Family entertainment in focus
While the live entertainment industry ponders when casual ticket buyers will regain the confidence to return to events, the family entertainment sector is confident the demand among its customers is stronger than ever. Gordon Masson reports.
Like other sectors in the live industry, the world of family entertainment has been hit hard over the past couple of years, removing a vital part of the overall jigsaw given that family shows often introduce children to their first taste of live events.
One major casualty of Covid-19 was Cirque du Soleil, which had been one of the world’s most successful live entertainment enterprises since it launched in 1984. But when the pandemic struck, the company had to suspend all 44 of its active shows around the world and temporarily lay off more than 4,600 staff. With debts of more than $1 billion (€0.9bn), it was forced to file for bankruptcy protection before a consortium including former MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren and Canadian investment group Catalyst Capital bought the business in November 2020.
Manu Braff of Belgium-based MB Presents has his own Cirque story. “When the first lockdown happened we were all set-up and ready for the opening night of Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo in Antwerp. The decision basically pulled the plug on everything from one day to another. Then, reality hit and the lockdown weeks turned into months… and years. However, slowly but surely we turned the business around. As museums were allowed to stay open, we promoted and produced six exhibitions over 18 months in Belgium and abroad.”
With markets gradually reopening, producers of family entertainment shows may have a slight advantage over their live music touring peers, as their ability to drop into markets for short periods, such as school holidays, allows them to take advantage of reopened venues, whereas the music side is still relying on multiple markets to lift restrictions to facilitate tour routings.
“During the pandemic, the family entertainment worked best of all – with seated family audiences this was the ‘safest’ way to enjoy entertainment even during these challenging times,” says Georg Leitner of Austria-based Georg Leitner Productions (GLP). “For instance, in December and February we had a sold-out three-week run with Cirque de Glace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.”
“Family entertainment is partially exempt from corona measures because there are very good concepts”
It’s a benefit that GLP’s new head of show acts and family entertainment, Birger Gaetjens, is looking to fully exploit. “The family entertainment sector has a clear advantage and will continue to do so in the coming months because it is scalable and can comply with country-specific corona rules,” he notes.
Steven Armstrong, vice president EMEA for Feld Entertainment, agrees, “Our Disney On Ice shows have been out there in the US since probably October or November of 2020, so pretty much all through Covid,” he tells IQ. “We started internationally back in September of 2021 when we visited Abu Dhabi, and since we’ve gone through the UK and parts of Europe.”
Nonetheless, there are challenges. While children have been the demographic least at risk from coronavirus, their grandparents (who often pay for tickets and accompany them to live events) remain among the highest risk members of society for Covid, presenting just another obstacle among the myriad that producers, and the promoters who hire their shows, are currently facing.
GLP’s Gaetjens opines, “Although children and young adults are least affected, the infection rate is highest in [that demographic]. What we notice is that children’s shows work better in some countries because the corona policy works better. Family entertainment is partially exempt from corona measures because there are very good concepts. What organisers should know is that during the pandemic and beyond, our concepts are safe, scalable, have a corona concept, and are still profitable.”
Kenneth Svoldgaard, co-CEO of Denmark -based CSB Entertainment, tells IQ, “I’m not worried about the family business at all. I have three kids of my own – aged 5, 11 and 14 – and none of them have been very ill. So I don’t really think that we have need to worry.”
However, he recognises that there are issues at the other end of the age range. “We are representing a couple of offers for the Christmas market where we have an older demographic, and that’s a little more problematic because they’re the most vulnerable in society,” he says.
And Svoldgaard has first-hand experience of dealing with the concerns of the older generations. “They’re the people who have asked the most questions, and that’s why we have had to have more staff at venues when the event is for an older demographic, to make sure people keep socially distanced, clean their hands, get to the seats, and all these kinds of things.”
“There’s definitely demand for product to come out”
Feld’s experience with the higher age groups of customers has been fascinating.
Looking at the grandparent segment of Feld’s patrons, he says, “Originally, they were a bit more cautious than the 20 year olds who wanted to go to a concert, but over time we’ve seen parents and grandparents come at the same rate, if not even more than they would have come pre-Covid. We were in Sheffield when it looked like the UK was going to shut down and the week of shows actually went really well, compared to pre-Covid times – it was almost the feeling of ‘this might be our last chance to do this for a while, so let’s go out and do it now.’
“But the silver lining is that there’s definitely demand for product to come out.”
That’s also been the experience of MB Presents. “We combined the extra time we suddenly had available with the creativity of our team and created new productions and exhibitions,” says Braff, naming Expo Dino World, the Middelkerke Sand Sculpture Festival, and Lanterna Magica among the company’s pandemic successes.
“We felt lucky that we could actually work and at the same time offer our clients a moment of distraction from all the negative stuff happening around them,” says Braff.
Despite the pandemic shutting down family shows around the world, the producer community has remained buoyant about the prospects of getting back to business because, like Armstrong, it can see that the demand is there.
Arnold Bernard, director of international booking for the Harlem Globetrotters, sums up the optimism. “One of the key indicators for us was the number of people who held on to their tickets from all the shows we had to postpone. We were one week into a four-month tour of Europe when we had to shut down in March of 2020. Two years later, we still have over 85% of those tickets out. This really is a testament to the strength of our brand.”
