May 11, 2023

The Experiential Blog

Hello, The Doctor here, while my regeneration continues, I have fallen on hard times so have started a blog to make ends meet.

Ok, that’s not my real name but it has certainly had some resonance with my vocation. Working at Secret Cinema for seven years I have been jumping from world to world, assuming a myriad of characters and serving a wild variety of drinks from bars, shopping trolleys and oil drums!
Unsurprisingly, I love it and am always excited to hear which title is to be given the ‘SC treatment’.

But more than that, I firmly believe that the unique service that an immersive bartender provides can elevate any event, activation or private party and the following thoughts will detail why.

A quick disclaimer, I am talking from my own personal experience here, not as someone who works for Fire + Fly and it is important to distinguish that not everything here has been created by them.

Hold on…Take it back a bit, Secret what? 

Secret Cinema is a live immersive experience that transports guests into the world of a film and places them as inhabitants, with a role or purpose for being there. It has grown exponentially over a decade and now regularly sees thousands of guests through its doors at each production. As such, food and drink are a necessity!

The food and drink however, need to exist realistically in the world and not break the illusion. These roles serve the dual purpose of grounding guests into where they are and also enhance the world; a student working a summer job at summer camp, a spy working undercover as a barman to surveil a target or as someone who is working off their boss’s debt to get off the planet. Any interaction should straight away give a guest rich detail as to the world they are a part of and see it living and breathing outside of the main storylines or quests they might be undertaking.

We also are expected to help with the narratives, know the characters and be aware of the events taking place around as a means to help keep guests on track and not get lost. But still all within the reality of what the character would know. They can’t know the future but they can logically conclude things. They can’t explicitly answer things but they can ask questions back that might lead to answers.

This ability to communicate themes and information to a guest in ways that isn’t too obvious is a great soft skill to have when on an activation or branded event. Rather than a ‘wooden’ pre-rehearsed spiel, bartenders can ask probing questions as to what they think about a brand, or what an installation makes them feel about a product. The best bartenders are therapists, in that they have perfected the art of listening and can draw out honest emotions or thoughts from guests they never expected to say; a perfect tool for a marketing company!

Of course with all of this play and world-building comes fun. There is so much enjoyment to be had creating one’s character, speaking with the FOH and actors in your area and creating little vignettes and relationships that make the space feel alive with drama.

I personally have sung my heart out atop the Elephant bar in the Moulin Rouge, divulged secrets to Taffy’s exclusive club members in LA, conversed in iambic pentameter to partygoers at the Capulet Mansion and been bribed by Han Solo at the Cantina bar on Tatooine. I’ve been an imperial officer, a jock, a spy and a hillbilly plus many more,all adding a depth to the world, elevating the guest’s enjoyment and seamlessly selling drinks as part of that experience..

Cocktails Running amok

To highlight a great example of this in action I think back to Secret Cinema’s Blade Runner. Set in a dystopian 2019 LA, guests were given the role of members of a rebellious group, trying to fight back against authoritarian police and big corporations.

Amongst them were populated desperate Hawkers, those who had been left behind by society, making ends meet selling whatever ingredients they could throw in a pot. As a Hawker myself, I sold cocktails in little bottles and warm ‘toddies’ from flasks out in the ‘badlands’, all the while trying to hide from the cops and helping guide the rebels to the ring leaders. There also lived a strange individual selling a magical mushroom concoction on a street corner (a mushroom infused old fashioned, no more i promise) and a flamboyant science assistant selling syringes of tasty ‘medicine’ in one of the laboratories.

The roles relied on the bartender being able to combine selling a product through storytelling, to hold an audience and work efficiently so as not to create queues or bottlenecks. It was a total immersive and commercial experience as everywhere you turned there you were confronted by an actor or bartender, bringing the world to life either feeding you narrative or selling you fomo as you wanted to see what this exclusive drink tasted like. This was reflected in the fan pages and community boards as people discussed whether they had tried Choo’s medicine or found the Mushroom Man.

On top of that the bottles or receptacles were cool little keepsakes and mementos to remember the experience.

Get your wibble on

As has been alluded to, the experiential lies not just in the server but also what’s being served. Syringes, vials and sweets have been sold at SC events as we have sought innovative ways to add consumption to the narrative. Most recently we have taken a liking to Jelly. A lot of it. It has proven to be a fantastic vehicle for flavour, storytelling and profit. It has been utilised as a party piece for an underage house party outside of Hawkins, a mad experiment by a regency londoner and a motion stabiliser for space pirates heading out of the quadrant. It gives guests something to talk about, to do together and giggle about, evokes a sense of nostalgia of jelly you used to eat as a child or the cheap vodka jelly you fashioned at a wild uni party and commercially it is a nice, quickfire addition to a drink that neatly raises a guest’s spend.

We have sold thousands of wobbles over the years and learnt how to scale up production to serve festival settings. They are always remarked upon for their wonderful blend of flavours (Vodka, Amontillado and elderflower, mmmm) and have become a staple of the SC experience. Long live the Wobble!

Where next for the experiential serve? What crazy ways can you imagine them being sold and who, or what, might be selling them? I am excited to be a part of its evolution (one day I hope to be firing alcoholic candy floss out of a cannon into mouths) but also equally excited to see what others are doing in the industry and also hear feedback from our guests.

What would you like to see served at your party or event to create a buzz, drop us a message, let’s get the conversation started and let’s see what we can make it happen!