'Eventertainment' - how to animate your events
Despite their alleged rudeness and famed 'in-hospitability', the French have a knack for telling it like it is. And they have fewer words for things. Having done French A-level (a fairly pointless exercise, it turns out) I have first hand experience of the fact that French is quite rigid and doesn't seem to evolve that freely. I suppose a good example of this is the relatively modern term 'the weekend', for which the French equivalent is... err... 'Le weekend'. Anyway, I'm not having a pop at the French, in fact, quite the opposite. The point of my off the cuff pontificating is this. The word 'entertainment' doesn't exist in France. Seriously. They have an altogether more appropriate word, which gives the whole genre a deserved sense of purpose, “L'animation”. If you think about it, 'entertainment' comes across as a somewhat generalistic and potentially frivolous word, belittling something which should be the most powerful and emotive aspect of your event – the illusive 'animation' factor.
A wonderful venue in a great location with exceptional (and plentiful) catering is no longer a ‘nice to have’, it's essential. A great event in an inaccessible location runs the risk of being a non-event and, likewise, a great event with shit food is just an event with…erm…shit food. You can't cut corners, especially in the age of social media. The opportunity far outweighs the risk though and, for this reason, event entertainment (sorry, 'animation' or, even better, my new word ‘eventertainment’!) is more important than ever. Presuming the core elements of your event are covered (via londonlaunch.com, remember?), it's well worth giving some serious thought to animating your event. It's no longer about picking random acts either because a disjointed series of 'entertainers' looks a little, well, disjointed in this sophisticated era of new generation experiential and immersive activity. That's where the professional animation agents come into the equation. Not only do they know (and have access to) all the best acts out there, but they also have the experience to know what works and, perhaps most importantly, whether it would work at your particular event. In the digital age there's a real temptation to seek out individual entertainers rather than go through a reputable agent and, whereas that can save you money, it almost never pays off. My advice would be to seek out a reputable agent (via londonlaunch.com of course!) and talk them through your brand, your guest-list and what your objectives are. My earliest memory of a truly interactive, immersive and well orchestrated event was my dad's (pretty elaborate) 50th, organised by my mum, ably assisted by Lady Elizabeth Anson of Party Planners (see my article on Downton Abbey and entertaining in Stately Homes for more details about her). Amongst a myriad of Alton Towers and Battersea Power Station themed acts (one magician systematically tore chunks out of the Evening Standard who had recently lambasted my father for daring to turn Battersea into the world's greatest entertainment destination instead of a housing estate and ended up pouring Champagne out of a 3D newspaper model of Battersea Power Station, chimneys and all) there was one, simple highlight that guests still talk about to this day! My mother had secretly submitted a brief (rude) anecdote about each guest, along with a photo, to the operator of the 'butler' who also happened to be a robot, greeting guests at the door. This operator took his position in the attic of the house, which gave him a unique vantage point from which he could identify guests and, through a mouth-piece, greet them with suitably offensive personal insights much to their bewilderment. This was pure magic as nobody could imagine how this robot butler knew so much about their personal lives (much to everyone’s amusement) or, more to the point, how this simple trick was executed. The simple ideas are always the best ones and that's still true today. Hi-tech entertainment can be sensational, but it can also be unnecessary and gimmicks almost always backfire because audiences are not only not stupid but they are also dangerously sophisticated when it comes to entertainment these days. In the age of XBox, TV on demand and instant access to everything, all the time, it takes something fundamentally spectacular to stir a lasting and positive emotion in a party guest. But it's so worth trying because the results can be dramatic.