Corrado Canonici of World Touring Exhibitions tells IQ that demand remains high. “When Covid started, the few guys who decided to continue touring our exhibitions found a few difficulties because some people were worried and you had less audience. But then, when we brought our 3D exhibition to Germany in April or May last year, people were just assaulting the venue because they just couldn’t stay home anymore.”
But Canonici believes a new seasonal pattern has emerged during the pandemic years. “When we got to November last year, everything slowed down until February and then we will restart in March/April, so the general feeling is that we are all going towards a kind of a seasonal activity from March to October,” he says.
“We are all more open to understanding the promoters’ point of view. You can’t expect them to risk everything while you just behave like nothing has happened”
Having made the decision to concentrate only on touring exhibitions a number of years ago, Canonici says that bold step paid dividends when the rest of the touring world ground to a halt in March 2020.
“Exhibitions started to work much earlier for obvious reasons,” he notes. “You can go to an exhibition with a mask; you can go to an exhibition while maintaining social distancing; you don’t need a 5,000-seater arena, you can do it in an exhibition space. So exhibitions never really completely stopped working during the pandemic.”
He adds, “The company has been concentrating on just exhibitions for a few years now be- cause we just found it more civilised, easier, nicer. Being independent in the exhibition world is still possible, so I like the idea that we can still have crazy ideas, pursue our ideas, finance our ideas, and all of this can be done. But with music, nobody would ever give me the new Adele. No way.”
And while the rest of the live entertainment business is scrambling to find venues for artists and shows, Canonici has none of that hassle. “Our venues are usually not really music venues. Arenas are just too busy anyway with concerts, so they would never ever give an exhibition two months of their time because they make far more money [with] 30 concerts in two months. So our venues are conference centres, exhibition centres, museums, malls. We know that there are many places you can go, which are usually not music places. So we don’t feel the pinch of that too much.”
“We used the downtime to really evaluate what we did, the why and the how”
Like many organisations crippled by the pandemic, the Harlem Globetrotters used the enforced pause to reinvigorate their strategy. “We used the downtime to really evaluate what we did, the why and the how,” says international booking director Bernard. “In the family entertainment world, we tour every month of every year. We don’t normally get to take some time out to reimagine our brand. To be able to get that time was refreshing and inspiring.”
Canonici also used the opportunity to expand the remit for World Touring Exhibitions. “When we saw that there were a few months of less work, we opened up to not just producing our own stuff but producing for people who want to have permanent exhibitions,” he reveals. “So now we also consult for the creation of, or directly produce, exhibitions for venues or institutions who want a permanent exhibition. So that’s been something positive coming from Covid, in the sense that we opened up to that which we wouldn’t have done otherwise.”
GLP’s Gaetjens believes that one of the biggest challenges facing the sector is to identify and develop new show formats that promoters can rely on, even while the pandemic continues. “Most organisers and countries have opted for safe formats,” he says. “We go one step further and will not only present new formats and projects but also go ‘corona-conform’ because that is safe and a guaranteed source of income for our customers. We still have to wait until ‘Freedom Day’ in some countries, and if the omicron and delta variants go together, we are prepared.”
Bernard says that there are two principle challenges facing organisations like the Harlem Globetrotters when it comes to getting back to business. “First, there are US State Department warnings recommending not to travel overseas, which affects our ability to travel,” he reports. “The second, is capacity limitations or vaccine requirements to enter public venues. This is a real challenge for families with young kids.”
That’s an aspect that’s not lost on Armstrong. “Only 6-8 months ago, no kids were really getting Covid, they weren’t getting tested, and they weren’t getting vaccinated. But all of a sudden, if the requirements are that everyone has to be vaccinated to go to events, what happens?” he asks.
“Luckily, so far, it hasn’t been mandated that kids who are under a certain age need to be vaccinated, so we’ve managed to be able to have shows. But if that changes going forward, we could run into problems.”
MB Presents boss Braff believes confidence will be key in reinvigorating the market. “Re-building the trust of people in small and large in- door events [is a major challenge],” he says. “People are weary of new measures and postpone buying tickets to events to the last minute. This makes it extremely difficult for event producers and promoters to plan ahead.”
“Deals need to be more flexible than before. We are all more open to understanding the promoters’ point of view”
The Year Ahead
Gaetjens believes the future is rosy for the family entertainment sector, albeit with a few challenging months ahead. “In 2022, many organisers will still be cautious, which is nonsense,” he states. “From April, everything will loosen up, and we are already noticing that.”
Continuing with a pitch, Gaetjens says, “We will be launching with new formats for 2022 and 2023 globally, expanding our roster, and giving all existing and new partners the opportunity to get what they want and are looking for.”
Canonici comments, “When in November  Covid started to appear again and people started to postpone, we thought the worst. But, all of a sudden, around January, emails and phone calls started again because everybody wants to do everything from March. I have the feeling it’s going to be a lot of work from March to probably November. It really feels like it’s going to be a bit more seasonal than it was before.”
With the pandemic fostering unprecedented cooperation through the live entertainment business globally, Canonici believes the rule book is being rewritten for agreements in the family sector, too.
