Unusual, Experiential Events That Organisers Can Learn From
Have you ever enjoyed a meal bursting with exquisite flavour combinations while a group of performers dance their way down the table? How about listened to a live band in someone’s living room? Or raced around a locked room to find the hidden key before a zombie eats you?
As the world of events and entertainment continues to expand and evolve, these scenarios are not as unlikely as they sound - especially in cities such as London where arts and culture flourish and the inhabitants are particularly thrill-seeking. Despite the veneer of secrecy that their innovative creators aim to perpetuate, you don’t have to dig too deep – or at least only as far down as Underground-level - if you fancy some subterranean immersive theatre at, say, The Vaults beneath Waterloo Station.
"London is one of the most vibrant and exciting cultural cities in the world," says Rafe Offer, the founder of Sofar Sounds, whose secret music events around the city are focussed on how we experience the talents of live performing artists. "It has some excellent venues putting on the best in all sorts of music - from pop to electronic, classical, and the avant-garde."
These days, with so much on offer, and our attention spans reportedly shrinking according to some psychologists as a result, we find ourselves wanting events to sizzle our senses, shake us out of our repetitive city-life stupor and, if possible, transport us to a whole different dimension. As an event organiser, you might consider taking inspiration from some of the unusual, memorable experiences below!
Secret underground 1920s-themed bar, anyone?
Live music in someone else's living room
An unusual, memorable experience doesn’t have to be exotic. Sometimes simply taking an activity out of its usual context and plonking it in another one is all you need to switch up the status quo. Listening to a live band in your living room, for example. Or, even better, someone else’s! (Especially if this ‘someone else’ has that lounge bar you always dreamed of. #LivingRoomGoals)
Sofar Sounds is such a venture, providing gigs in intimate spaces, generously contributed by home-owning hosts in the city, to 'bring the magic back to live music'. Its founder Rafe Offer says of the enterprise, "As a music fan I've always enjoyed going to gigs, supporting and discovering new artists, but the gigs I attended always left a sour taste in my mouth... not because of the performers but because of the audience! People talking, filming the whole thing, only coming for the last act, leaving half way through. I knew that these artists deserved better."
As you walk up the driveway belonging to an unknown yet buzzing house, the set-up feels distinctly like ‘the house party of a friend of a friend’. Once you arrive, you're encouraged to bring out your own drinks, get comfortable on the sofas and bean bags, and turn off your phones so that you can engage fully with the various artists performing only a few metres in front of you. "That's why we originally set up Sofar Sounds - to create a way for artists to perform to an audience that actually listen to what they're doing - and that philosophy is at the heart of every decision we make."
An immersive food experience
How about serving some truffle and salmon mousse with a side of kangaroo meat loaf?
Okay, perhaps that palette might not suit all of your guests' preferences. However, there are some deliciously unusual, and even immersive, food experiences out there to take inspiration from when thinking about how to tickle an attendee's taste buds and unleash their inner Heston Blumenthal, while providing a great night of entertainment to boot!
Spice up your dining experience
One such event is Gingerline – ‘a whole new multi-dimensional dining adventure’ - which combines its delicious gastronomic innovations with live performances and actor-diner interaction. To enhance the intrigue, everything is kept ultra-secretive until an address, near one of the Overground stations, is finally revealed just a few hours beforehand. Even then, you find yourself arriving at the venue somewhat confused, having dressed up in the bizarre attire you were instructed to don - but you leave several hours later with bellies that are fit-to-bursting and a lot to giggle about.
Another event that has taken eating to a new level is Dining in the Dark, which leaves four of your five senses heightened and your dinner down your favourite shirt as you attempt to eat without any light at all. Disclaimer: Not guaranteed to develop into your own personal love story as the movie ‘In Time’ would suggest, but definitely a memorable way to dine, especially with all the flailing and saying 'Oh, pardon me, is that your glass I just knocked off the table?'
A live game-challenge
To really get your guests actively engaged with the content of your event, the numerous live challenges being held in the city are examples of how to get people well and truly stuck into the task at hand - by turning it into a game. From Crystal Maze to the Live Escape Rooms, this form of experiential entertainment gets the brain whirring, the heart racing and the competitive juices flowing while you test your wits with clues, passwords and missing puzzle pieces.
Designed by professional game designers, psychologists and mathematicians, these clever set-ups spark participants' camaraderie as they work together to achieve the prize (or, conversely, extreme competitiveness between those on different teams). I can confirm that you will discover an alarmingly enthusiastic '90s game-show contestant version of yourself as you strive to win the coveted Swarovski crystals that will buy you time in the prestigious Crystal Dome. And don't worry, Richard O’Brien and his zany wardrobe have been replaced by some equally extravagant 'maze-masters' to guide you through the Industrial, Medieval, Aztec and Futuristic zones.
Get people working together by giving them a fun challenge
Immersive theatre for that real close and personal experience
Some love it, others would rather not get weird things splattered on them during a performance (I don't want to talk about it), but immersive theatre is a great way to make a show more memorable by absorbing the audience in the moment.
For a more interesting trip to the theatre than your standard one, the immersive productions of Trainspotting (where said splattering occurred) or The Great Gatsby at The Vaults have harnessed the power of actor-audience interaction to great effect.
Meanwhile, Secret Cinema has been owning this genre in London for the past few years, blossoming from its grassroots film screenings in abandoned buildings to large-scale productions. Covering classics such as Back to the Future, Star Wars and Moulin Rouge, it creates '360-degree participatory worlds where the boundaries between performer and audience, set and reality are constantly shifting' and is 'fuelled by a desire to fill the void left by an over-saturated technological world'. Needless to say, you won't be falling asleep while still holding your popcorn during this one.
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