Decent expo-sure: How exhibitions kept the lights on during Covid
Traditionally, IQ’s annual touring exhibitions reports have found a sector thriving in concert with, but somewhat overshadowed by, an equally ebullient live music market. But as venues shut down, borders closed and social distancing became the norm, the relative strengths of the exhibition format were thrown into stark relief – and for many producers, promoters and venues, Covid-secure exhibitions have been one of the only success stories of the past 17 months.
Manu Braff from MB Productions/MB Presents says he “I got caught with my pants down” (like nearly everyone else in the industry) in March 2020, with a Cirque du Soleil show ready to go in Antwerp just as “sanitary restrictions hit us and I had to close the show down before it could open.” Thankfully, touring exhibitions have helped partially keep MB and others open.
London- and Rotterdam-based World Touring Exhibitions (Travelling Bricks, 3D Doubt Your Eyes, Living Dinosaurs) continued working throughout much of the pandemic, opening or extending shows in the US, Germany and Bulgaria, although the “levels are absolutely tiny compared to what we did before,” says founder Corrado Canonici, who adds that the downtime has, however, provided an opportunity to think about the future and acquire a number of new shows, which will be announced in the near future.
After a few months, “I saw I had to be creative,” continues Braff. “So, the first thing I did is that I imagined a new forest walkthrough experience, Lanterna Magica, with my partners with whom I do a light festival here in Belgium,” he explains. “We sold a lot of tickets, but we weren’t allowed to do it. So that was my first trial. And then we started looking at museums, which for some reason were allowed to stay open.” Braff says he was helped by the fact that, in Belgium, the museums reopened in mid-2020, when other venues were still closed. “So, we got the authorisation to do exhibitions in museums,” he explains, “and once that started it hasn’t stopped since. We’ve done five exhibitions since September 2020.”
Also playing into exhibition organisers’ hands last year is the fact that venues that would normally be fully booked were available because of the lack of concert touring. “I even did an exhibition for the first time ever at the Sportpaleis [arena] in Antwerp,” continues Braff. “Together with the Sportpaleis, we are co-promoting Imagine Exhibitions’ Real Bodies exhibition in their VIP arena, and we’ve been doing that since December 2020 quite successfully. It was a way of creatively occupying empty spaces.” Other recent projects for MB include photography exhibition The World of Steve McCurry (Antwerp), Dino World (Brussels and Madrid) and a sand sculpture experience on the Middelkerke seafront.
Leading expo producer Imagine Exhibitions (Jurassic World: The Exhibition, The Hunger Games: The Exhibition, Angry Birds: The Art & Science Behind a Global Phenomenon) is gearing up for its next major launch, Harry Potter: The Exhibition, which will premiere in Philadelphia in 2022, and it’s the wizarding world that kept up morale in the darkest days of spring 2020, says president and CEO Tom Zaller. “We all had this hope because we were working towards trying to get the licence for Harry Potter, so there was a sort of light at the end of the tunnel, even when the tunnel was pitch black with Covid,” he says. “We all had this burning desire that we could get this thing and make it happen, and you need that: to be working for something.”
“Planning the installation of an exhibition outside of Europe during a global pandemic is not for the faint of heart”
Though the lockdowns in the US were less severe, and shorter-lived, than in many parts of Europe, Imagine also adapted some of its exhibitions to work around 2020’s ‘new normal.’ “We converted several of our dinosaur shows into outside drive-through shows, so that was a big financial bonus for us also,” Zaller says. “It was good for team morale, but it also helped financially to have some income coming in when everything else had dried up.”
Against their better judgment, the team at Germany’s SC Exhibitions (recently rebranded Semmel Exhibitions) have spent the best part of this year moving their exhibitions across the globe, with operations manager Anna Lenhof overseeing the relocation of Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes across Michigan, from Dearborn to Chicago, and Tutankhamun: His Tomb and His Treasures from Zurich to Seoul.
While “risky” projects, “everyone was so motivated because we all wanted to work again and have a project that can actually take place and welcome visitors,” she recalls. For the move to Chicago, “normally we would work with our German technical crew, but at that time German people were not allowed to enter America, so we had to additionally hire an American crew, which caused a lot of extra costs, but we didn’t want to risk not having anyone there to install and open the exhibition,” Lenhof continues. (Ultimately, “we somehow convinced the embassy that our [German] crew was essential and they allowed us in,” she adds.)
