We started an Event Production company in 2020, are we mad?
You might call us crazy for starting an event production company at the height of a pandemic, but in many ways, it has been the perfect time. As three freelancers in the theatre and festival industries, Noemi Antonelli, Chaz Griffith-McCann and I found ourselves unemployed in April of 2020. Refusing to be pushed out of the industry we love and confident in our ability to adapt and problem solve, we decided to band together and Swans Events was born.
Lockdown 1.0 gave us the opportunity to take a step back from our usually busy lives of jumping from event to festival to theatre production and lots more time! Although it felt like a disaster, on reflection it was a time for improvement and change. With the knowledge that the events industry wouldn’t be the same for quite some time, we decided to build a company that produces socially-distanced theatre, cabaret and immersive events and provides employment for artists.
Our first venture was The Honey Badgers Cabaret in partnership with NAKEDpresents, a socially distanced theatrical cabaret night at Matchstick Piehouse, Deptford. This was our first shot at live entertainment for the new world, and it was clear Londoners were craving live entertainment because it sold out in two days. Our preview shows successfully went ahead in October, despite the 10pm curfew! Matchstick Piehouse’s usual capacity is 75 seated, but to follow social distancing rules this decreased by more than 50% to 30. Therefore, we decided to do two performances on the night for two separate audiences.
NAKEDpresents created a fantastic non-stop 60-minute show, which is different from the well-known cabaret format of host, act, break, repeat. This allowed us to sell double the number of tickets and give the audience a theatrical experience that kept them engaged throughout. From drag, games and big musical numbers to fire, contortion and comedy, The Honey Badgers had it all!
Matchstick Piehouse were an excellent venue partner and were hot on COVID safety. They provided table service for drinks and pies, a strict one-way system, track and trace and all the hand sanitiser a girl could want. Swans managed the front of house, from drawing up the bubbled, socially distanced seating plan, to managing the door and seating guests, all whilst wearing clear masks for lip reading and accessibility.
We implemented a code of conduct for artists in the dressing room and briefed them on arrival. Between shows, our front of house team sanitised every table, chair and touchpoint in the house. We also provided a Stage Manager, Technical Operator, Social Media Content Creator and Photographer.
Our hosts, Miss Lucinda B. Hind and PMBC, reminded our audience of the safety measures throughout the show, including anyone who headed for the bathroom without a mask! Cabaret is well known for its audience interaction including bringing someone up to the stage for games or having them shout and cheer as loud as they can, but of course these are big COVID no-nos. At first, we were worried about losing this immersive aspect, but our hosts soon had the audience dancing in their seats and making noise with their hands and feet instead. The host is key to a cabaret show and often makes the evening, plus if anything goes wrong on the night, they can always make a joke of it and all is forgiven (we hope!).
Unfortunately, we had to postpone our November and December shows due to lockdown, but we are ready to go again when it is safe to do so. The majority of people who bought a ticket for these shows asked for them to be transferred to our next possible show, which we are now hoping to be May, after Boris’ latest COVID-19 roadmap.
2020 was a year of quick response, we definitely developed our skills in adaptability and dealing with adversity. Luckily, the event industry is well equipped for such changes, we plan for every possibility, especially when planning major and/or outdoor events. Crowd management, emergencies, weather and welfare, you plan for them all and we are all prepared to include a COVID-19 plan so the show can go on.
At Swans Events, we have seen this time as an opportunity for innovation. We have been exploring digital theatre, online game shows, hybrid-events and hyper-local outdoor arts. We also have plans for research & development work in immersive theatre, where we aim to develop a COVID-safe practice for this young art-form, using the restrictions to our advantage rather than a hindrance.
Just like a swans’ webbed feet beneath the water, we pride ourselves on the hive of activity and hard work taking place in the shadows whilst displaying a calm, smooth experience on the surface. Only the best makes the difficult look easy and effortless and we are here to provide such an experience.
– By Alex Mahoney – Production Director, Swans Events