honor of the anniversary of the movie Witness, which was filmed right here in Lancaster County. In 2009 we partnered with the Lancaster County Visitor’s Bureau to bring you “Visit PA All in One Day!” Our first two mazes featured a steam locomotive (in honor of the Strasburg Rail Road) and a horse pulling a buggy—both designs are icons of the Lancaster area.
There have been numerous times over the past 5-6 years where we’ve reached out to YOU, our social media fans, for your ideas about a future maze theme—and we often go back to those lists when we’re looking for new ideas! Sometimes you get stuck in a rut when it comes to brainstorming, and it feels like there aren’t any new ideas out there anymore. We have a lot of creative fans who always have wonderful suggestions!
Of course, we’re looking for a fun theme that can engage guests of all ages. “Universal” themes like the “Old MacDonald” maze, the “Once Upon a Time” theme, and the “Wild, Wild West” are known to millions of people across the whole world. A few of our themes have told a story along the way, like the “Lost in Oz” maze (based on L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz) and the “Farm-Food-Fun” maze (in which guests were secret agents searching for the missing pyramid).
After the Maze Committee has met a few times, they bring their top ideas back to the supervisory team for discussion and a vote (if necessary). In some years, we’ve surveyed our employees to find out which theme they think is most exciting and most desirable. This is a great way for us to get feedback from an outside point-of-view – sometimes when you’re in the thick of planning, you aren’t thinking about logistics or how a theme may be perceived. It’s always helpful to have others give their input! Sometimes the theme can be decided on the spot among the supervisors with only a short discussion, while other times we may “sleep on it” and return to the decision a few weeks later. In the case of choosing the 2016 theme (“Thank a Farmer!”), the Maze Committee had a few other “lesser” maze theme ideas, but had decided within itself that this was the year to “return to our roots” and present a farming and agricultural theme. The committee presented all the maze ideas they had come up with, but it didn’t take more than a few minutes of discussion for the “Thank a Farmer!” theme to be voted in unanimously.
After the maze theme has been determined, the creativity of our Maze Committee explodes as we look for ways to bring the theme to life in the maze. We will bring lots of ideas to the table: photo op suggestions, new activities, re-branding of old activities, possible Kernels of Knowledge, and more. Some of the themes are really easy to tie into the maze play. The “Once Upon a Time” maze theme offered endless possibilities, because of the large amount of well-known fairy tales. It wasn’t a stretch to turn the rope climb into “Rapunzel’s Hair” and the cave into a “Dungeon.” Other themes require more brain-storming and thought as we contemplate how to tie them in. Once ideas are finalized, plans will be drawn up if necessary, and the shop work begins right away.
Lots of research goes into the theme as we attempt to present a well-rounded, comprehensive experience. We look at historical articles, research websites, newspaper articles, our personal experiences, and more. We look for possible trivia questions to use in our Kernels of Knowledge or to scatter around the maze. Our facts get cross-referenced with various sources and double-checked by several members of the Maze Committee. We also work to design and set up the gameboard which you will use as you go through the maze. All the aspects of the gameboard must be updated each year!
Before we know it, the end of May rolls around, and we start to see our ideas come to life! At that point, the design is carved into the maze. Our activities and “maze play” elements are also taken into the maze throughout the month of June, so that we are ready to open by the beginning of July!
Now you know how we pick our theme each year… come on out this summer and give our A-maze-ing Maize Maze a try!