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It can be a wonderous place, the world of family entertainment, and particularly when it lights up your town for a night the little ones will never forget.
From extravaganzas featuring major Disney, Nickelodeon, and CBeebies favourites and popular film and children’s book franchises, to immersive and unique small-scale experiences, family shows have proven popular and adaptable enough to bounce back impressively from the Covid-19 shutdowns.
Most family show producers report a bumper post-pandemic year, citing ticket sales of 80-100% on familiar and dependable brand productions such as Stomp, Riverdance and Cirque du Soleil shows, and are confident of a strong 2023.
Canada-based stalwart of the family entertainment sector, Cirque du Soleil, was hit hard by Covid-19, having to suspend all 44 of its active shows around the world and temporarily laying off more than 4,600 staff.
After filing for bankruptcy protection, it was a bought by a consortium including former MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren and Canadian investment group Catalyst Capital in November 2020.
Since then, it’s bounced back with strength, says Mike Newquist, president, touring shows edition. The company launched with four of its largest big tops including Alegria, Kurios, and Kooza. It launched a fifth big top last summer, and then three arena shows went out –Corteo, Crystal, and Ovo.
“We’ve now launched nine different tours around the world, and we’re seeing ticket sales coming back really strong; average ticket price is higher than it was before. And the demand for good shows is as strong as ever,” says Newquist.
“The costs are also quite a bit higher than they were before. So, like all our other touring friends, we’re faced with that. It’s higher across the board in everything that we do, with logistics and travel. It’s costly to tour, but overall, the business is very, very healthy. And we’re seeing that across all markets in all regions right now.”
“It’s costly to tour, but overall, the business is very, very healthy. And we’re seeing that across all markets in all regions right now.”
He says across the touring shows, the company expects to sell 4-5m tickets across the globe. And that the company, which recently launched new show Echo, uses its 40-year sales data to strategically analyse which territories to tour to.
And, as far as new territories it’s considering, Newquist says Asia is of particular interest. “As China moves out of the pandemic, I think you’ll see us venture therewith different promoter partners across the region.
We’ll look to grow there. Right now, we’re in Japan and doing really well there, and we have a show in Korea in the autumn that did really well, so we’ll be going back to those markets that we’ve historically done well [in] and will continue to do well. But as we look at China and Southeast Asia, I do see room for growth there.
We’re so strong in North America, South America, Europe, and Australia, so that would, to me, be the next area for growth for our live event business. We’ll test the waters a little bit.”
With 1,000 people on the road at a time, it’s a huge operation, but Newquist says the market looks “healthy but cautious.” He continues: “We are very bullish and so are our promoter partners, but we’re constantly watching across economic data to see where the landscape is going and shifting as we look ahead throughout the rest of this year and then into ‘24, as well.”
One key to emerging from the pandemic with momentum was to hit the ground running, and early. Several promoters who took the chance of being first back to market as Covid restrictions eased are now feeling the benefit.
One key to emerging from the pandemic with momentum was to hit the ground running, and early. Several promoters who took the chance of being first back to market as Covid restrictions eased are now feeling the benefit.
“We embraced the return to the world fairly early,” says Shaun Comerford, executive director of Australia’s Circa Contemporary Circus. He worked with doctors and psychologists to get a touring production of charming acrobatic clowning show Carnival of the Animals on the road as soon as Australian restrictions began lifting in May 2021.
“At the time Australia was completely isolated from the rest of the world…that company that went overseas, they didn’t know when they were coming back. We had bookings to take them through until about January of 2022, and we felt that we would probably be in a position to bring them home at that point – but there were a lot of unknowns.”
Comerford believes that the pandemic saw a swift contraction in the planning and lead-in times for promoters and venues who were locking-in their coming seasons. This provided an advantage to family shows that are traditionally nimble enough to develop new shows each year to slot into school holidays.
