Above and below: Simon Evans talks magic with the bartenders participating in The Glasshouse Project
It all began with a magic show at 10 o’clock on a Tuesday morning. When 12 top bartenders agreed to take part in an immersive theatre experience – one of a series of workshops laid on by Bombay Sapphire and led by experts from the worlds of design, food science and technology – they didn’t realise what they were letting themselves in for.
Around an hour and several unexpected activities later, they found themselves sitting in front of pieces of paper containing lists of the things they had each given away about themselves in the previous 40 minutes. “People revealed all sorts of very personal things about relationships, the places that they liked… things they probably wouldn’t have usually told people they didn’t know,” remembers theatre director Simon Evans, who was leading the workshop.
So why all the sharing? “The brief for The Glasshouse Project [the name of the three-day initiative] was so broad,” explains Evans, who was asked by Bombay Sapphire to “create an experience for these guys, something that would be more exciting than just giving them a lecture. They wanted it to be something very much themed to their particular field, but then also loosely based around the idea of connection and performance, and to see if we could explore that with them.”
This he did, with surprising results. Performing magic to them, Evans explained – drawing parallels with bartending – explored how setting up an understanding between audience and performer was crucial, as it opened up a space in which people “could be as involved as they liked”. Later, he discussed the importance of knowing that in a performance, you have a choice to be yourself, or to be as fictional as you like.
Evans, you see, has a background in theatre, having started “doing magic” when he was 13 years old, he went on to study English at Cambridge, briefly becoming an actor, and later a director, in prestigious London theatres such as The National, The Old Vic, The Bush and The Donmar.
“There are a lot of companies out there doing immersive work,” he says, “but a lot of whom make things that are very promenade-based, and you’re walking around and interacting a bit, but it’s a one-way street, and you’re relatively invisible… as an audience member. At the other end, you have amazing [immersive] experiences like ‘You Me Bum Bum Train’…, but because each experience is so short, you’re given no narrative you can go on, or construct meaning out of. So instead we want to create an environment in which [participants] can do what they like – but whatever they learn, it becomes very much a two-way street between audience member and performer. We presented four different scenarios and suggested how the bartenders could interact with the performance, how… they could heighten their character, or do it completely honestly. In that way they’d be making a connection and learning from the experience.”
Preparation for performances varies between actors, Evans believes: “People have this strange idea of actors and performers as people who take 20 minutes to get in the zone, and in the early stages that is part of it. But then as they become more nimble with it, it happens less. [Some will just leap up and do it after a while] because it’s that muscle memory, and it becomes habitual. Traditionally I’m not a performer, but directing is in a sense a performative role; when I walk in I do need to give the impression that things are going well and that we’re absolutely where we need to be.”
That said, having “never done” a workshop like this before – Evans says he is usually asked by companies to “use a particular form of theatre to sell an idea” – he was nervous:
“We’d been reminded beforehand that these guys are the top people in their industry, so I was there at the back going, ‘I’m nervous, I’m having to remind myself that… I do know what I’m talking about, and if I do make those connections with people, and land the points I need to land, that they will come with me on this journey.’ We had wanted this session to be more self-reflective. We pushed it further this time…I think it went well.”
For details of The Glasshouse Project, please ask your local Brand Ambassador.
Words by Victoria Stewart