Tutankhamun presented even more difficulties, with Lenhof and team contending with visa issues, multiple cancelled flights, and the global freight disruption caused by container ship Ever Given’s blocking of the Suez Canal to get the exhibition to Korea. “Planning the installation of an exhibition outside of Europe during a global pandemic is not for the faint of heart!” she says.
As full-capacity shows return in much of the world, Canonici says promoters, battered by the economic impact of the pandemic, are looking for “simpler, easier, popular” exhibitions to ease them back into ‘normal’ business. “They want shows that are easier logistically, and based on a popular subject… Basically, everybody wants less risk and more certainty that they’re going to sell the ticket,” he explains. “Which is understandable.”
Fortunately, the same is true for fans, he continues: “During the Covid-19 lockdowns, the only thing many people could do was share photos with each other. I received so many pictures from my friends and family on [instant messaging app] WhatsApp; they were doing pretty much nothing at home, but they were still sending messages about anything, just for something to do. So, I think that social media is now even more important. Because of Covid, something that is simple, entertaining and appealing on social media – whether it’s an exhibition or another form of entertainment – that’s what people want.”
For Pascal Bernardin, founder and president of promoter Encore Productions (Titanic: The Exhibition, Game of Thrones: The Touring Exhibition, Imagine Van Gogh, Imagine Picasso), consumers’ increased reliance on social media is a double-edged sword, with the desire to document their experience getting fans through the door – but also contributing to a proliferation or poor-quality events that exist solely to provide an ‘Instagram moment.’
“Now that the world is opening up again, and people are hungry for experiences, I think the industry is ready to show the visitor something new”
“Some of these [substandard] events have a place where it’s good to take a photo to send to your friends or put on Instagram and Facebook. I think that is the only way they get so popular,” he explains. But a single Instagrammable feature isn’t enough to sustain interest, and create word of mouth, if the show is below par: “When you are in the premises, you need that quality,” he adds.
According to Braff, “People who have never done exhibitions before are getting into it” after seeing the popularity – and viability – of the format during the on-off lockdowns of 2020–21, providing competition for the established players. “I think there are going to be a lot of amateurs trying to do things, and it’s going to give a bad reputation for those of us who are doing better work,” he says. Bernardin predicts that the “exhibition market is going to go wild” in the years ahead as the coronavirus pandemic recedes, with “immersive exhibitions” such as Imagine Van Gogh – where, like a “rock show […] you are totally immersed in the art” – set to continue their popularity.
Music-themed exhibitions, though, are “not so easy,” he adds: “The best one I’ve seen was the Pink Floyd exhibition [Their Mortal Remains] at the V&A in London, but it died everywhere else it went, from Germany to Paris. It was a great exhibition, but for some strange reason it didn’t work. Rock’n’roll exhibitions are not an easy thing to do.”
“From my perspective, I see a bit of a renaissance in museums and science centres,” Lenhof’s colleague Christoph Scholz, director of international projects and exhibitions for Semmel Concerts, says. “In 2020, when the world shuttered the doors on exhibition spaces, there was a quiet behind-the-scenes revolution of thought. Industry insiders wondered: Was it time to retire the ‘white box’ museum? Should exhibition spaces become multi-layered, interactive, transformative spaces that reflect and work with the community around them? Why not create a mashup: mix up a traditional museum event with a superior food experience in an extraordinary setting? Now that the world is opening up again, and people are hungry for experiences, I think the industry is ready to show the visitor something new.”
“I think there’ll be a lot of immersive video shows in the next couple of years, because the Van Goghs in America have exploded and everybody wanted to get that ticket,” adds Zaller, “and so their sales have exploded. It’ll be very interesting to watch that space to see how many other immersive digital-projection experiences come around, and if it sticks as a new format.”
“We need to deliver a holistic experience to today’s audience. They need to come to a resonant, memorable place,” continues Scholz. “That can be a museum with a celebrity chef’s restaurant; a concept like the one of Hauser & Wirth, a global leader in the arts world, who brings the classic contemporary art gallery to a farm in beautiful Somerset, England, or a historic military hospital on a tiny Spanish island, or a carefully renovated factory building in Downtown LA. It can be an immersive projection show, such as what L’Atelier des Lumières does in a World War II U-boat wharf in Bordeaux.”