“Deals need to be a bit more flexible than before,” he says. “We all are more open to understanding the promoters’ point of view. You can’t expect them to risk everything while you just behave like nothing has happened. So we all have to be more flexible.”
Svoldgaard highlights the main issue that is hindering the entire live touring economy. “Many of the things that we do depend on what’s happening in the rest of the world or at least Europe, with the touring business. In principle, in Denmark, it’s not been so bad. Our sales have been pretty good, but when we talk about the tour business where we are going outside of Denmark, then we’re getting into problems as lockdown and restrictions have been harder elsewhere, and selling tickets is a huge challenge. We already had some tours that were supposed to start in February get postponed – and most of them for a whole year. So with many projects, we’re already looking into spring 2023.”
“I don’t think people are afraid of getting infected; they’re just sick and tired of having bought a ticket and then things keep getting postponed”
He adds, “It’s difficult to find availability in the venues on a shorter scale and also booking the artists on a shorter scale. So it’s been necessary to move things by a whole year in a number of instances.”
Looking at Feld’s bookings, Armstrong says, “We’ve been doing Monster Jam in the US and we’ve started to look at that internationally, too. We’ve got Ringling Brothers relaunching in 2023 in the US. And we’ll probably get Marvel Universe Live up and running in 2023. So we’re starting to get everything back. We’re not quite at the same scale – we had nine ice shows travelling around the world prior to Covid; we’ve got four or five out, as of now, but going into next season, we’ll probably get back to six, seven or eight. So it’s looking good.”
Citing CSB’s Whitney Houston tribute show, The Greatest Love of All, Svoldgaard sums up some of the frustrations that could hold back growth in the months to come. “The tour starts at the end of March and we have nearly 50 shows in eight countries across Europe,” he explains. “We start in Copenhagen, and the sales in Denmark are actually quite good for the most part, but the other countries are lacking.”
Indeed, because of the uncertainty that has been a significant Covid side effect, Svoldgaard confirms that consumers are leaving it till the 11th hour to buy tickets. “I don’t think people are afraid of getting infected; they’re just sick and tired of having bought a ticket and then things keep getting postponed.”
Nonetheless, he reports that longer term, confidence is building. “We have a lot of shows on sale for autumn this year, and sales have been incredible. So I think people expect that things will be back to normal for shows in September, October, November.”
In addition to tribute acts for the likes of Queen and Dire Straits, CSB has Lord of the Dance on sale for its 25th anniversary tour, among many other shows. “We are very optimistic looking forward,” says Svoldgaard. “I think people are, in general, excited about coming out to see shows again. The issue we have right now is shows that we have this spring.”
Looking at his order book, Canonici reports, “We had Monsters of the Sea, which toured Ukraine for over a year. That’s now going to Russia for a year and probably more, fingers crossed. Our 3D exhibition is doing very well. Elsewhere, we have Dinosaurs in Belgium now; Science is going to go to Lithuania; and Lego always does very well.
He adds, “It’s all moving nicely, but it’s not the same. You can’t have the same sold-out shows you had before. It’s very difficult to get back to the 100,000 visitors in three months. But it’s still turning over decent numbers.”
“We have currently productions planned and presented in six new international markets”
While excitement among family ents producers and promoters is building, any expectations for new spectaculars might have to be put on the backburner for a year or so.
Canonici reveals, “At the time of Covid, we were supposed to go out with a new exhibition: The Art of Interactive Digital. We’d developed about 85% of this production when Covid arrived, so we just pulled back. Considering the ongoing situation, we think we’ll maybe delay another year going out with that one.”
Braff comments, “We still see a lot of tours being postponed to 2023. Luckily some tours are also restarting, like Corteo, which will finally happen in June 2022, two years after it was originally planned. We will continue to further develop our own productions and family entertainment brands, with eyes on the international markets. We have currently productions planned and presented in six new international markets, so we are positive.”
Armstrong surmises the situation well. “It’s very risky to launch a new product, especially one that doesn’t have a big brand behind it, because of the level of investment it takes to get them up and running,” he says.
“I would say it’s going to be the latter end of 2022 before we’re going to start seeing some of the bigger productions start touring again. But for newer brands, it’s a big risk. For us, the re-launch of Ringling Brothers is a calculated risk because it’s a brand that’s played for hundreds of years in the US. Whereas if you’re bringing out something that, perhaps, has been on TV for a couple of years but not really toured, I think that they’re going to hold off until 2023, at least.”
The success of the family entertainment business getting back to work before other industry sectors has been an impressive achievement. But there is a bag full of spanners waiting to be thrown into the engine…
Svoldgaard, for example, says CSB is experiencing availability issues. “A lot of promoters are holding dates but not necessarily confirming venues. But it’s tricky to say ‘Okay, we are now ready to sign a contract and maybe even pay a deposit,’ especially when you have multiple artists and shows that have been moved four or five times.”
And underlining one massive dilemma that is becoming apparent throughout the touring world, he says the pandemic’s impact on crew and other essential personnel has been devastating.
“It’s a very big worry,” says Svoldgaard. “We have a tribute to Tina Turner coming in May, and I was hoping and expecting we could bring everything from the UK because I prefer to have the original production of it. But the UK producer cannot find a [crew] who can commit to being away for a couple of weeks. So we’re looking to source it locally, but it’s not easy – I’ve already had two production companies turn it down because it’s at the time of the year when the summer festivals start, so they don’t have enough equipment or manpower. I have found another production company in Denmark who can do it, but I’m a little bit worried about the pricing.”
