L’Hôtel is one of the headlining shows at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2021, released as part of the early sneak peek at the program. Created by Craig Ilott of Smoke & Mirrors, Pigalle, Velvet, Betty Blokk Buster Reimagined fame (just to name a few), L’Hôtel is a production, which was designed especially for, and will make its premiere at, the Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2021.
We had a chat to Craig Ilott about the L’Hôtel at Adelaide Cabaret Festival.
What have you been doing over the past strange COVID-19 year? You’ve had 9 months of not being able to have your shows performed. As opposed to normally having shows out in front of audiences, has it given you more time to spend on the creative?
Yeah. I’m a freelance director and when it all hit it felt like someone hit a delete key – a year’s work – 6 different jobs were deleted. A lot of them said I think we’ll be able to do it next year. And even though the industry is recovering there are still shows into this year that are being cancelled based on the ramifications of COVID. So, it’s a really scary time for our industry.
There have been good things that have come from it and that’s because a show like L’Hôtel has been given more creative development time throughout this period. Personally, there have been a few other projects like that. There are benefits that have come from it.
So, it has given you more time to spend on creative?
It definitely has, and that’s where the real benefits have been, I suppose. It also, I think, what can tend to happen, at least something that I feel personally as the work has sort of picked up over the last 5 or more years is that there is so little time in between projects as well.
From a freelance point of view, you could be juggling 10 or more projects at one point and you may not necessarily know when one of them suddenly locks in and so you can suddenly find yourself in an intensely busy period.
I feel really lucky that there’s been constant work for that long but what i do lament is that dream time to really take your time and sit with a project, especially when you’re creating a new project, that can sometimes seem thin on the ground and that has been great actually. To rethink the way we work, and it’s a different type of time that you have on it.
I mean obviously we all have more time, as these industries have been hit, but it has shifted a number of things for me i think as a professional as well which is pretty interesting.
So, coming back more specifically to the show that we’re talking about L’Hôtel, so very little has been said about it apart from that it’s an immersive theatre experience, we’re transported to a Parisian hotel lobby where performers who are from cabaret/ burlesque/ circus backgrounds will essentially entertain the people that are sitting in the lobby. It’s also been tagged as “a tryst into temptation and a world of French intrigue”, could you please elaborate a little bit on that for me?
Absolutely. So, when we talk about when we enter into an immersive space, I’ve always thought about two worlds: one being this immersive space that you enter into, so you’re not literally walking into, it’s like a theatrical abstraction of a fine French hotel, there’s a bathroom there, there’s a concierge desk there, there’s hotel doors up there. So, it’s broken and scattered around the space to make it immersive.
So, this first component, the first stage of the night is what I would call, I would say it’s in “Hotel Mode”. So, we’re being shown to our seats, we’re being offered fine French champagne, cheese boards, I mean some of our food element has been reduced obviously due to COVID. But what you see is in effect a hotel installation, it’s like there’s a functioning hotel around you. Although it’s not look here and there in a filming sort of sense, it’s in a theatrical sense. So, this space is living and breathing around us and it’s being punctuated by choreographed moments of performance, in that first section. So, we are literally in this space and we’re seeing a grab here of performance. Up there we’re drawn there we get a sense that there’s a greater fuller performance to come.
We want to get the feeling too that the night travels further than the time that we own the theatre and so towards the end of that immersive hotel mode we go into more of what I would call a show mode, it’s a little bit like we then go beyond closed doors. So, there are very different flavours to the two sides of the night, which i think thematically is something that I’m really interested in, that mask, there’s very much a presentational veneer to the first immersive piece of theatre that you go into and the latter half is much more like, take off the mask behind closed doors. It’s much more voyeuristic, what happens behind closed doors. So, it’s a sexier, more “show mode” that we head into in the latter half.
The other thing about it is I haven’t done a show like this, so it may be a bit like ”what is it we’re coming to see?” There are many elements that make up this show and I may have done shows that had those elements but I’ve never done them all in a theatrical experience before. So, for me I’m quite excited about what it will feel like to have all those components in one night. The other thing I should say if it’s not been made clear is that we’re wearing our glad rags – there’s a dress code, everyone’s coming in their black-tie affair, which I think is a lovely touch, it adds to the sense of occasion.
You touched on that L’Hôtel is made up of many elements where you’ve had certain elements in other shows, but the whole show itself is quite different. How does this show differ from your other shows?
Just that, I’ve never had so many different components in one show before. The food has been a new element for me and that was something I was briefed on initially from Ebony Bott, when she was down at the Adelaide cabaret festival, could there be a show that would involve a French element and food and obviously embrace cabaret, and that was the frame to begin with.
I’ve worked in nightclubs before, I’ve worked in the Ivy, which is the biggest night club in the southern hemisphere, I did their entertainment for a couple of years when we had the Pasha brand so that was a very different experience for me because my background is in theatre, opera, music theatre, cabaret those sort of things so to suddenly be thrust into a very much an immersive world where there’s 6000 people crossing in a night across 6 different venues, and how do I get a visual element and performance elements throughout all of these spaces?
So, I’ve had immersive and those experiences, but in addition there’s some circus elements and I’ve done some circus shows, there’s burlesque, there’s some dance, but I’ve never had all these things in one show before in the theatre, so that’s what makes it different for me.
