Celebrating 10 years of Bloomsbury Big Top shows: What has changed?
Interview with Sorcha Rogers, Show Producer
- What is Bloomsbury Big Top?
It’s an award-winning multi-purpose venue based in the heart of London. But for me, Bloomsbury Big Top means much more. It represents a successful collaboration with the venue owners – Awesome Events. Sorcha Productions has been organising Bloomsbury Big Top Christmas shows for a decade!
During the Bloomsbury Christmas season, we put up 14-18 shows in 5 weeks leading up to Christmas. Every year we come up with a new event theme and we pick 6 to 12 artists to work in the show. Companies can book exclusive shows and have a closed Christmas party for themselves, while smaller groups can book tables and enjoy a shared Christmas gathering.
I truly admire Denis McCourt who launched the venue back in 2010. It was just after the big financial crash and he took a big risk. But look at it now! The venue caters for up to 2500 people and has already hosted over 500 events. It’s now one of the top London venues and is a go-to for award ceremonies, Christmas parties, sports and charity events, and weddings.
- How did the events in Bloomsbury Big Top change since it opened?
First, what has changed the most is the capacity and scope of the events. In the beginning, we mostly ran shared Christmas parties, which only catered 350 – 600 people per night. Now we host shows for up to 2500 people, so we really upped our game!
It’s hard to compare the events year on year as we always strive to bring something new and make each event unique. We invest a lot of time and resources in finding the best artists, designing and making bespoke costumes and props. We even have an award-winning costume designer who creates costumes exclusively for us. So I can’t say that one year was better than the other as it’s a continuous work finding new ways to surprise the client.
You can see in the video below the style and sophistication that came into the creation of last year’s show.
- How does the preparation look for the Bloomsbury Big Top Christmas season?
It takes almost a year to get ready. The preparation starts straight after the season ends, in January/February. We first decide on the lineup and the marketing materials so that Awesome Events can present the concept to their clients.
Then in March, the casting starts. Christmas is a very busy period and the best performers get snapped up very quickly. Though I’m glad that this show now has such a great reputation and I always get to select from the highest skilled artists.
The shows have a distinctive look and feel, therefore I look for performers who have the ‘star’ quality, something that makes them irresistible to watch. Also, my artists have to be keen to learn new pieces of apparatus as I always want to have something new to offer to returning clients.
The act creation starts in September, mainly off-site. This is also the time we start designing the costumes. Then all the puzzle pieces come together in early November to be ready for the first shows, which take place shortly a few weeks after.
- What are the 3 main lessons you learnt organising the same event for 10 years?
- Pre-planning is the basis of everything, especially knowing the timescales and when to action the next stage. We have a long lead-in time so there is a need to plan but you can’t start full execution too early as things can change. For example, the preferred artists can get injured and you’ll need to look for someone to stand-in. Learning to trust the process and continue working on the overall vision is key.
- Since I’ve started producing more shows for Awesome’s other venues and gained more clients my back office had to grow. To keep my costs down I run a completely virtual office with my staff being based in the Philippines. But that’s a whole different story! However, that made me revisit my administration skills. I had to get better accounting software, also project management and CRM programs to keep track of who is where on each night.
- Finding new and exciting show elements for an event that runs every year really helped my creativity to blossom. However, saying that, sometimes finding new ideas is the easy part of my job. What’s really difficult is creating a seamless experience from a mix of new elements and things that worked well in previous years. Because why fix something that is not broken?
- Where do you get new ideas for shows to keep them fresh?
I love the creative process. I’ve spent the last 20 years creating acts and performing in shows myself. I’m constantly coming up with new ideas and new acts. It feels easy and natural for me. The ideas come thick and fast.
Where does my inspiration come? I like to see as much art, theatre and performances as possible. And I like to investigate anything new, like immersive theatre or experiential events. I need to know what’s cutting edge and what’s out in more fringe cultures as this soon becomes mainstream. I use this knowledge creating event themes.
- What’s your secret in building client relationships?
Understanding how their team works and fitting in with them. You have to be friendly and personable, help with their problems, and be understanding when things don’t go as planned. Also, I never lay blame on others – I’m accountable for my decisions.
Also sharing is key. I always create a showreel and have professional photos taken at the event. And I share them with my clients. They get more than what they’ve paid for and if it helps them advertise their events, it also helps me. Going that extra mile is a win-win.
- What’s the funniest thing that happened organising Bloomsbury Big Top events?
I always have a great laugh in the dressing room. The artists become your little family over the 5 – 6 weeks of rehearsals and shows. I always take them out for a Christmas meal as I know how lonely it can be to be a freelance artist.
There’s usually a night every year when the event crew gets involved with one of the acts. A couple of years ago we did a Chinese themed circus show. It had a Chinese lion act, which involved two guys in a costume (think pantomime cow) who would appear during the drinks reception. On the last night, it came out walking a bit funny. It turns out the event manager and one of his staff members decided to have a go.
There’s always great camaraderie between the performers and the event staff. We usually share similar attitudes – work hard, play hard.
- What was the biggest challenge over these 10 years? How did you overcome it and what did it teach you?
The biggest challenges were always injuries and illnesses. Especially when you need to replace performers at the very last minute and make an act in an hour! We had performers being ill but still going out there and performing, even if that meant they go and throw up afterwards. Or we had an artist from a duo act performing with injuries as they didn’t want to let their partner or the show down.
- What’s next for Bloomsbury Big Top?
As this is the 10th year we’re celebrating it by nearly doubling the cast, bringing back the dancers and having live vocals for the first time ever. It’s going to have a bigger production and even more people working on the event. I can’t wait to see it all coming together!
It’s not too late to book your place for this Christmas and experience Bloomsbury Big Top for yourself. We have a new exciting theme for you! Hint: It will be the Greatest Show you’ve attended this year! Find more information by going to Awesome Events webpage.