“Even if the country itself is open, it doesn’t mean that infrastructure and the supply chain is ready”
“Challenges?” says Armstrong, citing a list. “There are weeks where you can’t make it work due to local legislation or state legislation or countries just shutting down before you can get there. And then there are the challenges of travelling people around with Covid tests, PCR, immigration, Brexit, transportation, and all that stuff.
“Even if the country itself is open, it doesn’t mean that infrastructure and the supply chain is ready. Take Australia, which hasn’t had events for a long time. Although you can get into Australia now, and you can potentially do the event and book the venue, are all your suppliers going to be ready? A lot of those suppliers have let people go, and they’re not rehiring people until events restart. If you’re one of those first events, you’re going to struggle. We know that casual staff at venues is an issue – we’ve ordered 30 vendors for our merchandise but only 12 would show up. But it’s all just part of slowly getting that big machine rolling again.”
Armstrong continues, “If you look back, there was a lot of hope this time last year. Now, it feels like there’s more than just hope: things are being put in place to enable us to move forward. So I think ‘22 will be better than ‘21. But I don’t think it’ll be fully back until mid-2023.”
“Slowly, the world will return to normal,” concurs Harlem Globetrotters’ exec Bernard. “We’re seeing it now, but it won’t be a full reopening overnight. There will be setbacks along the way but the setbacks will be shorter and less severe each time. We will get there.”
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
TEG launches joint venture with Rockefeller Company
TEG has announced the launch of TEG Rockefeller, a new global partnership and joint venture with the Rockefeller Company of New York.
The Rockefeller Company creates film, animation and live family entertainment shows based on children’s books and movies. Its Rockefeller Productions subsidiary, founded in 2014, has a host of productions including The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show, the world’s most popular children’s show (with 14 productions on four continents), Paddington Gets in a Jam, and Winnie the Pooh: The New Musical Adaptation, which opens in New York this October.
For Sydney-based TEG, the partnership will see its portfolio of experiential family content promoted in the United States and elsewhere by the Rockefeller Productions team. Rockefeller Productions is led by company co-founder Jonathan Rockefeller, who will lead TEG Rockefeller alongside fellow co-founder Wilson Rockefeller and TEG Live managing director Tim McGregor.
The JV unveiled its first project earlier this week: Pixar Putt, an 18-hole pop-up mini-golf course designed by TEG’s Life Like Touring, which opens in Manhattan at the beginning of August with Rockefeller Productions as the US promoter.
TEG CEO Geoff Jones says: “The Rockefellers have created a unique business with a great track record delivering brilliant and innovative productions that have delighted families the world over. We welcome Jonathan, Wilson and their team to the TEG family and look forward to continuing their success under the TEG Rockefeller banner.”
“There is a great future ahead for both companies working alongside each other”
“We’ve always focused on bringing quality entertainment to people everywhere in the world, from Sydney to Shanghai, from London to Los Angeles, introducing the next generation of audience members to an exciting new world,” says Jonathan Rockefeller. “Our work is designed to be universal.
“We’re very pleased to be working alongside TEG to bring some great existing projects like Pixar Putt to a broader audience and begin new and wonderful projects together. There is a great future ahead for both companies working alongside each other.”
Wilson Rockefeller adds: “Rockefeller was established as the anthesis to an antiquated and broken Broadway and studio systems of ‘that is how it has always been done’. I believe our successes over a short period of time have confirmed our innovative approach. With TEG, our new partnership will continue to embrace the new as we move from strength to strength. We at Rockefeller could not be more delighted at the prospect.”
Australia-headquartered TEG operates out of seven country offices and includes TEG Live, TEG Dainty, TEG MJR, TEG Van Egmond, Laneway Festival, Handsome Tours, Qudos Bank Arena, Ticketek, TEG Analytics, TEG Insights and TEG Digital.
Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.
Cirque du Soleil announces return to the stage
Cirque do Soleil Entertainment Group has announced the reopening of four of its most popular shows, which have been closed for more than a year due to restrictions imposed in response to the pandemic.
Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil, the world’s largest producer of circus and other touring entertainment events, was one of the first casualties of the coronavirus, filing for bankruptcy last June after having already laid off thousands of staff. It emerged from bankruptcy protection in November after striking an agreement with creditors.
Two resident shows, O at the Bellagio and Mystère at Treasure Island, will reopen in Las Vegas this summer (1 July and 28 June, respectively), with the affiliated Blue Man Group show also returning to the Luxor Hotel from 24 June. Tickets for all Las Vegas shows are on sale now.
“I just can’t wait to see the lights go back on”
Two Cirque-produced touring events will also reopen: Kooza will return to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic from November, with Luzia opening at the Royal Albert Hall in London in January 2022.
Daniel Lamarre, president and CEO of Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, says: “This is the moment we have all been waiting for. Almost 400 days have passed since we had to take a temporary hiatus, and we have been anxiously awaiting our return to the stage.