Scholz recommends IQ readers “travel to Las Vegas to visit the new epicentre of the experience economy, a complex called Area 15. Here you can see the future of immersive attractions, new forms of exhibitions, and nostalgic reminiscences of entertainment from yesteryear, such as a roller disco. Just a few weeks ago I went to Miami where Superblue combines the latest things in immersive and experiential art with the structure of a classic white-cube gallery. Go to Universal Studios or anything Disney does; check an open-air art gallery and park like the High Line, or the experiential park Little Island in New York City.
“We can’t just go straight back to full price straight away, like nothing has happened”
“Cultural tourism was strong prior to the pandemic and will be strong again when travelling is safe again. We live in vibrant times. The exhibition arts sector is super productive, and the creative minds behind new exhibition spaces are excited to show next year’s visitors something new.”
In recognition of cash-strapped promoters’ caution to commit to new exhibitions, Canonici says World Touring Exhibitions is still offering “friendly discounted prices” to its partners, providing a boost to the market. “We understand that we need to help promoters,” he says. “We can’t just go straight back to full price straightaway, like nothing has happened.”
World Touring Exhibitions’ newest offering is The Long Walk to Freedom, which features “nearly 100 bronze statues, life-sized, of all the people who dedicated their lives to ending Apartheid in South Africa,” Canonici explains. “Their struggle for justice is something that’s very much in line with what’s happening in the world at the moment,” he continues, “so I think it’s going to be very popular, and an exhibition that will resonate with people.”
For Semmel, “I think our priority is to learn as much as possible from the last two years, because what happened to our business, and other businesses in our society, will also shape the industry in the future,” says Lenhof. “For example, for productions like Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes and Tutankhamun we need to take into account that travelling from one country or one continent to another might not be as easy as it was before. We’re also facing the challenge that many freelancers might have changed professions when we start again.”
Another challenge will be securing venue availabilities once concerts return, Braff says. “Venues are becoming less and less available for the foreseeable future, because everybody wants to go back to what they were doing before,” he comments. “I think I’m going to continue doing exhibitions – the ones I’ve done already, the big brands like Tutankhamun and Harry Potter and Titanic and the big touring exhibitions, are people pleasers – but it’s still a risk. I think the risk is going to become greater again within the next year or two than it was [in 2020] when we were the only ones around.”
Audience expectations, meanwhile, will continue to rise, says Zaller, compared to when fans were prepared to accept lower-quality experiences given the restrictions on events. Referring to the drive-through dinosaur exhibitions, he adds: “People really wanted to be entertained, so I think they were willing to look past the parking lot – I mean, to a five-year-old, it doesn’t matter: those dinosaurs are real. But for me, it was difficult to not be able to deliver a fully immersive experience because we were literally working in an empty parking lot, and I like to hold myself to a certain standard, so doing them was hard at times. But in the end people loved them.”
SC, meanwhile, is pondering more practical considerations ahead of the premiere of its latest exhibition, which celebrates 100 years of the Walt Disney Company, in 2023. “We are currently working on concepts that make visiting our exhibitions even more safe when it comes to interactivity, for example,” says Lenhof. “We’re aiming to use less touchscreen technology – and queuing could also still be an issue, even when we will celebrate the premiere. So, we need to plan ahead and think about those challenges.
“We don’t know if in 2023 everything will be like it was in 2019. It could be that people are still more cautious when it comes to hygiene and touching things, and maybe they’ll still want to keep their distance from other people they don’t know. That’s why we are facing those problems now to avoid as many issues nearer the time.”
This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.
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.
John Empson joins UK promoter Senbla
London-based promoter Senbla has hired John Empson, known for promoting Eden Sessions, Wilderness and last year’s Legitimate Peaky Blinders Festival, to lead the company’s growing experiential events business.
Empson – who was instrumental in setting up Eden Sessions (now run by AEG Presents) in 2001, and later programmed Wilderness, Citadel and Somersault festivals for Mama Group – will also support Senbla CEO Ollie Rosenblatt in “maximising potential across all verticals”, according to the company.
