7 secrets that you only know when you produce an underground award-winning immersive circus show

Fire at Becoming Shades by Maximilian Webster Photography

On the week leading to Halloween, what could be better than revealing you some exclusive secrets on what it takes to produce the darkest & deadliest immersive circus show in London?

As an event and theatre producer passionate about live entertainment, I can tell you that it needs a lot of creativity for me to still be surprised about what humans can do when they mix talent, imagination and passion. But with Becoming Shades, its all-female cast and its genius soundscape, I was taken to the underworld in a unique way which I know the audience experienced as well.

A year after Becoming Shades was last produced, Halloween makes me feel nostalgic. So, in order to reminisce this experience as one of the producers of the most vibrant and darkest immersive circus show in London, let me tell you 7 secrets that you would only know when you produce an immersive circus show. (And make sure you really want to go underground with me… If the answer is yes — keep reading below…)

1. People are part of the story and are moved around the space by the cast

Immersive theatre is very different from the usual theatre show with an “end-stage” at the front and rows of seats for the audience. In an immersive show, everything is mixed together and people are as central to the show as the performance, where everyone shares the space equally creating a unique experience for all.

During our production of Becoming Shades, people from all ages and origins, could enjoy a combination of spectacular circus tricks, drops and moves which happened just a few meters away from them. Audience members were literally moved around by the performers, who then were hanging over 5 meters on top of them, throwing fire routines with the heat from the flame which would be so close that it could be felt by those not performing.

Audience was not just someone watching the story, but also someone able to “wonder the underworld” and find the best spot to enjoy the show.

Another very iconic element of the show was the fact that it was a non-verbal story and it was set to a completely brand new composed soundtrack. The music was praised not only by the people on social media but also won an “Off West End Award” for best sound design.

It was truly a wonderful experience to watch the show, look at people enjoy it and take them into a different reality through beautiful music combining operatic voices with electronic beats.

2. Rehearsing an immersive show without the audience is not easy

Strength and skill by Anna McDonnell, the Lost Soul

Every production starts with a “whiteboard” meeting, a blank budget and many many hours of brainstorming. During the rehearsal period, after selecting a fully-female cast led by a big female creative team and Director — it was clear that this was going to be a very high-energy show with an incredibly high level of circus skills and performers.

The main challenge for us was to rehearse a “fully immersive” show without having an actual audience in the rehearsals. This is something that would only be 100% accurate once we had tested the movements of the audience with real people. Until then, we would just keep moving “air” trying to envisage every possibility that could appear from the actual audience members.

3. Staying (literally) underground for two-months is a challenge in itself, especially for the cast

I have big respect for all casts of all productions, working everyday on the same production and always keep the same energy and standard is not something easy to do.

But I have a special place in my heart for our all-female cast of Becoming Shades. The show was set at The Vaults Theatre which is a venue fully built “underground”.

This performance space is not a “traditional” theatre given that it is built as a full empty canvas under converted railway arches & tunnels in Waterloo.

Our cast had to perform 5 times a week, go fully underground and spend many hours in a venue — which was perfect for our show — but would be difficult to stay there longer than needed otherwise. The lack of light is particularly difficult. We feel disconnected from what’s happening out there and the physical work required by some of the circus acts were very high and demanded a lot of care and attention to keep our performers safe at all times. Never forget: Safety comes first, always!

4. Seeing 40 performances is never boring for a producer

As a producer, I never get bored of a show. Every time I see a production, whether mine or someone else’s, I am able to discover a new layer of detail which I didn’t see the last time.

Because of the fact that Becoming Shades was an immersive production, each performance was unique in itself. Audience members reacted differently and connected with the cast and story in a different way. Of course, this is something that also happens in other types of shows, people connect with the story, with the cast, the music, lighting and atmosphere even if they have watched it already; but I am tempted to say that Becoming Shades created such a personal impact to our fantastic team and audience that we had people returning to experience it for not once or twice, but up to five times!