“I am so proud of the resilience of our artists and employees who persevered during the most challenging times with stages dark around the world for so long. I just can’t wait to see the lights go back on.”
“This is only the beginning,” he adds. “We look forward to sharing more exciting news in the coming weeks.”
ILMC speaker spotlight: Christoph Scholz, Semmel Concerts
The International Live Music Conference (ILMC) is now less than a month away and, as more and more chairs and panellists are announced, IQ catches up with some key speakers to hear what they hope to get out of this year’s conference.
First up is Christoph Scholz of SC Exhibitions, a division of German promoter Semmel Concerts and the company behind Los Angeles conference the Experience Economy Meeting (TEEM) – formerly the Touring Exhibitions Meeting.
Scholz will appear alongside Kilimanjaro Live’s Lucy Levitt to co-chair ILMC’s Touring Entertainment: Game For a Show panel – which this year moves to a bigger room to satisfy demand – to discuss why family shows, touring exhibitions and other kinds of immersive, alternative content are piquing the interest of promoters and fans alike.
Joining the chairs are Harlem Globetrotters’ Arnold Bernard, Secret Cinema’s Amy Farrant, Hartshorn-Hook Enterprises/Immersive Everywhere’s Brian Hook, Nicolás Renna from Proactiv and Alex Homfray of Alex Homfray Cultural Destinations.
IQ: What do you expect to be the main talking points at your panel?
CS: My co-chair, Lucy Levitt, and I are expecting some exciting guests this year. We will ask Arnold Bernard from Harlem Globetrotters how they have managed to keep such an iconic sports entertainment troupe relevant for so many years.
Amy Farrant, the marketing director of [immersive cinema experience specialist] Secret Cinema, is also joining the panel. Secret Cinema has just signed a deal with Disney and is expanding globally – this will deliver us plenty of talking points. Brian Hook from [theatre experience company] Immersive Everywhere also be there to will tell us everything about the forthcoming Doctor Who Experience in London.
“Our aim is to explore the key developments across touring exhibitions, pop culture and family shows”
You’ve moved up to a bigger room for 2020. How do you expect the session to compare to previous years?
We are hosting a special double-panel event this spring, which provides a great opportunity for our colleagues in the experience and live entertainment fields.
The first will be at ILMC on 5 March in London. Then, on the first weekend of May, we will also have a panel at The Experience Economy Meeting (TEEM) in Los Angeles. The second panel will pick up on the themes discussed in London, creating a fantastic intercontinental partnership of ILMC in London and TEEM Los Angeles.
Our aim with both panels is to explore the key developments and brightest new spectacles across touring exhibitions, pop culture and family shows.
“Touring exhibitions are benefiting from globalisation much in the same way as live touring is”
What are some of the biggest trends you’re seeing coming through in the family/touring/alternative entertainment world?
Looking at the classic staples in this non-traditional touring sector – which includes everything that is not rock, pop or another musical genre – touring exhibitions, family shows and events such as comic conventions are benefiting from globalisation much in the same way as live touring is.
There are more venues, more markets opening up and more opportunities. I am personally fascinated by the likes of The Haus of Gaga in Las Vegas or The Zone: Britney Spears in Los Angeles.
Are we seeing new forms of fan worlds here?
To find out the answer to this question and more, come along to ILMC’s Touring Entertainment panel at 5 p.m. on Thursday 5 March.
TEG launches live family entertainment arm
Australasian live entertainment powerhouse TEG has announced the creation of a new content division, TEG Experiences, bringing together its family entertainment, experiential and exhibitions businesses.
The division, a “new force in live family entertainment”, is part of TEG’s global growth strategy, following its recent acquisition of UK-based promoter and venue operator MJR Group.
Dustin Lockett will lead TEG Experiences as managing director. Lockett brings two decades of live entertainment experience to the role, previously serving as commercial director of BBC Studios ANZ and director of Seven West Media’s Red Live Events and Touring.
TEG chief executive Geoff Jones, who has worked with Lockett “several times before”, says he is the “perfect fit” to run TEG Experiences. Lockett will be based in Sydney and starts on 16 October.
Jones, who will produce the family content in partnership with global brands across Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America, comments: “TEG is Asia Pacific’s leading ticketing, live entertainment and technology business and now we are focused on becoming a global live entertainment business.
“TEG is Asia Pacific’s leading ticketing, live entertainment and technology business and now we are focused on becoming a global live entertainment business”
“The formation of TEG Experiences marks the next phase in that strategy. TEG is Australasia’s leader in live family entertainment and of the top three businesses of its kind globally in the fields of theatrical and experiential events. Now is the time for us to build on that position and pool our branded family entertainment assets.”
In addition to producing an array of new and alternative content, TEG Experiences will incorporate existing TEG divisions: live family entertainment show producer Life Like Touring, activation zone supplier the Entertainment Store and Lego-based installation creator Brickman Exhibitions.
Anton Berezin and Theresa Borg, who founded Life Like Touring and the Entertainment Store 20 years ago, are departing their roles as managing director and creative director of the divisions.
Borg will continue to work with TEG as a director and writer on future projects, while Berezin will seek a career as a performer.
TEG organises more than 200 live events a year through its owned promoters, TEG Dainty and TEG Live, and sells more than 28 million tickets annually via Ticketek, one of the ‘big two’ Australasian ticketing companies according to the International Ticketing Yearbook 2019.
