Spiegelworld founder is eager to go on with the show

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A hoop artist performs in "Absinthe" at Caesars Palace.
A hoop artist performs in "Absinthe" at Caesars Palace. Photo Credit: Erik Kabik

When ticketed live entertainment will resume remains uncertain, but Las Vegas-based Spiegelworld is working to ensure a safe return. Founded by Australian producer Ross Mollison in 2006, Spiegelworld stages the bawdy productions "Absinthe," "Opium" and "Atomic Saloon Show." Travel Weekly interviewed Mollison, dubbed the company's "Impresario Extraordinaire," on June 12. The conversation was edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: How are you and your family doing?
A: We're doing really well. We're all healthy, and it's a relief to start to see things move in a positive direction where we may get our businesses back on track. Having had a period of great uncertainty, everybody is looking forward to the prospect.

Q: What's been your focus?
A: My focus is on our venues, which are small, and what we can do to return to stage in a safe way that will meet with approval of the governor, the Nevada Gaming Control Board [which in part regulates Strip casino-hotels] and ultimately our resort partners, who all have to agree with us that this is a safe approach.

Q: What will be different when you're allowed to return?
A: We're working on a way so our foyer for "Absinthe" at Caesars Palace, an outdoor garden, can be can be socially distanced so that everybody who arrives can go into their own little circle, grab a drink if they wish and wait until they're called up to go into the venue.

It's called the Domino Park idea in Williamsburg [a neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y.], where they drew rings on the grass so that people could go down and lie in the grass and know their ring was six feet away from someone else. The idea is to avoid a crush when people want to go to a bar and as people enter the venue.

The capacity we're proposing has been reduced from almost 700 to 222, and it will go from being a seated venue to being a cabaret venue. People will be sitting at cabaret tables, which will be six feet distant from every other cabaret table. The artists will not perform in or over the audience. They'll be on the stage, and they'll be six to 10 feet away from the audience members.

Q: What have you learned from Mayfair Supper Club (Bellagio), which has reopened with live non-ticketed dinner performances, and your other experiences these days.
A: Social distancing. The way they've rechoreographed the show to make sure everything's up onstage and away from the audience. The choreography around entrance and exit is important. Flying on JetBlue [recently], I got a sense of how they're choreographing the entrance to the plane starting in the back row and then pulling the rows as you go along. Rather than a big queue of people jammed up trying to get on the plane in a hurry, they board people in the order that they need to go to get to the back of the plane. That's the sort of thing we're looking to do.

Australian producer Ross Mollison is the founder of Spiegelworld, which has been forced to pause its three Vegas productions.
Australian producer Ross Mollison is the founder of Spiegelworld, which has been forced to pause its three Vegas productions.

Q: Can what you implement at "Absinthe" be replicated at "Opium" at the Cosmopolitan and "Atomic Saloon Show" at the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian?
A: We believe it can. We're looking to get our process right for "Absinthe" because it is a larger capacity. We believe this is ultimately creating a new business model that can allow people to resume their livelihoods. We need to create a business model in which we think we are at least going to break even.

Q: What other changes are you considering to make the business model work?
A: We will eliminate discounting, which is a creeping scourge that ends up in the business. We do it to an extent, but we're really going to just try to actually lower ticket prices but maintain a solid base. We've got to try to cover our running costs to the show but also cover our overhead. We were up to around 350 (employees), so rebuilding from a standing start back to that is a challenge. That's why we're taking it step by step.

Q: Your shows are known for their interaction, their intimacy, their liveliness. How can you to retain that spirit artistically, given social distancing?
A: You'll have to come and see. It's going to be very exciting! We have some incredibly great creative people we work with. There are ways to still achieve that without actually having, you know, a burlesque artist come and sit on your lap. That's what we're working on right now: How do we creatively still maintain that sense of intimacy and fun with some social separation.

Q: How refreshed will the shows be when they come back?
A: It will be electric. All these shows will be electric with the excitement of the cast and the audience after something like this. I spoke to an artist yesterday who said, "This is the longest period I've had off stage since I was 3 years old! I've had holidays, two or three weeks. I have never not been on stage for three months." Our artists can't wait to get back to work. There'll be things that we learn out of this, and our company is well positioned to responsibly respond  with the smaller venues and the ability to socially distance to relaunch safely for our employees and patrons.

Q: Forgive me if this is insensitive and too soon to ask, but can the pandemic be used as a source for humor yet?
A: [Part of] our company name, Spiegel, is German for mirror; we see comedy as a reflection on society and where it is. We're really excited to provide the relief valve that is going to be needed over the coming months as a result of everybody having been locked up.

[People] need that release from the stress and pressure  So we'll be addressing all those issues. A great clown comedian has to get in and feel the energy of a room and see where it's going. That's what our company and our artists have been really good at doing, and whether it's "Opium" or "Atomic" or "Absinthe," I think they'll all be doing that.

For information on ticket prices when Spiegelworld productions resume, visit spiegelworld.com/absinthe/.

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