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ABBA Voyage producer hints at new venues worldwide

Svana Gisla reveals talks for duplicate productions of the smash-hit show in North America, Australia and elsewhere

By Gordon Masson on 04 Mar 2024


As one of the keynote interviews during Touring Entertainment Live (TEL) at ILMC, producer Svana Gisla gave a fascinating insight into the creation and operation of ABBA Voyage.

The smash hit show has so far has sold more than two million tickets for the shows in its purpose-built arena in London. And Gisla told delegates that the need to duplicate the tech for the groundbreaking production may soon become reality, as its owners and operators explore building more facilities to entertain fans around the world.

Gisla began by speaking about her background working for a division of Ridley Scott Films, where she was involved in making music videos for the likes of Madonna, Coldplay, the Rolling Stones, Beyoncé and Kylie Minogue among others.

Having created a company with a Swedish film director in 2015, she detailed working with David Bowie in the last six months of his life, and how she swore she would not work with music again. “Then ABBA called,” she laughed.

“In the beginning, we thought it might be a concert and a production that we could take on tour, but it cannot – that is impossible. It needed its own space, so it actually felt very normal that we would build our own arena, so I found myself going around London looking for land… and we found an old car park in the Olympic Park, infested with rats – it was perfect!”

“When you have a team of people who are all already excelling in their fields, and then they raise their game even higher, how can you fail?”

Explaining how the creation of the show happened across various pandemic lockdowns, Svana noted that the production had to marry the digital world with the physical arena. “Light is the connector – we have five different lighting systems,” she said. But she confessed that there was a fear that if they did not get everything perfect, ABBA Voyage could have become just like watching a film.

Noting another moment that had the potential to end the project, she revealed that during the motion capture element of creation, “The whole project nearly derailed when the boys found out that they would have to shave their beards.”

Costing £141 million, the entire venture was funded privately from Swedish investors. Responding to a question from moderator James Drury, Gisla stated, “The size of it did not scare me because when you have a team of people who are all already excelling in their fields, and then they raise their game even higher, how can you fail?”

Answering a question from a TEL delegate, Gisla show down suggestions that the ABBA Voyage team is working to create similar shows for other artists. Indeed, she also put the record straight about the many erroneous reports in the press about other companies claiming to be behind the show.

Gisla also ran through some of the astonishing statistics behind ABBA Voyage, saying that the show attracts 21,000 people each week and to date has sold more than two million tickets. “25% of the visitors come from overseas, and 80% of those come to London just to see ABBA,” she said noting that an economic impact study found that the production had generated £322 million for the local area in its first year.

“25% of the visitors come from overseas, and 80% of those come to London just to see ABBA”

Digging further into the numbers she said that 70% of the staff working on ABBA Voyage were hired locally, while the company does its best to be part of the community in its East London location.

“You cannot just come in and take – you have to give something back,” she said. “We do workshops for the local schools and explain to the kids how we did the show, giving them the experience behind the scenes of one of the most high tech shows ever created.”

Describing the purpose-built arena as “the least demountable demountable building,” Gisla concluded that although it is impossible to take the production on the road, its creators are in talks to duplicate the venture in the likes of the United States, Australia and elsewhere in Europe. “It’s a complicated beast, however, because you need to have one million visitors per year to make it a viable business,” she added.

Leading executives from the world’s biggest and most successful touring shows and exhibitions gathered for the inaugural TEL on the final day of this year’s sold out ILMC to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the multi-billion dollar sector.

Companies attending included ASM Global, Live Nation, FKP Scorpio, Kilimanjaro Group, Neon, Semmel Exhibitions, Fever, TEO, RoadCo Entertainment, Terrapin Station Entertainment, Cirque du Soleil, Harlem Globetrotters, Imagine Exhibitions, Broadway Live, Pophouse Entertainment, Layered Reality.

AEG Europe, Great Leap Forward, Science Museum London, lililililil, Imagine Exhibitions, Universcience, Proactiv Entertainment, Let’s Go Company, MB Presents, World on Ice, Expona, Slam Dunk Entertainment, World Concert Artists, Grand Palais Immersif, Fierylight and Opus One were also in attendance.

 


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