Dino Might: On tour with Walking with Dinosaurs’ final T-rek
For a six-part TV miniseries, Walking with Dinosaurs has – much like the terrible lizards for which it’s named – had a remarkably long life. Initially airing on the BBC in 1999, Walking with Dinosaurs has spawned several television spinoffs (2001’s Walking with Beasts and 2005’s Walking with Monsters); a 2013 feature film, also called Walking with Dinosaurs; and books, video games and, perhaps most successfully, a live show, Walking with Dinosaurs – The Arena Spectacular.
Walking with Dinosaurs – The Arena Spectacular (WWD) debuted in Australasia in 2007 as Walking with Dinosaurs: The Live Experience, and has since been seen by more than nine million people in 250 cities around the world, picking up ILMC’s Best in Show 2012 award along the way.
The latest, and final outing for WWD began in the UK at the Metro Radio Arena (11,000-cap.) in Newcastle, on 20 July, and is scheduled to close in Russia at St Petersburg’s Ice Palace (12,300-cap.), on 26 May 2019, although more dates are set to be announced.
The show is doing “superstar” numbers in Ireland, says Noel McHale of MCD Productions, which is promoting shows in Belfast in August/September, and Dublin in December. McHale says he anticipates selling more than 150,000 tickets over nine days (five at the SSE Arena and four at 3Arena), largely on the back of the buzz around previous WWD tours. (The production last visited Europe in 2013, although it toured North America in 2014 and Australasia the following year.)
“We’re on target to sell over 150,000 tickets, so it’s real superstar business,” McHale explains, adding that the show is “doing a lot of repeat business, as the word-of-mouth praise for the last tour is phenomenal.”
Carmen Pavlovic, CEO of Global Creatures, the Australian company behind the show, says the fact that 11 years after its debut WWD is embarking on its third world arena tour is “a testament to the strength of our production and the popularity of dinosaurs with fans all over the world.
“The dinosaurs are much easier to deal with than the touring crew, as they don’t need visas, hotels, per diems or flights…”
“The world’s fascination with dinosaurs is enduring,” Pavlovic, also executive director of the production, tells IQ. “We’re fortunate to have developed a loyal base of promoters who are excited to introduce the show to the next generation in their local markets.”
That next generation is key to WWD’s lasting popularity, suggests McHale. “There will always be a new crop of kids getting into dinosaurs as they are endlessly fascinating,” he says. “And parents who bring their kids are blown away by the sheer size and quality of the production.”
For the new tour, Global Creatures’ touring crew is tasked with operating, maintaining and transporting across the world a total of 18 dinosaurs, representing nine separate species. These range in size from nine ‘large’ dinosaurs, operated by a team of three (one driver, and two ‘voodoo’ puppeteers each taking either the head and tail or minor movements, such as blinking or roaring); a 7m-tall adult T-rex and two 11m brachiosaurus; and four smaller ‘suit’ dinosaurs, including two 2.5m utahraptors. (Not the raptors made famous by Jurassic Park, which were modelled on utahraptor’s smaller, not-technically-a-velociraptor, cousin deinonychus. And not actually from Utah.)
As with previous tours, historical accuracy is a key consideration for WWD’s technical team, which once again consulted with palaeontologists to ensure the appearance and behaviour of all dinosaurs match the latest scientific consensus.
“We have added rudimentary feathers to the raptors, liliensternus and T-rex, which we didn’t have on the first tour,” explains resident director Ian Waller, “as it wasn’t proved to be fact then, but now is.”
“Some hay for the herbivores, and the odd human sacrifice for the T-rex and it’s done – no sorting the M&Ms or fancy water for them”
Ferrying the 18 dinos around the planet they used to call home are Transam Trucking, who are using no less than 23 trucks – a number that’s actually down on 2012, when it was 27, says general manager/booker Nick Grace, largely due to the use of more compact lighting, sound, video and rigging designs.
No reptile dysfunction
In spite of a gruelling touring schedule – the show is doing several split weeks, which naturally leads to dino wear and tear – regular maintenance means that technical problems are mercifully rare, according to Grace. “This is tempting fate, but the dinosaurs, who receive daily maintenance, never break down,” he says. “They are much easier to deal with than the touring crew, as they don’t need visas, hotels, per diems or flights…”
As a bonus, the dinosaurs’ riders are “really quite modest,” jokes Mary Shelley-Smith, global operations director of the show’s caterer, Eat to the Beat. “Some hay for the herbivores, and the odd human sacrifice for the T-rex and it’s done – no sorting the M&Ms or fancy water for them.”
Waller, meanwhile, pays tribute to the work of the technical team, who he says quite literally do the bulk of the heavy lifting. “It is quite busy for our actors and suit performers, but the main workload is done by our technical team, who have to continually take down the show and put it back up again,” he comments. “They take the real brunt of the work.”
Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 79, or subscribe to the magazine here
Trailblazer: Denis Sullivan, Herschend Live
Welcome to the latest edition of Trailblazers – IQ’s regular series of Q&As with the inspirational figures forging their own paths in the global concert business.