“The experiential side is clearly a huge growth area, marrying music and IP, entertainment and interaction,” comments Rosenblatt on the appointment. “We see huge potential, as do our partners at Sony Music Masterworks, with the exploitation of IP.”
“I have known John for quite some time now,” he adds. “One conversation led to another and we found a great common ground and an area that could really be developed.”
The Empson-created Legitimate Peaky Blinders festival, based on the hit BBC TV series of the same name, will also return for a second outing next year under the Senbla umbrella.
“I couldn’t be more excited to join Senbla,” says John Empson. “Their ambition, creativity and enthusiasm is unmatched in this industry.
“With the backing of Sony, we’re working together on ground-breaking new live formats, developing a major experiential arm and presenting a raft of original immersive events and festivals. There’s more to come.”
“We’re working together on ground-breaking new live formats, developing a major experiential arm”
The appointment of Empson follows Senbla’s recent acquisition of two festivals, Strawberries and Creem and The Cambridge Club, and news it will be bringing performances by Michael Bublé and Olly Murs to new outdoor venues, including the 15,000-capacity Royal Crescent Bath and 15,000-cap. Chewton Glen in Hampshire, in 2021.
In other company news, 2021 will also see Senbla enter the US market through a strategic alliance with artist manager Jonathan Shank’s Terrapin Entertainment, which was last month acquired by Senbla parent company Sony Masterworks. The alliance will see Terrapin and Senbla develop and produce IP-driven live entertainment productions.
Rosenblatt was also instrumental in the recently announced Sony Music Masterworks 50% acquisition of Seaview Productions, the Broadway producer, which will collaborate with Senbla on specific projects.
“Although clearly 2020 has thrown up enormous challenges, what is clear is that this has given everyone a moment to reflect,” Rosenblatt continues. “The Senbla family has always been one of diverse productions, creative ideas and a huge appetite to grow. To develop and expand you have to be slightly uncomfortable. Therefore, more than ever, we have to be inventive, broad and bold, pushing beyond what we consider to be the norm. The audience expects more from a live experience.
“Next year also sees our new venues come into play: the Royal Crescent is set to become one of the crown jewels in the touring circuit, particularly for international artists, with its absolutely exquisite and quintessentially English backdrop, as does Chewton Glen in the most stunning of settings next to the New Forest. Our foray into the US with Jonathan Shank is very special; he is someone I have known and admired for a number of years. The prospect of working together in a more cohesive way has always been something that has excited me, so I am truly delighted we made this happen and for us to now formally be in business together.”
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.
Touring exhibitions report: The rise of Insta-gratification
It’s been an interesting 12 months in the world of touring exhibitions. While blockbuster productions still dominate and the sector as a whole continues to grow, albeit slowly, there are those who caution against complacency and overconfidence, keen to avoid some of the missteps that have befallen other parts of the industry.
Such issues were to the fore at the recent Touring Exhibitions Meeting (TEM) in Berlin, the biennial gathering of promoters, producers, museum curators and creative professionals. Alongside upcoming projects, the next evolution of such touring exhibitions, and trends in the context of the so-called “experience economy” – the latter proving somewhat controversial – there were two particularly hot topics, according to Christoph Scholz of SC Exhibitions, a division of Semmel Concerts, one of the leading German live entertainment promoters and the company behind TEM.
“Firstly, where do we go?” he asks. “This was a very pertinent question this year because there is only so much talent, and content, available. And secondly: What’s the next thing? We discussed new forms of exhibitions, or what you might call ‘experiences.’”
For Scholz, huge European successes such as Harry Potter: The Exhibition (“Adolfo Galli promoted it in Milan and got over 400,000 visitors,” he says), Titanic: The Exhibition and Star Wars Identities are all well and good, but keeping one eye on the future is just as important for those with a vested interest in continued growth and building sustainable businesses.
“Overall, I have a very positive outlook,” says Scholz of the sector’s health. It’s a sentiment echoed by almost everyone IQ quizzed for this annual appraisal; far from being fearful of stagnation or saturation, many promoters and producers are excited about new markets and technologies, and presenting beloved brands in innovative ways.
“Customers are becoming much more savvy when it comes to experiences”
As ever, though, quality is key, as is being attuned to precisely what consumers demand from such exhibitions in the ever more crowded entertainment sphere.
