Betting on the Bridgerton Ball
Like the rest of us, 28-year-old Chi-Chi Onuah has waited for this moment. The Queen's Ball: A Bridgerton Experience is the name of the affair. The premise sounds a bit like an elaborate theme party, one where guests are encouraged to cosplay as lesser British nobility while dancers and acrobats perform scenes inspired by the show. And for those especially keen on dressing to impress, a Diamond of the Season will be selected out of the crowd during every performance, anointed by the Queen herself — or rather, a queen (Bridgerton star Golda Rosheuvel isn't actually in attendance, but her character appears in proxy, played by a local performer). The whole experience is over and done in the time it takes to fasten a corset — roughly 90 minutes — but Onua is already sure the trip will be worth it. Onua works as an actor and performer, and she says she was a frequent theatre-goer before the pandemic. When the fairy god-marketers at Netflix launched The Queen's Ball, they surely had someone like Onua in mind, and really, who isn't feeling like her right now, if only just a bit? There are fewer reasons to languish on the couch these days, and as we emerge from the lockdown era, surely people are desperate for any form of entertainment that won't give them screen fatigue. The folks at Arsenal have labelled The Queen's Ball "a social and immersive experience," and to be fair, the event would seem to be more LARP-esque in flavour than other examples of the genre, of which San Francisco's The Museum of Ice Cream is perhaps the epitome, an attraction based around whimsical pastel photo ops. But, whatever form these productions take, most seem to share a few important elements: the visitor is plunged into the centre of the action and given permission to expend a little Main Character Energy through a game or VR component, perhaps, but the more likely scenario is this: walk around and take a lot of selfies. And they all seem to hinge on the same proprietary wisdom: experiences have value, and that's especially true when those experiences are shared with others … preferably on one's social platform of choice.
In July, something called The Friends Experience will arrive in Toronto after appearing in places including New York, Boston and Atlanta. The World of Barbie (also arriving in Toronto this summer) is another ticketed pop-up that trades on nostalgia, promising visitors a romp through a life-sized dreamhouse, or at least passage through a few plastic-fantastic photo backdrops, each one evoking the eponymous fashion doll's favoured magenta-forward decor. These sorts of attractions are a hold-over from the days before lockdown, but could people expect to see even more of them as health restrictions continue to ease? Fever, the Spanish company that acts as one of The Queen's Ball's producers, describes itself as a "live-entertainment discovery platform," and upon visiting their website, which provides listings for more than 60 cities around the world, any user will be confronted with a menu of events happening near them. It would seem demand for their Bridgerton-inspired fare is increasing, at least; an all-ages "afternoon tea" experience is now running alongside The Queen's Ball in L. Greg Lombardo is the vice president and head of experiences at Netflix — experiences being defined as any sort of live event that happens beyond the home, the traditional habitat for consuming a Netflix product. Earlier this spring, they launched their own comedy festival in L. Most of their IRL projects to date, however, are more in keeping with "immersive" fan events in the style of The Queen's Ball. All three of those productions are based on series that have been global hits for the streamer. In September last year, Netflix acquired Roald Dahl's library of twisted kid-lit, and the company announced plans to create "immersive experiences" alongside streaming adaptations of classic titles.
Retaining those fans is perhaps a greater challenge than it ever has been for the company. "You watch a season and then most of the time, if you're a fan of the show, you want more. People want to go out, they want to have events where they're able to share — you know, share together. The pandemic happens to have stoked the public's appetite for live events, he says, which he sees as an opportunity for both Netflix and its viewers. "I think that the pandemic accelerated that demand, and you're seeing outsized demand now based on that notion," Sarandos says "People want to go out, they want to have events where they're able to share — you know, share together. Much of the travelling production was developed by local talent, including creative director Carl Fillion, production director Simon Vigneau and costume designer Marie Chantale Vaillancourt. You can not just look at your TV set, you know. "I've been in show business all my career, and I think I have the right antennae to read what people want," says Laforce, and what people want right now is a live event, he says. "You can not just look at your TV set, you know. "But you know, sometimes you can't really replace the same feeling of being in a room and experiencing something live," she says.
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