From people working in challenging conditions or markets to those simply bringing a fresh perspective to the music world, Trailblazers aims to spotlight unique individuals from all walks of life who are making a mark in one of the world’s most competitive industries. (Read the previous Trailblazers interview, with Annika Monari and Alan Vey, here.)
Denis Sullivan, VP of international development at Herschend Live (formerly Harlem Globetrotters International), has charted a career path perhaps unlike any other. His four-decade career in live entertainment has taken him from humble beginnings in production to working with Louis Walsh and Boyzone, repping artists at the Kurland Agency, heading up global touring at World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and, finally, leading business development internationally for the world’s most famous exhibition basketball team.
When he says it’s the road less travelled, he’s not joking…
How did you get your start in the industry?
Louis Walsh gave me my start, as such. I was doing production and sound tech work when we met. At that point he had just launched Boyzone, and I became his rep on the road, looking after the band and dealing with all the venues he would book. Louis booked us in every truck stop, barn and theatre he could find, four or five nights a week for two years straight. Louis also instilled the notion in me that we were in the T-shirt- and poster-selling business as much, if not more, than the ticket- and CD-selling business. He was very smart in that respect, and very good to me.
Shortly after that finished in early 1997, five friends of mine were in a band, Rubyhorse. They called me up, told me they were going to America in two weeks and asked if I wanted to go. So, off we set, looking for adventure. They actually ended up doing really well for a time: they played all the major late-night talk shows, put out a couple of albums and had a hit [‘Sparkle’], before being swallowed up in the all the record company mergers that were happening around that time.
At the same time, an agent by the name of Elizabeth Rush – ex-William Morris, Tour Consultants Inc., Concerted Efforts – was setting up her own shop, and for some reason I have not figured out to this day, she offered me a job and taught me the agency business from the ground up.
Tell us about your current role.
I run the international business for Herschend Live, of which the Harlem Globetrotters is part. We also have a couple of other projects in development that will come under that umbrella, so stay tuned for news on that.
Herschend Enterprises is an amazing company which focuses on family entertainment, so whether you are visiting one of our many theme parks, aquaria and adventure tours, or watching one of our TV programmes, the business model is the same: to create memories worth repeating. If you do that, the financial part of the business takes care of itself.
The company is led by some of the most brilliant people I have come across – from Andrew Wexler, our CEO of Herschend Enterprises, to Howard Smith, president of Herschend Live, and the entire executive team, our chart is coursed by a long-term vision, rather than short-term gain, and an eye on creating a tremendous culture in which people are inspired to bring their best every day. It’s a privilege to be part of it.
“We are a feeder system for the entire live events industry”
Who have been the biggest influences on your career to date?
I’ve been very fortunate – I haven’t had many employers, but I like to think I took the best lessons from all of them. Louis Walsh certainly had a huge impact on me. Elizabeth Rush has been a great friend and mentor to me down through the years; I still call her today when I want to bounce an idea off someone. Ted Kurland, who really honed my skills as an agent.
I ran global touring at WWE for eight years, and Vince McMahon taught me so much… his influence on me professionally can’t be overstated.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
In the family entertainment world, we are often people’s very first experience of a live event. One can never recapture that feeling. What we are doing is giving people their first taste of an experience that cannot be replicated online, on TV or on any other platform. We are showing these kids who come to see our shows that going to see something live, at a venue, is cool.
We are a feeder system for the entire live events industry, be it concerts, exhibitions, Broadway or sporting events. That is the most rewarding part of the job.
And the most challenging?
Controlling the uncontrollable. Weather, exchange rates, political events, terrorism… I once got a call from the ops team telling me the ship our show containers were on had been taken hostage by pirates and it was unlikely to be released in time to reach port for show day – there isn’t a lot that can prepare you for that phone call!
Also, with the sheer number of shows coming out now it takes more work to stay relevant and sustainable. We don’t take a year off to make a record – we tour every month of the year – so doing that in a sustainable manner to still sell millions of tickets each year takes quite a bit of work.
“The ship our show containers were on had been taken hostage by pirates … there isn’t a lot that can prepare you for that phone call!”
How has the business changed since you started out?
We, as an industry, are so much smarter. When I started it was ‘book the venue, throw some advertising up and hope it all works out’. Now, with the analytics we have access to, we can really get granular in our decision-making process. We can compare venue performance more accurately; measure the impact of our marketing spend in a much more targeted way; predict how a price increase will impact selling patterns; and know how a show will sell before we ever go up on sale.
What, if anything, could the industry do better?
We could give back more to the communities we visit. How much catering gets thrown out at the end of a night that could be donated to a local homeless shelter? To me, there is no reason in the world that every major show should not have a local charitable or social tie-in.
Michael Martin at Effect Partners and Maria Brunner from Insight Management both do tremendous work in this area, but we all have an unparallelled opportunity to improve the world we live in through this industry. We should embrace and make the most of that.
What advice would you give to someone hoping to make it in live entertainment?
Seek people out. Ask questions. Work like you mean it. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to mentor you.
As a whole, we have very generous people in the industry who all pretty much came up the same way. I do believe we have a responsibility to pay it forward to the next generation in that regard.
If you’d like to take part in a future Trailblazers interview, or nominate someone else for inclusion, email IQ’s news editor, Jon Chapple, on [email protected].