While the last year has seen a continued focus on major licensed IP such as Hunger Games, Downton Abbey: The Exhibition and Hamilton: The Musical, producers are also now acutely aware of the visitor experience and how important a factor that is to commercial success.
“Customers are becoming much more savvy when it comes to experiences,” says Abigail Bysshe, vice-president of experiences and business development at the Franklin Institute, one of America’s most celebrated museums. “They expect to be immersed in a story and entertained, so the content has to really engage the visitor and make them feel part of the experience.”
Tom Zaller, president and CEO of US-based Imagine Exhibitions, agrees; for him, it’s clear that the general public are looking for immersive, story-driven narratives. “Exhibitions are another form of entertainment,” he says, “so whether you have objects or projections, something scenic or static, I always find that the one constant is a well-told story to drive the whole experience.”
Such a belief lies at the heart of his company’s 35 unique exhibitions currently on tour, with the worldwide success of the likes of Angry Birds Universe, the Discovery of King Tut and Real Bodies testament to the effectiveness of designing such events from the visitor viewpoint up.
So what is being done to improve this? In short: technology. “Virtual and augmented reality will become more and more a part of events in general,” according to Corrado Canonici of World Touring Exhibitions, the company behind Travelling Bricks and Interactive Science.
“More than 50% of venues who book such exhibits are seeking tactile, hands-on ‘interactives’ as part of the experience”
Rafael Giménez of Sold Out, one of Spain’s biggest producers and promoters, notes that more and more AV equipment is now required for shows, and that such developments “will bring new ways of seeing things.”
For Zaller, though, technology goes beyond what he calls “creative execution”. Imagine Exhibitions are already looking at the power of data-driven decision-making and audience insight in order to help venues “deliver content that is timely and relevant – both scientifically and socially – to their audience.”
And, he adds, the new technology behind interactive elements is important not just to make things enjoyable – it is essential for learning. “More than 50% of venues who book such exhibits are seeking tactile, hands-on ‘interactives’ as part of the experience. They are the perfect vehicles for us to achieve our goal to educate, entertain, and enlighten.”
But one aspect of technology, and the modern world, is proving controversial. As Scholz noted in IQ 78, more and more exhibitions – such as San Francisco’s Museum of Ice Cream – are serving as ‘Instagram environments’, and are being specifically designed to provide shareable and social media-friendly backdrops and moments. Does this ‘Instagramisation’ detract from the actual content?
“It does, and it is a problem,” says Scholz, a thought echoed by Bysshe.
What makes a successful touring exhibition?
These past few years, the family entertainment industry has seen a significant rise in the popularity of touring exhibitions. These travelling edutainment concepts are far removed from traditional museum exhibitions where visitors merely observe original artworks and read the accompanying information.
Whether it’s the intriguing life of an artist or a showcase for a popular movie, the public increasingly expects to be able to experience content by means of innovative technologies, rather than to just look and learn. As the line between entertainment and traditional museum exhibitions seems to be fading more and more, contemporary touring exhibitions are being continually developed, and the question arises: what makes a touring exhibition successful?
A new way of presenting iconic brands
Especially when it comes to museums, some would say that the only successful touring exhibitions are the ones that present “original artefacts”. I dare to question this.
Take the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, for example. The museum is recognised as the world’s leading authority on the life and work of Vincent van Gogh, and engages millions of visitors each year. Although the interest in Van Gogh’s original paintings remains undiminished, the museum has recognised a growing public demand to experience arts and culture in a contemporary way. By combining the expertise of the museum with techniques commonly employed in the entertainment industry, the museum has transformed the story of Vincent van Gogh into the touring Meet Vincent van Gogh Experience.
Although the museum owns the largest collection of original artworks by Vincent van Gogh, they chose not to present them in the tour. Instead, they created a multi-sensory interactive exhibition inspired by Van Gogh’s artwork and letters, bridging the traditional gap between entertainment and high art, and making art accessible to a broader audience. Not only for the traditional museum visitor, but also for families and so-called “digital nomads”.
It’s not a secret that successful brands sell, and that counts for touring exhibitions as well. The strong branding of the internationally acclaimed Van Gogh Museum assures visitors that they will receive the authentic story from a well-respected source.