5. Human imagination is limitless and creativity endless

Anna McDonnell in the immersive forest room at Becoming Shades, Vaults Theatre 2018

Even though the human brain is something that we might never completely understand, it is fascinating to see that we always find ways to push into new boundaries, limits and ideas in order to keep creating projects that are greater than what we can imagine.

As a producer, a lot of my time is used in a “practical” way organising the logistics of a show, creating budgets, liaising with ticket agents, monitoring the marketing process, etc.

But on the other hand, my brain needs to constantly be creative and look at the world with a fresh eye. UPSTAGE is a production house very much led by my own tastes, view and passion for making every moment a real, memorable and unique experience for each and everyone involved… Some people say that the term “Creative Producer” is redundant because it is impossible to be a producer without using creativity. I kind of agree with it!

6. Teamwork and talented people are what makes a show a real success

I believe that to achieve greater things in life we have to be open to collaborations and understand that people with different set of skills are key to complement each other.

The role of the producer is very much related with finding complementary talents for each of the tasks necessary to put together a show and eventually, finding the funds to make it happen.

The story behind the success of Becoming Shades is a story of friendship and collaboration.

Becoming Shades was originally created, written and presented in 2016 by Chivaree Circus led by Laurane Marchive & Edward Gosling, original directors and writers of the show.

The show developed from a small idea into a larger evolved form where circus and audience share the “centre stage” creating a dark promenade show with exciting characters, narrative and atmosphere.

In 2017 I joined the production team and together with Upstage Creative & Chivaree Circus, we founded a new production company to manage all aspects of our future theatrical productions including Becoming Shades (which was both a financial and critical success):

“Incredible. Nothing short of sheer perfection.” ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Get The Chance

“The perfect balance of intimate and epic.” ⭐⭐⭐⭐ What’s On Stage

“Outrageous skill, strength and creativity. A piece of theatre that has guts and swagger.” ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Run-Riot

It was so clear to me that we had everything needed to make this new production a real “tangible” success:

✔️ Big bold ideas

✔️ Fearless of pushing boundaries and limits

✔️ Extensive knowledge in theatre and circus

✔️ More than 15 years’ combined experience in the entertainment industry

✔️ Expertise in finance, management, creative projects, logistical and technical production

✔️ A group of friends who you trust with your eyes shut and whom you know will always push for the highest standards together

It is almost like a marriage! If it works well and you can understand each other, my advice is to stick with your team and look forward to your next project together.

7. The success of the show is in the eyes (and ears) of others

One of the most exciting moments was actually much after the production finished. While the show was on, we were shortlisted for “Best Sound Design” Off West End Award.

The Off West End Awards (or known as Offies) bring together the very best of theatre from all industries, outside of the West End. London’s Off West End has proved in the last few years to comprise a very strong sector in the cultural landscape in London; an industry constantly developing and growing.

Finally, in February 2019, Becoming Shades won the Off West End (“Offie”) award for Best Sound Design (music composed by Sam West).

This was a huge achievement not only for our fantastic composer, but also for the whole cast, crew and production team for putting together a show that had achieved a 95% capacity throughout the whole run, 4 & 5 star reviews across the board and also winning several awards and prizes.

By 2019, Becoming Shades had been positioned as one of the most exciting immersive theatre & circus productions in London.

Best Sound Design (OFF WEST END AWARD)

Origins Award for Outstanding New Work (VAULT Festival)

Innovation Award for expanding the scope of performance in theatre (VAULT Festival)

Becoming Shades has now finished its run. However, if this article made you think more about bringing an immersive experience to your next event, let it be your wedding, product launch, anniversary, gala dinner or other, let’s discuss and create together.

Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, www.upstagecreative.co.uk

Photography courtesy of Maximilian Webster Photography & Lidia Crisafulli

Copyright of Borogove Productions, Chivaree Circus & Upstage Creative

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Award Winning Creative Producer, Choreographer & Master of Ceremonies / Founder & Director at Upstage Creative Ltd. Argentine living in London

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Ilai Szpiezak

Ilai Szpiezak

Award Winning Creative Producer, Choreographer & Master of Ceremonies / Founder & Director at Upstage Creative Ltd. Argentine living in London

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