Companies such as Circa, with its in-house ensemble of artists all pre-rehearsed for shows such as its current hit Humans 2.0, were able to adapt quickly to the fast-moving lockdown situation in Australasia
“We’ve been able to be a little bit flexible,” he says. “We can pick up gigs at short notice. We did a season last year in Singapore with Carnival of the Animals and that was an April season. I think we booked it in early February and then they went on sale, which was unheard of.
Pre-pandemic that wouldn’t happen. We were the first international show back on stage at the Marina Bay Sands with that work. It’s opened up some opportunities closer to home, probably some more opportunities in Asia than we’ve had in the past decade…There were some big risks, but what that brought us from a market point of view was a lot of goodwill.
We were out there early with presenters; we took gigs in that first year that were sometimes a bit more challenging because of the Covid overlay. But as a result, it’s really brought us something that was worth the risk.”
“We were out there early with presenters; we took gigs in that first year that were sometimes a bit more challenging because of the Covid overlay. But as a result, it’s really brought us something that was worth the risk.”
Germany’s Apassionata World, which draws on the best horse-riding talent of southern and central Europe to produce the continent’s premier horse display and trick-riding shows, went some way further. C
EO Johannes Mock-O’Hara, who was aware that 50% of Apassionata’s ticket sales were return visits, in October 2021 decided to organise a loss-leading “marketing tour” of Germany’s 16 states and seven foreign territories, each with their own contrasting Covid regulations and most allowing just 20-30% capacity shows, in order to maintain the trust and connection with their loyal audience.
This was no casual undertaking – the company tours with 100riders, dancers, acrobats and crew; 13 trucks of equipment; 120 tonnes of specialist sand;60 horses; mobile stables; and even its own washing machines.
“It was quite an operational challenge,” says Mock-O’Hara, who describes the company’s famous Cavalluna production and the regular shows at its venue in Munich as “Cirque du Soleil show with horses.” He recalls the marketing tour as “a living nightmare and very complicated because every city was in a different state.
“[But] it paid back because we were in the market one year earlier than most of the other players. We were doing poster marketing and TV marketing; we were one of the very few brands on the market, so it went pretty well, and we’re reaping the rewards this year.”
Indeed, the fresh attention helped the company stage five successful shows in 2022 rather than its usual two; launch its first outdoor all-ages comedy show last summer; and sell all 25,000 tickets for its fortnight run of Winter Country of Wishes in Munich.
Its current show, Secret of Eternity, essentially an Indiana Jones movie on horseback, is “back to the level of 2019” and Apassionata expects its autumn and winter production Land of a Thousand Dreams to continue the success.
The pandemic also inspired some pioneering work in the sector. With parks the only spaces open to the public during much of 2020 in the UK, Anthony Norris noticed that woodland light trails were allowed to run.
The pandemic also inspired some pioneering work in the sector. With parks the only spaces open to the public during much of 2020 in the UK, Anthony Norris – executive producer and co-founder of Unify Productions– noticed that woodland light trails were allowed to run.
So, he contacted Sony Masterworks with the idea of creating Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience at Arley Hall in Cheshire that winter. The show consists of a one-way trail stretching 1.7km, featuring 3,500 lights, voices from the films, mechanical models of characters created by specialist Potter workshops, and major scenes playing out on gauze screens along the way.
“We have a hippogriff,” Norris explains. “It bows its head if the guests bow to it and maintain eye contact. We have Aragog’s Lair, he’s a 10-foot wide Aragog who comes out of his lair to a vocal section from the movie, and what the guests don’t realise is they walked into a 10x10m truss cube with 24 spiders in the rigging above their heads that drop on two different timed drops.
We have Patronus scenes where guests walk onto a platform, they get handed a wand and are told to say the spell. When they cast it, their Patronus appears on a gauze screen. Everything ties back to our finale where it’s Harry fighting the Dementors.
In the UK, that’s over a manmade lake on a projection gauze 30x10m as guests stand on the bank of the lake and watch it all come out in front of them. It’s pretty big.” A big success, too – the trail has now opened in Brussels, Washington DC, and New York.