Another example of a touring exhibition created around a successful brand is Nathan Sawaya’s Art of the Brick. Sawaya presents the iconic Lego bricks in a way that is both new and entertaining, while maintaining the authenticity of the Lego brand itself. Both these exhibitions show that by reinterpreting a well-recognised brand in an authentic and innovative way, you can open up the market for new audiences.
“These low-cost exhibitions will burn up the market for us all”
In my experience on the production side of touring exhibitions, I’ve seen a lot of variation in quality when it comes to exhibition sets. Too often a production kit contains only a few video projectors, ragged text panels, and a worn out light and walling system. As a result, presenters need to invest heavily to get the production to the right level of quality. Bigger is not always better, but it’s all about applying enough resources in a smart, creative way. The end result should be a turnkey set that adds substantial value to both the presenter’s operation and the perceived visitor experience.
The industry threat: copycats
Unfortunately, too often when high-quality exhibitions become successful, copycats emerge. Some promoters choose a low-quality version mainly for financial reasons. I see this as a big threat for this fast-growing market segment. Visitors are often buying an expensive ticket for an exhibition that takes just 30 minutes to walk through, or that doesn’t contain the story or brand that is expected. As a result, they are disappointed and may not visit a similar exhibition again. There are, for example, various Da Vinci, dino, and space exhibitions, but only a few are authentic, have high production values, and are supported by a well-known brand. These low-cost exhibitions will burn up the market for us all.
In my opinion, the touring exhibitions market can only be successful if promoters consistently opt for brand and production values above price, and I think this proves to be the biggest challenge. If you aim to be successful and want to attract a large number of visitors on a consistent basis, there’s no cutting corners. The discussion is not about whether original artefacts need to be presented or not, it’s about telling the authentic story in an appropriate way by using the original brand; having high-quality production values; and engaging visitors with the use of innovative technologies.
Quality comes with a price, and promoters must go ‘all in’ to ensure that the touring exhibition market continues to be stable and successful.
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
Exhibitions vet David Parr joins BASE Hologram
David Parr has been appointed executive vice-president of location-based productions global sales at BASE Hologram, where he will be responsible for selling the company’s content for residencies in museums, retail centres and various other ‘destination’ events.
A touring exhibitions industry veteran, Parr (pictured) was most recently executive producer for X3 Productions, where he oversaw sales, marketing and touring for Star Wars Identities.
BASE Hologram, which launched January this year, is the holographic division of BASE Entertainment, led by ex-SFX/Clear Channel Entertainment CEO Brian Becker. It recently announced the addition of a holographic Amy Winehouse to its stable of touring shows, which also includes Roy Orbison and Maria Callas.
Becker told IQ earlier this week that, while the original concept for BASE Hologram was “straightforward: to put shows on tour”, the company “now think[s] we can go much further with this, with residencies, on Broadway and the West End, and in museums”.
Prior to joining X3, Parr was senior vice-president of sales and marketing for Premier Exhibitions, managing sales and marketing for shows including Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, Pompeii: The Exhibition, Saturday Night Live: The Exhibition and Bodies Revealed.
“David has made a great impact in the marketing world, and we know he will be a valued addition to the team,” says Tim Ward, president of BASE Hologram. “As we grow as a company and bring on new projects into this innovative space, his experience will be incredibly valuable to helping continue to develop new projects that no one else is doing.”
Van Gogh Museum presents Meet Vincent Van Gogh
Meet Vincent van Gogh is the official touring experience of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Meet Vincent Van Gogh offers local promoters an award-winning blockbuster exhibition based on one of the world’s most recognised artists and strongest museum brands. Interactive installations, high quality setworks and an intriguing narrative let visitors explore the world of Vincent van Gogh as never before.
Both entertaining and educational, the experience is perfect for families, schools, and beginners and experts alike.
A museumful of secrets: Q&A with the V&A’s Vicky Broackes
Victoria Broackes is senior curator for the department of theatre and performance at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). She is curator of Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains; co-curator of You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966–1970; and in 2013 co-curated David Bowie Is – the fastest-selling exhibition in the museum’s history, which is still touring the world and has to date been seen by nearly two million people.
