Wednesday, October 26, 2016
The setting of the play was Fascist Italy, the era of Mussolini. Tamara enacted the true story of Gabriele d'Annunizo, a popular revolutionary poet under house arrest, and Tamara, a Polish aristocrat and artist summoned to paint his portrait. The key to its creativity, however, was that it was an interactive play involving the audience.
Audience members entered the building and were interrogated by a costumed and dangerous-looking guard, who placed doubt as to whether entrance would be allowed. The ticket was a passport, and, of course, everyone was given entrance into a palor with a 1920s motif. A waitress served champagne while a pianist entertained. With everyone gathered, the guard jumped up on top of a table and ordered us to follow "the rules." They were: Each of us must meet all the characters in the "house" in the parlor. If one of them left the room, each guest could follow that character throughout the house, unless the cast member slammed a door, at which point the guest could not follow. Whenever any character left a room, the guest could choose to stay (as other characters would be entering the room) or follow the one who left.
Soon all actors assembled in the parlor. After much interaction, some left running, others walking. All dispensed in various authentically decorated areas of the house. In each room, including the kitchen and bathroom, the play evolved. So, instead of viewing a single stage, the audience scattered into small groups that chased twelve characters from one room to the next, from one floor to the next, following them everywhere to co-create the stories that interested them the most.
During the night (and midway through the play), everyone gathered together in the kitchen, and a dinner of Italian fare was served. The cast re-entered afterward, and the play resumed as they again moved off into all other areas of the house. At the end of the evening, everyone somehow assembled in the parlor, and the play concluded.
Now the passport was not only a souvenir but also an invitation to return, which I did fourteen or fifteen times! And each time I saw a different version of the play as I always followed different characters to different places. And after five times, guests could attend free for a lifetime. With a dozen stages and storytellers, the number of story lines an audience could trace figured in the millions!
Now, why was this an inspiration? Shortly after my first visit, a large hotel in Detroit approached me to conceptualize an event for its best clients. When I asked hotel personnel to identify their challenges as well as their objectives, they shared that they wanted these guests to see the entire hotel and needed a creative way to move them around. That was my "aha" moment. Following is what I suggested, which they accepted, and I produced for them. It was the forerunner of the corporate mystery party.
Guests received a very formal invitation to attend a party in honor of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. When the 1,500 guests arrived, would it surprise you to know that they brought gifts of wine, food and flowers? Why? Seven hundred had been anticipated, but people thought the real Queen was attending! No matter, it was a wonderful turnout.
Guests were ushered into small areas that were privatized. (We actually turned the garage into meeting rooms.) Here they were entertained by a pre-recorded (but seemingly live) broadcast that told them that a theft had taken place. A jade Buddha that The Queen was taking to China had been stolen, and Her Majesty was asking the guests to help her find it. They would have to travel to different countries, and they would be issued a passport that would take them to various areas of the hotel which represented these different countries. We stationed a guest detective (various actors) in each area to create the atmosphere. Every area was decorated to represent its specific country. For instance, we had Magnum P.I. in Hawaii, Inspector Clousseau in Paris, Sherlock Holmes in London and Charlie Chan in China. And those were only a few. The detectives gave guests clues and stamped their passports. When all the clues were assembled, guests had to solve the crime and figure the location of the Buddha. True and false clues were distributed by an organ grinder's monkey, a juggler (look for the man with three balls), a magician doing card tricks (look for the man with 52 friends) and a variety of other entertainers. Some clues were even in fortune cookies.
Guests were then escorted to the pool deck where The Queen (a lookalike) was hosting a private concert and awarding prizes (raffle-style) to those who had discovered the Buddha's location.
The evening was a huge success. The press coverage was amazing. So, the objective was achieved in an innovative fashion that stemmed totally from Tamara. Yes, that was without cell phones and all kinds of technical enhancements. Oh, imagine the possibilities today... or tomorrow.
The Lesson Or Life in the Experience Economy
Finding new approaches is always a challenge. It's also the greatest joy. Like any professional, it's always important to stay abreast of new trends, new equipment, and new ideas. You can easily find inspiration in everything around you from: movies; television; books; magazines; conversations; collaborations; competitors; and history. Oh, and YouTube and SnapChat and... yes, everything is a possibility. Bank your experiences in your mind and pull them out when you find a perfect fit. That's what I do.
The key to what I shared is also that not everything has to remain static. Changing points of view is good. When I saw Tamara those many times, I always experienced something new and different. Sometimes it was no more than a nuance. But that's what kept it fresh. How do we incorporate that into our events, or our advertising, or our social media outreach? How do we stay relevant and fluid?
Attention spans are shorter. The world moves faster. Look for the unexpected. Look for the unobvious. Don't rule out tried and true; just put a new spin on it. After all, it is the experience economy, and experiences are what make each and every moment memorable.
NOTE: Let's brainstorm. Send me your ideas on how you would re-adapt my concept for the hotel today to reflect the use of technology or to give it a more modern twist. I will post the best ones on my two Facebook pages. That way, we can turn on our creative juices and collaborate.
Andrea Michaels is founder and president of Extraordinary Events, a multi-award-winning, international event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower - Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life. To learn more about Andrea and her company, visit http://www.extraordinaryevents.com. Andrea may be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.