Bulgaria isn’t a regular stop for family entertainment, says Stefan Elenkov of national promoter FEST Team. However, there is very strong demand, and it would be a worthwhile visit, he says, citing a recent Hot Wheels Monster Trucks show at Arena Sofia, which he says was “a big success.”
“There is huge potential in Bulgaria,” he continues,“simply because this market is comparatively undeveloped in this segment,” adding that his company promotes the country’s largest family entertainment festival, ARTE Festival, and works closely with Live Nation.
“People here are looking not only at entertaining their kids but also their grandparents. They want to go together as a family and friends.
“There is huge potential in Bulgaria, simply because this market is comparatively undeveloped in this segment,”
“I don’t understand why these types of show aren’t coming to Bulgaria more frequently. I see what’s going on with shows across Europe, and I know we definitely need this type of family entertainment. Maybe one of the reasons is most of the promoters here prefer to do a single show on just one day, while family shows require more commitment.”
He says FEST Team is producing a dance show, which, if it’s successful in Sofia, will tour the ten largest cities in Bulgaria.
There is huge potential here. Every opportunity that we see in the market, we will grab it, and we are actively looking to bring in more family entertainment. We really want to grow the market to the highest possible levels.”
As the pandemic eased during 2022 but the cost-of-living crisis hit, many producers found audiences still wary of large crowds and reluctant to splash out on a family event unless they were certain it was worth it. So familiar shows and brands bounced-back quickly.
“The shows that are doing very well at the moment are those that are well branded; that people know they get bang-for-buck; and that they’re going to have a great time,” says Glynis Hall, director and executive producer of Glynis Henderson Productions, which has brought junk-percussion spectacular Stomp from the streets of Covent Garden to 50 countries over the past 30 years.
It’s currently booking out full houses for a show that remains “totally fresh” across Europe and the Far East for 2023. “When money’s tight, you spend it on what you’re pretty sure about, not taking risks on something you’re not.”
The family dynamic emphasises the shift, Hall attests. “A four year old is going because she wants to see something she’s already engaged with and invested in. But the parent is paying for it, so if they’ve read great reviews about something or all their friends have said it’s brilliant, they’ll pay to go and see that, rather than something they haven’t heard much about.”
“A four year old is going because she wants to see something she’s already engaged with and invested in. But the parent is paying for it, so if they’ve read great reviews about something or all their friends have said it’s brilliant, they’ll pay to go and see that, rather than something they haven’t heard much about.”
It’s a trend that’s repeating globally. Across Europe, family favourite Slava’s SnowShow continues to play to packed houses of all ages entranced by the surreal, poetic, and moving tragi-comic antics of Russian master clown Slava Polunin and his family of wide-hatted accomplices.
Some 30 years in, having returned to territories again and again with exactly the same show handed down over three generations, SnowShow has become “a Nutcracker-type classic,” says Gwenael Allan, founder and CEO of The GAAP, which books the show, famed for creating a full-blown snowstorm in the theatre at its climax.
“It sits on its own in this world where it’s like an old fairy tale that seems to have survived a time when things became a little more standardised and cynical,” says Allan. “It’s probably the most joyful experience there is in theatre.
The audience reaction at the end of the show, even after 30 years, is the same: you have up to 1,500 people of all ages, all standing. He turns these audiences, after a 90-minute show, into raving children with shining eyes.
It’s right up there with Les Mis and Phantom, but it’s just a bunch of clowns. We go to the same places these big musicals go but with a hand-made show and do the same thing to the same number of people.”
The European touring production of Riverdance remains similarly popular. Hermjo Klein, general manager of ACT Artist Agency in Germany, says the show has maintained the same wow factor it had when he first put it on primetime German TV 25 years ago.
It’s hitting 80% sales in 3,000-4,000-capacity halls across Germany and Austria in 2023. “It’s a combination of everything: different kinds of dance; it’s a family show; it’s fantastic music; and it was never-seen-before. People still love it – every night there’s a ten-minute standing ovation.”
While such evergreen shows continue to play on their classic strengths, and with a huge in rush of product to the re-opening market creating a perfect storm of competition, the biggest brands have been evolving fast in order to stay ahead of the game.
Jonathan Shank, the CEO of Terrapin Station Entertainment, who first brought family sector titan Peppa Pig to the US, recently sold over 150,000 tickets for the award-nominated North American leg of his most recent Disney Junior show. It sees the latest screen characters perform to music from some surprising names.
“On the most recent Disney show, we have a couple of songs by Patrick Stump from Fall Out Boy,” he says. “That’s really amazing. The audience is always surprised when all of a sudden, they’re going, ‘Wait, is that a Fall Out Boy song that Spidey is performing to?’”
“On the most recent Disney show, we have a couple of songs by Patrick Stump from Fall Out Boy. That’s really amazing. The audience is always surprised when all of a sudden, they’re going, ‘Wait, is that a Fall Out Boy song that Spidey is performing to?’”
Shank’s Disney Junior show recently played five sold-out shows in Hawaii en route to an extended run in America later in 2023, and there are plans for an international jaunt early in 2024.
Elsewhere, Circa is stretching its budget to develop a circus-based adaptation of Shaun the Sheep, and The Path Entertainment Group, who recently had huge success with the stage musical adaptation of the Madagascar movie, is bringing the Broadway hit SpongeBob: The Musical to the for the first time this year.
“Madagascar is pretty much verbatim the first movie, where the animals break out of the zoo and find themselves in a container on the way to Madagascar, then meet all the wonderful characters there,” says Path CEO David Hutchinson, explaining that the show is a mixture of costume, puppetry, and human acting.
“SpongeBob is a little different –that’s all about the idea of Bikini Bottom exploding and a forthcoming Armageddon-level volcano, which will see everyone perish. It’s about the decisions that you make in that time and the relationships you build to solve that.
It’s silly, fun, and bubbly, and has songs by Flaming Lips, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, and David Bowie – the artists who were involved in writing music were incredible. I think that’s what’s made the stage musical unique – it’s a brand that people know and love but it’s also artists they love and know that have put together the music.”
Hutchinson argues that a big brand or IP– or a song like Madagascar’s I Like to Move It– helps get people over the threshold but that’s not enough to support an entire show alone. “It comes down to how you’re relating the loved brands to adding value on stage.
What doesn’t work is thinking that just because it’s popular, putting anything onstage is going to be successful. There has to be something about it that adds value, something where the superfans can engage with the brand and get more out of it compared with it being a cardboard cut-out of whatever other medium they’ve watched it on. It needs to work as a stage show.”
Despite a refocussing on national rather than international shows during the pandemic – Allan highlights the US as “the most hermetic, the most insular for family entertainment” – high-profile family favourites are increasingly a global concern.
After a UK run in 2023, Path hopes to move SpongeBob: The Musical into Asia, Australasia, and the Middle East, where the latest evolutions of Disney on Ice and Cirque du Soleil continue to make inroads into a rejuvenated family market.
Despite a refocussing on national rather than international shows during the pandemic – Allan highlights the US as “the most hermetic, the most insular for family entertainment”
Middle East success
Investment in hi-tech venues in dedicated entertainment districts in Abu Dhabi have helped the sector thrive there, and the opening of the Kuwait Arena has helped Alison Goldsmith, operations director of Middle East promoter SESLive!, bring the major western shows to what was previously a very locally focussed Arabian market in 2023. The region has its own specific challenges, however.
“It’s a very small distance physically between the countries, but they all have very unique laws and requirements and permits and systems to operate within,” she says. “So, moving a one-hour truck ride down the road doesn’t necessarily mean it’s only going to take you an hour to get there.