Here, Broackes (pictured) tells IQ about the genesis of the Bowie show, bringing the live experience to a museum and persuading music mega-fans to part with their hard-earned trinkets…
Was David Bowie is the first music exhibition with which the V&A was involved?
It wasn’t the first – we had a Kylie Minogue exhibition, produced by Melbourne Arts Centre, in 2007, then our own Motown show in 2010 – but it was our first major ‘headline’ exhibition that benefited from the full V&A scale. There was lots of talk at the time of the Kylie exhibition about whether it was the ‘proper’ thing for the V&A to be doing – but I feel very strongly, looking at the late 20th century, that music is an essential part of culture, and our V&A collections reflect this, so it would be odd in every way to ignore it.
How did the decision to do Bowie come about?
We had a shortlist of people we’d decided we’d cover as a single subject if the opportunity arose, and he was top of that list.
Bowie was a bit of an odd one, as he kept everything – even sketches he’d done as a teenager, the sort of things most people would throw away – and even [reacquired] artefacts that he no longer owned. The depth of the collection was a huge asset because we were able to show not just star objects such as Alexander McQueen costumes, Terry O’Neill photos, et cetera, but also to reveal the creative process behind them. From the moment I first saw his archive, I said, “We’d love to do this”.
Do you think that David Bowie Is was a catalyst for the current swathe of music exhibitions hitting the market, including Their Mortal Remains?
Yes, I do, absolutely. Part of the reason for that, I think, was the way in which we brought live performance techniques, such as immersive sound and video, into the museum environment. There were lots of people who maybe thought, ‘I love David Bowie but I don’t want to see him in a museum’, wondering how it would work – but the answer is it works extremely well.
“I think we’ve tapped into that desire for an experience, for the audience to be part of the show”
Why is that?
I think we’ve tapped into that desire for an experience, for the audience to be part of the show. In addition to the technological aspect – with Bowie and Revolution we had Sennheiser’s guidePORT, which is almost like a GPS system that activates sound and video depending on where you are in the exhibition, so the immersion isn’t broken by having to press buttons – what’s interesting about these kind of exhibitions is that, compared to a traditional museum exhibit, the audience already have a lot of strong opinions; they’re already totally invested in the artist or the subject matter.
What we’re doing here is not only showing wonderful things to inform, inspire and ignite the visitor’s imagination, but allowing people to bring their own story to the exhibition and experience the emotions associated with that. With David Bowie Is, people got so into the mood that they were hugging, dancing, singing, crying… [Pink Floyd drummer] Nick Mason said he didn’t believe they could do Their Mortal Remains in a museum until he saw the Bowie show.
Weirdly, we seem to have pioneered a genre that’s going to make lots of other people lots of money…
On the money front, presumably these recent blockbuster shows have been lucrative for the V&A?
They’ve been an enormous success, but you have to remember there are very few ways museums can make money. Mostly it’s a case of ‘the more we do, the more we spend…’
These touring shows, along with corporate events, go some way towards balancing the books – but the truth is until these blockbuster events came along a few years ago, it wasn’t considered a failure to break even or make a small loss: critical acclaim and excellence are the top priority. It seems sensible to have a balanced programme; these blockbusters are making the museum some money that can support other things of huge value that might not be profitable. It would be a shame if we only judged events by the number of people coming to them – people appreciate variety.
What about merch? Is there much demand for, say, Pink Floyd T-shirts?
Yes, definitely. Merchandise is a huge moneymaker. It’s a bit like going to a gig or a festival – people want to take something home with them. We’re selling T-shirts, vinyl… even when people know they could probably get it cheaper elsewhere, they still want to take away a souvenir from the day.
“You can have the best ideas in the world, but if you can’t make people excited about being involved you don’t have an exhibition”
What is the process of gathering material to include in your exhibitions? Do the owners of loaned items receive any remuneration?
Such a big part of the curatorial role is a research and diplomatic one, tracking people down and persuading them it’s something they want to be part of. You can have the best ideas in the world, but if you can’t make people excited about being involved, you don’t have an exhibition. With Bowie, 80% of the items were his; for Pink Floyd, they brought a lot of it together themselves – some of the instruments were on tour with David Gilmour or Roger Waters, and many were looked after in an immaculately kept store.