Whilst we're at it, there's another entertainment-based experience that I remember vividly. When I was sixteen I attended a European theme park summit with my father and a friend of his, Count Someone-or-other, who had a beautiful (yet bizarre) theme park in the heart of a forest in Holland. After a fun fuelled day, the Count threw an awesome party, which, I have to say, was the least health and safety compliant event of all time – and all the better for it! For starters, it was a Hawaiian party, where the compulsory attire was swimwear, oiled by (equally compulsory) and copious amounts of alcohol. In a water-park! And the Count thought it would be hilarious to get me to demonstrate his new 'reverse water slide' which started under water and which had, not the customary height restriction for young 'riders', but a pre-requisite that one had to be able to 'hold one's breath for more than 20 seconds!'. Imagine that at Centreparcs? Anyway, that's not the entertainment part. Oh no, that’s another league altogether. There was a buffet dinner that night, in the park, but it is without doubt the most memorable dining experience I have ever had the pleasure of attending. Whilst we approached the buffet table, silk clad inanimate arms poking through the table sprang to life and dolloped spoonfuls of food onto each unsuspecting guest's plate, startling every one of us! But it gets better. Every now and again, one of the hands would drop their spoon, grab someone's Hawaiian lay (hung around all guest's necks for a reason, it transpired) and pull their faces into strategically placed bowls of blancmange! Pure genius and all it was, was staff hidden under the tressle tables, poking their arms through perfectly sized holes in the table above aided and abetted by CCTV to choose their victims. To round it all off (somewhat bizarrely) there was a corset-clad Madame with a horsewhip, spanking all the middle-aged men's (including my dad!) posteriors. I guess that one was mainly aimed at the adults (although I was a little disappointed to miss out on my spank, I have to say!).
Fast forward some twenty odd years and nothing’s changed. Eventertainment™ (see, I’ve trademarked it already!) is all about making party guests ‘feel’ your brand values or key messages. You can tell them what you like but if they don’t feel it, they won’t believe it. To achieve this is the art of animation. Michael Gelardi, CEO of Boisdale Entertainment backs-up this notion: “Production is key. It’s not just about the act itself, however good they may be, because what we’re striving for is the overall effect. After thirty-five years putting on acts from Lionel Richie to Take That, I’ve learnt that it’s less about putting on an act and more about putting on a show!”
Perhaps the antithesis of this 'showtime' mantra is Cirque du Soleil, for one simple reason. They have taken an age-old, somewhat 'shabby chic', tried and tested spectacle, the circus, and have somehow magically transformed, nay re-invented, the entire genre, creating a unique experience which stands, quite literally, in a world of it's own. Gelardi agrees, "Started by and for street entertainers, and animating them on stage in such an original and extraordinary way, Cirque have invented a whole new form of entertainment, popular to such an extent throughout the world that the company has become one of the largest multi-billion dollar businesses in entertainment."
With that in mind, Boisdale Entertainment have some excellent and beautifully produced shows which can be customized to fit a variety of styles of event, all with a ‘dash of originality’. Here are three of their most popular productions this season (as well as advice on how to book a world-renowned rockstar!):
- Cirque Burlesque - A unique evening of burlesque, magic and circus, all rolled into one unforgettable entertainment experience, with acts that have to be seen to be believed – and even then you still may not believe it!
- Great Gatsby meets the roaring 20’s - From Moulin Rouge to Al Capone and the Great Gatsby – all the intrigue and excitement of Chicago's Speakeasy nights blended with the stylish decadence of 1920s Paris. Music from Ragtime to Dixieland and dances from the Can Can to the Charleston and Lindy Hop. A fun evening like no other and plenty of opportunity for guests to dress up for the occasion!
- Office X-Factor - An ideal concept for motivational or team building events as well as parties with a difference. Almost everyone has a hidden talent, which they would love the opportunity to show off! Contestants are chosen from the company employees, teams or party guests, and preferably auditioned and coached prior to performance. Celebrity Judges can be arranged (budget permitting) although I’m not sure if that extends to the ‘Judges Houses’ stage!
- The Big Time – With a combined 100 years in the music business, Boisdale Entertainment have the ear of all the big acts and their agents. If you want anyone from Beyonce to Miley Cyrus, they’ll not only get them for you but they’ll get them for the going rate (as opposed to the hugely inflated rate they’d go for with un-known agents because ‘un-known’ often translates as ‘un-reputable’ and the big players simply don’t take that chance). And thats if they even pick up the phone in the first place!