It might take ten days to manage multiple countries with multiple permit requirements, different customs options, and different support from various organisations. It seems like it’d be a nice and easy thing to hit two or three countries in a very small geographical area, but they’re all unique countries with their own challenges that we have to work with.
In previous years, we tended to do a one-off show; bring it into one destination and move on because the market wasn’t as strong as in other parts of the world. Now, the demand is there, and shows are doing very well here, so we’re looking at touring and routing around the region.”
Middle East-headquartered Alchemy Project works across the region and in Europe as a content provider, investor, and organiser of family entertainment shows, such as Cirque du Soleil; Broadway musicals such as Shrek the Musical and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast; and children’s events The Smurfs Musical, Masha and Bear, Aladdin, Alice in Wonderland, and others.
Since 2020, it’s been investing in content IPs and is producing children’s shows.
“In Europe, there is always a steady demand for live kids’ content, which are part of [the] cultural and educational growth of kids,” says CEO Mac S Far. “However, post-Covid lockdowns, certain markets show variable data related to consumer support affected by geo-economic factors. In the Middle East, the markets are different from one another.
Markets like UAE have shown exponential growth with the help of subsidies and support from related authorities. Qatar is a new market where, with the support and help of the leadership, more and more of [this type of content is] being presented.
Markets like UAE have shown exponential growth with the help of subsidies and support from related authorities. Qatar is a new market where, with the support and help of the leadership, more and more of [this type of content is] being presented
“The Middle East historically has a strong culture revolving around families, and the governments in the past years have been supporting lots of kids’ entertainment in order to enhance the family-centred culture in the region.
If we are able to attract the interest of the little ones from an early age and show them the magic of live entertainment, we can educate our young ones better and plant the love for live experiences further.”
Covid’s impact on shipping is particularly hard on the Middle Eastern market, with freight companies still struggling to return to pre-pandemic schedules and arrival times wildly unpredictable. “Everything has to be shipped to us here; it’s quite a long process and the timelines are less reliable than they used to be,” Goldsmith says.
“We’re having to give more time for things to get to us and that causes challenges. If there are multiple tours that they’re trying to manage, and it takes eight weeks to get from anywhere to us and then more weeks to get out, there’s a lot of lost opportunity.”
Elsewhere, as joyous as the family entertainment sector can be, it hasn’t been immune to the effects of the global inflation, post-pandemic labour shortages, and the supply chain issues that are plaguing the entire touring community.
The cost of materials, fuel, crew, and trucking has skyrocketed, and family shows, with their delicate balance of costs and ticket price, have particularly been feeling the pinch: as a family group day out, they’re especially susceptible to the purse-tightening effects of cost-of-living squeezes
“You’ve got a duality of inflation of costs, with a ticket price that really can’t afford to go much higher because of the cost of living,”
“You’ve got a duality of inflation of costs, with a ticket price that really can’t afford to go much higher because of the cost of living,” says Hutchinson.
“The way the world has gone, everything is more expensive now when it comes to construction costs, touring costs, haulage, and wages going up in line with inflation. A lot of other industries are passing on that cost to the consumer, but in theatre, we don’t think that’s the right way of doing it because it will preclude people from being able to go. It means your margins are being squished quite a lot.”
In putting together his 2022 Forbidden Forest Experience, Norris faced ever-rising costs. “Crew in the UK went up about 25-30% last year,” he says. “Diesel costs have doubled. We’re talking three months’ worth of operation, outdoors at night with 3,500 light fixtures.
That’s a lot of diesel. We tried some battery options last year, and we’ll try that again next year, not only from a sustainability perspective but also [to] try and save on costs.” He also found the USA particularly expensive, even compared to the vastly increased costs of trucking, materials, and labour in Europe. For future projects, he’s considering shipping materials from the UK, rather than buying them in the States
Norris is noting an easing in labour and transportation costs as the world readjusts and regulates to combat inflation but, overseeing such a large touring operation as Riverdance, Klein believes there’s still quite some way to go. “Just see all the costs for labour,” he says.