Costumes were obviously less important for Floyd than Bowie, although Nick Mason did find us a few ties and a lovely flouncy shirt from the ’60s at the bottom of a dressing-up box…
As for financial recompense for the lenders: no. We’ll pay them the costs of preparing the item, but if we paid them loan fees it would be prohibitively expensive. In America, loan fees are common, but less so in the UK. Private collectors can be uncertain, and sometimes don’t want to lend – you have to tell them what you’re doing and try to persuade them how great it will be to be part of the exhibition.
What have been your most successful exhibitions to date?
David Bowie Is was by far the biggest music exhibition. Nearly two million people have now seen the show worldwide, in 11 venues – it will finish in Brooklyn, opening March 2018, its last stop
But over 410,000 people saw Their Mortal Remains in London before it closed on 15 October. It’s going to Rome next, then to nine other venues, so we’re hoping it will match Bowie. Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, which came after Bowie, is our biggest at the V&A site – but unlike Bowie, which only had a finite number of headphones, McQueen could accommodate more visitors and was never going to be shown anywhere else again. By the end people were so desperate to see it, we were open 24 hours a day.
With the V&A now famous for its music exhibition credentials, how do you choose which projects to pursue and which to turn down?
Since Bowie, we’ve been inundated with offers to do other people and other shows, but many simply won’t work as a V&A exhibition. Music is important, of course, but because we don’t cover it purely from a musicological point of view – we’re not the Rock & Rock Hall of Fame – we look for subjects that impact our culture more widely: it’s not just about the band or the individual, but the world around
It’s important that we stick to our core values. The V&A has more shows on the road than any other museum but it’s not about empire building: it’s about spreading what we’re trying to do here, which is to inspire imagination and creativity.
Click here to read the full touring exhibitions feature from IQ 74.
Exhibition control: Trends in touring expos
After a scheduled detour in 2016 (spurred in part by the runaway success of the Rolling Stones’ Exhibitionism) to focus solely on music expos, normal service is resumed this year, with IQ quizzing the innovators behind some of the world’s leading family, film, sports and – yes – music exhibitions for our annual health check of the global market for touring expos.
Our latest examination of the sector comes as blockbuster shows such as Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains, Star Wars Identities and Harry Potter: The Exhibition continue to pull huge audiences worldwide… and as rival producers plan to emulate their success with new exhibitions drawing on hitherto untapped IP, such as recently announced events based on HBO’s Game of Thrones and ITV’s Downton Abbey. But what does it take to be successful in a sector where shows run for months, not hours – and how are those on the front line making sure their exhibitions stand out amid a swell in both demand and supply?
A large part of the boom in the popularity of touring expos is down to the shows becoming increasingly more immersive, suggests Sophie Desbiens of Canada’s X3 Productions, with technological innovation rapidly obliterating the stereotype of museum exhibitions as reserved affairs attended by people standing in silence and looking politely at the collections.
“People want and expect highly immersive and innovative entertainment experiences”
Montreal-based X3 focuses on major, blockbuster-style exhibitions – specifically those licensed from Lucasfilm/ Disney – which Desbiens says appeal to a “broader audience than traditional exhibits”. The result, then, is that the “visiting public is changing”, with exhibitions such as X3’s Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology and Star Wars Identities “starting to interest people who wouldn’t normally go to a museum” by building interactivity into their design.
“Technology now delivers interactive experiences, so the days of exhibitions being mainly about artefacts and inanimate objects are no longer the main offering,” agrees Geoff Jones, CEO of Australian live entertainment giant TEG. “People want and expect highly immersive and innovative entertainment experiences, which also opens up new, younger audiences who might not have previously been seen dead in an exhibition.”
World Touring Exhibitions turns 15
London-based World Touring Exhibitions this year celebrated its 15th year in business.
Formerly known as World Concert Artists, the company has since rebranded after successfully turning its attention to the touring exhibitions world. “We initially only represented exhibitions,” says founder Corrado Canonici, “but felt we had our own ideas as well, so going into producing our own was the natural next step.”
The company’s 15th anniversary year has been a successful one: Travelling Bricks (made of Lego bricks) has sold 40,000 tickets in its first month, while the brand-new Interactive Science exhibition recently opened with an encouraging presale of over 10,000 tickets. A 3D exhibition, meanwhile, is currently in production.