by Geraldine Giddings

The allure of a cabaret – Party on the Green for Coventry City of Culture 2021

When Coventry City of Culture approached us with an open brief to present an outdoor show for a local community that was diverse, fun, entertaining and unusual, we knew that bringing as many artists together as we could was high on our priority list. We thought about residents of the Tile Hill area of Coventry, where the show was to be located – and how they might have got to know their local park very well over the last year, and we decided we wanted to dive in and fill the park with as wide a range of performance as we could.

We settled on a simple cabaret format – like the work we programme and produce annually for Bristol Harbour Festival – for a number of reasons. This was one of our first live engagements in 18 months and we needed to work in a way that was cost-effective, flexible and safe. A cabaret allowed us to bring in a diverse range of multi-skilled artists, and to offer the audience performances that they might never have seen before. Artists brought their acts to the show pre-rehearsed, meaning there was no need for onsite rehearsals. Having individual acts also meant that they could be substituted if necessary, which all helped to make the show a robust offering in the face of potential COVID isolations (or of course the British weather!).

The cabaret show format also works extremely well for private parties (Christmas events for example), offering a range of high quality, bite-sized entertainment which audiences can experience collectively but also allows space to socialise in between performances. Framing the show with excellent comperes is essential and this, alongside a mix of extraordinary performances including circus, comedy, music, street theatre and the odd unusual moment, ensures its success. We work on theming, staging, special effects, décor and set dressing – to ensure the bijou show is a fully formed production in its own right.

For City of Culture and our client, OPUS Arts and Events, we put on 4 hour-long shows in a day to allow for socially distanced audiences. We supplied the aerial rig, rigging, stage décor and all programming, managing a team of 25 people on a park site that had not previously been used for events of this type. Despite a wet weather forecast and amid rising numbers of COVID cases we were able to present all four shows safely to a happy audience and client.

We found working with Cirque Bijou to be a highlight of developing our Party on the Green programme for Coventry City of Culture 2021. The overall process – from curation to delivery – was well communicated, with Geraldine and her team showing great care and attention to the logistical details and meeting our needs as the client. The creative elements of the programme and the stage design fitted the brief completely, and the acts were both varied and engaging, treating the audience to many breath-taking, joyous and funny moments! The artists and the Cirque Bijou team were a pleasure to have on site during the event too. We received fantastic feedback from stakeholders and audiences alike and would not hesitate to collaborate with them in the future.

Rebecca Phillips, OPUS Arts and Events