“Before it was €300 a day average, and now it’s €700–1000. I don’t know where all those people have gone. Even the restaurants don’t have enough people. I think it will get better, but at the moment, it’s still very bad.”
“Just see all the costs for labour. Before it was €300 a day average, and now it’s €700–1000. I don’t know where all those people have gone. Even the restaurants don’t have enough people. I think it will get better, but at the moment, it’s still very bad.”
For Hall, based in the UK, the issue is compounded further by Brexit, which she feels is helping to suffocate rising and undiscovered British acts and ideas. “Edinburgh Festival is becoming more and more difficult for people,” she says of what she calls “a brilliant breeding ground for new talent.
The cost of housing up there, the cost of everything, and it’s a real worry for all our industries, not just for theatre or the live performing arts that feed into film and television, which is what this country does so brilliantly. It’s the soft power that we’ve got; I think we’re probably better at it than probably any country in the world. And Brexit is curtailing our ability to export and show off that talent.”
She cites the visa requirements, travel limitations, and red tape brought on by Brexit as a major hindrance to British entertainment reaching a wider global audience. “To get visas, you’ve got to ask every single person that’s either about to be employed or is employed, ‘Have you been on holiday in Europe recently? When was that? How many days was that? How many half days was that?’
And you literally have to count it. If someone’s just spent a month in Europe or whatever, and lots of young people have, you have to question whether your investment in them is going to pay off because by the time you rehearse them up and get them out there, you’ve run out of time.
That is really depressing and denies so many UK-born artists the chance to enjoy work that travels outside this country, and lots of it does. Dance, orchestras, you name it. We are going to become a smaller cog in the cultural world and that’s a travesty.”
Hall is some way from looking to the continent when casting her shows but has started to keep sets abroad in order to reduce haulage and Brexit administration costs. Precision and efficiency are key to keeping touring feasible in such trying times.
Apassionata has so fine-tuned the load-in and get-out process of its huge horse show productions that it can prepare an arena for their show in just 12 hours and get out in under eight. “It’s an extremely satisfying process to watch,” says Mock-O’Hara, “it’s a bit like a choreography
Hutchinson emphasises “the efficiency of space” that he utilises in order to keep his shows touring with between three and six trucks. “Getting things out of the truck in the right order so they can go up in the right order is crucial to the time it takes to fit up the show and take it down. That’s one of the most expensive weekly costs because of all the staffing costs, so efficiency is key.”
Apassionata has so fine-tuned the load-in and get-out process of its huge horse show productions that it can prepare an arena for their show in just 12 hours and get out in under eight. “it’s a bit like a choreography
It’s been several decades since Slava got his SnowShow on the road for just £100,000. Although it depends on the scale of the show in question, most producers today give a ballpark figure of between £1-1.5m to get a major show from conception to stage over the course of anything from one to five years.
Along the way, it takes extensive research into market interest – via online surveys, audience feedback on previous shows, and discussions with promoters – casting and rehearsal. Not to mention, as Klein puts it, “a lot of genius…and a lot of hope. And, of course, a lot of work and good artists.”
The bigger brands are able to strike more favourable deals with promoters and venues, too. Deals vary wildly, often tempered around local markets, but many producers work to a guaranteed model in reliable territories and only take on the majority of the risk when trying to break into less familiar areas or with newer works.
Add in rising operational costs, tentative, cash-strapped audiences leaning towards safe options, and the resultant dominance of well-known and trusted brands, and you create a difficult time for innovative new productions to find their feet.
“Newer work or less brand-related work is struggling,” says Henderson. “People think, ‘I just want to make sure I have a great time, it’s been tough for the last 18 months, and I’ve not seen my friends a while; I want to make sure it’s a good evening.’ There’s definitely a split between new work, which is quite difficult at the moment, and the absolute staples that are doing really well.”
“Newer work or less brand-related work is struggling,”
Mock-O’Hara emphasises the importance of clear messaging. “Things which are easy to explain, where you know exactly what you will get, are doing better. If you get a monster truck show, people know exactly what they’re getting, so those shows are quite simple to communicate.
Anything that you need to explain is more of a niche market; everything new is difficult. I feel very sorry for everybody who’s trying to find a market for a new product at this moment. It’s not a good time for that.”
“Since the early 2000s, it’s become very difficult to find new content that has artistic quality plus commercial appeal and universal potential,” says Allan. “In terms of type of content, quality and consistency, there seems to be a lot less stuff that can travel. So, there’s a lack of content, and there are fewer promoters looking for international content unless its musicals or branded productions.
Also, there’s a lot less cash. The things we’ve been working on in the last ten years are much cheaper than they used to be in the market before. So, we have to come up with very cheap shows, and the main thing is that of the few promoters that are left that have a real vision and are risk takers, hardly any of them today would take the risk of launching a brand-new show in their territory, even if it was free.
The cost of marketing, venues, everything, is too high. So, it’s become very conservative, very restrictive, and SnowShow would not have existed if we had started in the last 15 to 20 years.”
The barrier to entry isn’t just financial, Allan explains, but developmental, too. “Time is very expensive, and these shows often need years of development at festivals, residencies, with trial and error, they need years of growth process.
With the ShowShow, even though the show had already received an Olivier Award, toured in a few places, and played at the Edinburgh Festival and a few festivals across Europe, it took us ten years for it to become a consistently touring show.”
The issue is a long-standing institutional problem, Allan suggests. “It feels like it’s the end of a cycle. Over the last 20-odd years, there’s less risk-taking, more branding, and more dominance of big businesses.
The corporate approach to our industry has killed it because it makes everything more expensive, much quicker, more competitive, and there’s no time for new growth. It’s like a forest where there’s only room for the big trees and they’ve made the shadows for all of the new growth.”
“Time is very expensive, and these shows often need years of development at festivals, residencies, with trial and error, they need years of growth process.”
Creating new markets
All is not lost, however. Comerford has noticed the tide turning towards new work so late: “Festivals are returning to major commissions, which leads me to believe that the capacity to take risk and invest in new works is returning. A bit of optimism is returning to that market, which is really positive.”
And Henderson argues that cannier promoters are using online marketing techniques to build a following for a show before it even hits the road.
“When people are making new work now, they’re streaming the songs on Spotify and building an audience on streaming platforms before they create the show,” he says. “That’s great because it brings a whole different audience to the theatre but also it gives you a much bigger chance of creating that brand…There are a number of new entrants into the market that only three or four years ago were unknown.
One of them is, which is an amazing musical about Henry VIII’s six wives, told from their perspective. That’s become an international sensation. There’s definitely the opportunity to create a buzz behind something that then can go on to be internationally recognised and an in-demand brand.”
And one blooming area for new work is interactive entertainment. Markus Beyr, MD of Attraktion! in Germany, has overseen the recent launch of their Polar Journeys how at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, then in Germany.
The show is a combination of interactive games and exhibits, robot penguins, rides, and immersive movies on a 270-degree screen, all designed to put the viewer inside the Arctic and Antarctic experience. This year, the company also launches Jurassic Immersive Experience in Vienna and Saudi Arabia, the world’s first fully digital dinosaur show, bucking the trend of animatronics as technology has advanced and become more affordable.
“There’s a market for more interactive things, a trend which started with escape rooms, because groups of people like to come together in a social environment to find solutions and work together.”
“The art shows with immersive spaces were all made possible by laser video projection,” Beyr says. “Projection pricing has gone down, meaning visual media creation is faster or can be done more easily.
It provides many new opportunities that were not here before. There’s a market for more interactive things, a trend which started with escape rooms, because groups of people like to come together in a social environment to find solutions and work together.”
The breakthrough family shows of the future, then, might well be enjoyed from the inside. But whatever shape it takes, the wonders will never cease. “The lesson is,” Comerford says, “you just don’t run out of small kids.”