Cirque du Soleil Entertainment expands family offering
In a bid to further expand its audience base to even the youngest of viewers, global entertainment group Cirque du Soleil Entertainment has acquired VStar Entertainment Group, best known for its popular children- and family-oriented shows. The deal, announced last Thursday (5 July), will see the Minnesota-based company, as well as their Florida-based circus arts subsidiary Cirque Dreams, added to Cirque du Soleil’s growing portfolio.
VStar Entertainment Group has operated for close to four decades, with over 39,000 performances in more than 40 countries to its name. It has largely made its name through its family-oriented productions, showcasing popular children’s brands from Nickelodeon and Spin Master with huge success over the years. Of its most popular shows, PAW Patrol Live! Race to the Rescue stands a clear winner. In 2017 alone, the show toured 250 cities in 18 countries, grossing an average of $394,877.
The move is hoped to be mutually beneficial for all those involved. President and CEO of Cirque du Soleil Entertainment, Daniel Lamarre, comments: “VStar Entertainment Group has a proven track record and recognised expertise in small theatrical production, which complements Cirque du Soleil’s expertise in large-scale production and global touring.
“We continue to look for ways to expand and diversify our portfolio with new forms of entertainment and new brands”
“We firmly believe the knowledge transfer will help us develop our own capabilities in this type of entertainment and therefore, contribute to growing our footprint in the live entertainment production industry.”
This knowledge transfer will also be welcomed by Cirque Dreams, VStar’s subsidiary circus arts division. Founded by Broadway director Neil Goldberg, Cirque Dreams produces and operates tours and shows in theatres and tourist venues. On the acquisition, Goldberg says: “I have always admired the creative forces behind Cirque du Soleil and could not wish for a better partner to continue developing Cirque Dreams.”
Speaking further about this new direction for Cirque du Soleil Entertainment, Lamarre explained that whilst circus arts will always remain at the heart of the outfit, expanding into new horizons is a crucial part of the company’s future. He says: “We continue to look for ways to expand and diversify our portfolio with new forms of entertainment and new brands, reaching new audiences and expanding our own creative and production capabilities.”
Feld sues over Kid Rock’s ‘Greatest Show on Earth’
Feld Entertainment, the owner of circus company Ringling Bros, is suing Kid Rock and promoter Live Nation for trademark infringement over the name of the upcoming Greatest Show on Earth tour.
Feld claims the tour, announced in October and due to kick off at Bridgestone Arena (20,000-cap.) in Nashville on 19 January, dilutes and infringes on its “famous trademark”, ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’.
Its lawsuit, Feld Entertainment, Inc. et al v. Ritchie et al, was filed in the US district court for middle Florida before Christmas, and seeks to force Kid Rock – real name Robert James Richie – and Live Nation to change the name of the tour and turn over any revenue from merchandise featuring the disputed slogan, as well as additional unspecified damages.
According to Feld’s general counsel, Lisa Joiner, the company took the decision to go to the courts after “repeatedly contact[ing] defendants to obtain their cooperation to stop the infringement and [being] ignored”.
“We have authorised licensees for Ringling Bros and The Greatest Show On Earth, but Kid Rock is not one of them”
“We have authorised licensees for Ringling Bros and The Greatest Show On Earth, but Kid Rock is not one of them,” she adds.
“This historic trademark has been an important part of Ringling Bros for the past century, and it is recognised as a trusted and iconic brand of family-friendly entertainment,” says Kenneth Feld, Feld Entertainment’s chairman and CEO. “The Greatest Show on Earth continues to live on and will do so well into the future. We have no intention of surrendering the trademark or allowing it to be tarnished.”
An initial hearing is set for 9.30am on 16 January – three days before the start of the tour – with judge Mary S. Scriven presiding.
IQ celebrated Feld’s 50 years in the family entertainment spotlight with an anniversary feature in issue 70.
Familiarity breeds content
While Live Nation entering a new sector might have already established competitors breaking a sweat, there’s no denying it’s a sign of faith in the potential of the market.
Last year, Michel Boersma was hired to lead Live Nation’s emerging markets unit from Dubai. As SVP of family entertainment and theatre, he’s tasked with creating family shows and tours in the region that can also be rolled out globally.
It’s very difficult to go into these markets with pop or music related content,” Boersma explains. “Sometimes these markets may not be ready technically and venue-wise, but often there is a theatre space or small arena that we can bring a family or theatre show into. Additionally, there is more political support for family entertainment than there sometimes is with music.”
“There is more political support for family entertainment than there sometimes is with music”
Boersma reports a successful first year with tours including bringing Madagascar Live! to Asia in partnership with Dreamworks, launching a Banksy exhibition in Australia that’s now touring Asia and taking LED show iLuminate to Saudi Arabia where Monster Jam was also introduced together with Feld.
Broadway Entertainment Group opened an office in Dubai before Live Nation, having relocated from London two years ago to focus on the Middle East and Asia, where venues and theatres had started to be built. CEO Liz Koops says Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is its greatest success to date after touring the musical for 48 weeks internationally.
Attendance ranged from 65-85% capacity – depending on the maturity of the market – with ticket prices ranging from $75–100 (€67–90).
Read the rest of this feature in IQ 72: