Heineken, Stella Artois, and Sony are among those to have commissioned one-off immersive live theatrical experiences in recent months. Now, however, London culture marketing agency pd3 is pushing the model further by financing the development of its own theater projects.
The move–which will bring a theatrical interpretation of five Brothers Grimm fairytales to central London later this year–will demonstrate both new creative and commercial opportunities for both brands and theater producers, the agency claims.
Unlike previous brand-associated immersive live theater experiences, however, it will run as a ticket-able, commercial concern when staged at an as yet undisclosed venue on London’s South Bank from November.
“Our model is a Red Bull one in terms of creating your own, own-able property rather than just a piece of marketing,” explains Cat Botibol, partner and creative director at pd3.
Botibol is also executive producer of the show, Grimm Tales, which is a theatrical re-imagining of author Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales for Young and Old, a re-telling of 50 stories by Brothers Grimm.
“Rather than create something in response to a brief from a brand, we have developed the show ourselves. Having taken it to proof of concept we are now in talks with a number of brands,” she adds.
By “proof of concept,” Botibol means a six-week run in the basement of a north London town hall earlier this year which attracted critical acclaim from national media for its taut plotting, imaginative staging, and the immersive journey audience members were taken on through the town hall cellars.
Adapted and directed by theater director Philip Wilson, the immersive experience took the audience on an interactive journey through a number of interconnected cellars.
Grimm Tales was developed by Botibol in partnership with in pd3 founder Paul Tully and Valerie Coward, whose 20 years of experience in producing immersive theatre shows included working as a producer for Old Vic Tunnels, the former underground arts and performance space beneath London’s Waterloo Station.
Though the creative team at pd3 provided time and resources in kind, third-party costs (including the production budget) were covered by direct investment from pd3 and external private investors with payment, where possible, to those working on the production based on profit share.
The agency, a specialist in culture marketing through live experiences and digital entertainment content, also applied its expertise to all aspects of promotion and marketing–helping to create an overall experience that, the agency hopes, is more exciting and dynamic than that associated with more traditional theater-going.
Along with the small profit generated by the six-week test run, investment from a brand partner whose commercial objectives dovetail with the production’s creative and commercial ambitions will now be ploughed into evolving the production for a more high-profile venue and longer run.
Brand and agency will work together sharing ownership and further evolving the idea to meet both each party’s goals and, ultimately, make a profit–a collaborative approach that takes this “way beyond sponsorship,” Botibol claims.
The model also differs markedly to the approach taken for other recent brand-associated immersive theatre productions.
Recent London examples include Stella Artois’ immersive live event “The Black Diamond,” devised by agency Mother, and “… and darkness descended” co-ordinated by communications agency John Doe for PlayStation3. Both were produced for the agencies by British acclaimed theater company Punchdrunk.
Meanwhile in March 2014, Wieden+Kennedy New York produced a one-off theatrical event for Heineken called “The Guest of Honor” at which unsuspecting attendees at The McKittrick Hotel became members of the cast.
“Some might see ours as a risky approach, but the time and resources pd3 spent developing Grimm Tales are equivalent to the time and resource we’d put into a big pitch for which, of course, we’d rarely be paid,” Botibol insists.
Moreover, it was important that Grimm Tales be “a credible proposition” in its own right from the outset rather than be seen as “just a stunt.” “Get the production right and prove it can be a critical and a commercial success and a different kind of collaboration with a brand will then result,” she adds.
Audiences in today’s screen-based digital world are turning increasingly to live experiences and events, it seems–a shift underlined by recent and rapid growth in bookings for music and other entertainment festivals, and growing enthusiasm for the work of live theater companies such as Punchdrunk which has recently diversified into running storytelling sessions for brand owners and agency creatives.
“You just can’t download an experience, which is an important issue for brands, and why the live events people actively decide to get up and go to are becoming more and more powerful as platforms for brand engagement.” Botibol explains.
And brand owners and theater producers alike can capitalize on people’s eagerness to capture then share live event experiences via social media, too–just one way closer collaboration with brands could also evolve the more traditional theater-going experience.
“Historically, theater is funded by investors with certain conventions when it comes to staging, marketing, design, and branding. Our approach is to work in non-traditional spaces co-funded by co-owning brands which has benefits for all involved, including bringing to theater marketing, branding, and design expertise,” she adds.
“It is a model which can only bring fresh ideas to all aspects of the theater-going experience, and we believe there is a market for that. Which is why we are already exploring ideas for other live theater experiences to develop.”