Sternberg Clarke are true pioneers of the ‘animation factor’. In fact, it was MD, Adam Sternberg, who first identified the French penchant for ‘L’animation’ and he prides himself on setting out to create a ‘feeling’ as opposed to just a spectacle. Naturally, he’s a master of both and here are his top tips on how achieve this:
- “Branding – One of the things we’ve found to be really popular over the last few months is incorporating branding into entertainment. Colour schemes, logos and slogans can become part of an act’s performance and we always look forward to working with clients to come up with innovative ways to get their message across in an event. That could be achieved with programmable pixel poi juggling shows, branded costumes or even introducing elements of a company’s advertising campaigns into an event. Some more Ideas on Branding from our Blog.
- Combining Performers – Clients often come to us for something completely unique and original –but time and budget constraints sometimes mean that we’re not able to create bespoke shows for every event. We’ve found a great way to provide something new and different is to bring together clever, unusual combinations of acts for collaborations. Handbalancer, AcroFelipe has worked with our cello duo, we’ve had a singer pianist Kyan accompany a breathtaking Roue Cyr display and we’ve even combined beatbox and gospel for a wedding. See more collaborations here
- Classical Music as the Main Event – we work with so many incredible classical musicians but they’re generally used for background music during drinks receptions or dinner. We wanted to put the spotlight back on classical music and make it a performance in its own right so with that in mind, we put together a group of the UK’s most talented young performers called The Recitalists to give the events industry a choice of astonishing, virtuosic classical musicians for events. We’ve had a great response already and we’re looking forward to taking the concept further in the coming months.
- Technology – We’ve had a great deal of interest in our iPad magician and digital caricaturists since we launched them this year. Tablet computers have become such a part of our lives these days that when people see them do something unexpected it’s a real surprise. Digital caricaturists and digital surfaces also allow greater connectivity thorough social media – we can tweet/email/post to facebook caricatures from iPads or guests doodles from a graffiti wall immediately from an event. See more High Tech Ideas Here
- Minimal Equipment – On the other end of the technological scale, we’ve also found that client really appreciate acts who can put on a show with minimal fuss. Whether that’s unplugged bands like Wandering Hands or The Watling Street Band or freestanding aerial performers like hoop artist Luna, any act that can turn up unencumbered by the usual tangle of wires and cables usually goes down pretty well with events planners. These acts are especially good for smaller, more intimate events. See more acoustic acts here. “
But for those who really want to push the boat out (so to speak), how about creating an interactive and imersive enviroment by bringing a fully operational spa to your event!? It's not (quite) as crazy as it seems...
Splash and Tickle created the world's first pop-up Spa in 2004 and have been providing event organisers with their unique (and highly entertaining) concept ever since for a whole variety of events and parties throughout Europe.
Their unique system comprises a selection of modular spa units including party hot tubs, pool, saunas, steam pods, foot spas and changing facilities. These features are joined by their massage, complementary therapy and bar services in completing this divine mobile holistic experience, which can be completely white labeled or fully branded. And it’s not as crazy as you may think! Brands including Monster Energy, Moto GP, Le Mans, Cowes Week and Playboy (OK, so you saw that one coming!) have all worked with Splash and Tickle. They even created a stunning island setting within a nature reserve at Holland's biggest dance festival as well as a magical VIP hot tub zone at Global Gathering!
What’s more, guests who don't want to get into the ‘wet zone’ in swimwear can enjoy a relaxing foot spa of head and neck massage whilst enjoying a glass of champagne! Everyone’s a winner!
These days, entertainment is best if you can fully immerse yourself in it, whether that’s metaphorically via a reputable ‘animation agent’ or, more literally, in a Splash and Tickle hot tub! The point is that you want your guests to be talking, tweeting, sharing and raving about how your event made them feel because this is ultimately going to be the measure of your success.
Animate your event and make your target audience feel your brand...
Right, where are my speedos?