So far only three L’Hôtel cast members have been revealed –Brendan, Lexi and Bri. I was aware you’d worked with Brendan before but I couldn’t place Lexi or Bri.
I haven’t worked with Lexi or Bri – they are two new burlesque performers and dancers that I haven’t worked with before but I’ve seen their work and are very impressed by them. The act that we are getting them to do just really seems to fit into this world. They’re new to me.
It’s a very exciting cast. Sometimes you have flow with a certain show. This amazing cast that we’re getting together. A number of those people I’ve worked with in different shows.
There are more that are being secured but I can’t announce them yet – that’s something for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Except to say that there are a few cast members that I have worked with before. It’s a gold standard cast and it’s a large cast too – there’s about 20.
There’s nine “featured” cast members, but then there’s an ensemble that’s involved, because that’s what this immersive stage is about, it’s a whole company that’s involved in making it feel like this hotel is alive. The fact that we’ve got a large cast to be able to fill the ranks is really exciting. In a time when really, if anything, in the last number of years casts are so small and increasingly becoming small, it’s nice to feel like there’s a solid and large ensemble to be a part of this experience.
With there being the 9 featured but about 20 in the L’Hôtel cast, is it a situation where there’s always different things to look at at the same time and you have to pick where you look or is there always one specific thing you focus on?
It’s a really good question. When you walk in there will be a number of people that are, what I would call, “activating” the space. So, you may see up on the level, you may see cleaners wheeling along a level, someone’s handing you a glass of champagne, suddenly there’s a spot performance, someone’s juggling suitcases or guests are entering into the hotel and being brought to the concierge desk. So, in that way it is like the immersive theatre, there’s a number of things going on at one time.
However, there will be times when I will really focus that attention and I’ll be wanting everyone to look at one point, at one moment and then it will disappear back into the night and the hubbub and you can be looking everywhere around you and it will all be alive and active. So, there’ll be moments of intense focused performance and it will relax back into it’s happening all around you again. And as I say, the latter half is much more about, as we would understand a fully focused, more “show mode”.
Is the audience part of the show where they’re actually participating in it, or are they simply immersed in it?
Very immersed in it. I hadn’t intended for the audience to get up and get involved anyway but I think within this world of COVID, it’s probably better to err on that safe side anyway. So no, they will feel like they are immersed in the world, but there’s no intentions for there to be interaction and getting up and being involved.
So, in that sense, as you’re doing 7 performances of L’Hôtel in the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, each of the 7 shows will essentially be the same. Although like if you watch a film for the second time you might see different things, the actual show structure will be the same?
That’s right, ultimately within that first immersive structure though, it will be slightly different because there’s so many things happening at one point, when we will send certain things. I actually feel like I may be there, calling certain moments within that first section live. “It’s time to send that, send that section here, send this, send those dancers there” I think to get a read on the audience, and then the latter half will operate much more as you say, it begins here tightly choreographed all the way through, the first will have some freedom to it, there will be an improvised feeling to it.
You touched on before that Ebony at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival had come to you with the idea of an experience that involved food and also a French element. Does that mean L’Hôtel was actually created for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival?
It absolutely was created for the Cabaret Festival. It’s been commissioned by the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, and driven by them, and supported in terms of further development through COVID, and then the prospect of the piece was put in front of Alan Cumming and he loved it and so here we are. It is a world premiere and it’s been born and commissioned by the Adelaide Cabaret Festival and that’s certainly the first appearance of the show.
In a COVID-19 year when so many things aren’t allowed, how do you find a cast, rehearse etc.?
Everyone is hoping and assuming that closer to the Cabaret time we’ll be able to rehearse as usual. In terms of finding the cast it’s relatively easy, I don’t have to be watching people performing right now to see them. A number of these performers I’ve worked with before, but for some of them I’m seeing video links, or I’m speaking to agents, or there are ways to still see performers even if I’ve not seen them live before.
But as I say a fair amount of them, I have worked with, but with a cast that size there will be a lot that I haven’t, and then we will touch down and there will be a solid amount of rehearsal before this show happens, just prior to opening. So, having done that many times before, you do as much as you can, you plan for as much as you can, you creatively develop in your mind and with your collaborators as much as possible, you communicate to the performers.
I’m already in chats with our performers in terms of what I want done, here’s the music that I think we should play around with. Those things are happening collaboratively through phone calls, but ultimately as per normal rehearsal period everyone will tap down and then we’ll start doing it tangibly on the floor, but I’ll have planned as much as I can prior to that. But at the same time, you don’t want to get too heady about it either, you want to be surprised about what you see on the floor too.
So, you’ve worked on a lot of different projects, including ones that Adelaide audiences would know being Velvet and Smoke & Mirrors, what’s been your career highlight so far?
It’s a good question. Probably Smoke & Mirrors in some way, because like L’Hôtel it was a new piece, it started from a blank page. While I can think of a number of plays that I have done and been excited by, I always feel there’s nothing more rewarding than starting something from a blank page. And in that way, shows like L’Hôtel and Smoke & Mirrors were… Velvet was the same actually, there was nothing sort of to start with and it was just going away and having a think tank and seeing what was there.
Probably I think it’s fair to say Smoke & Mirrors was, because there was so much pressure around the time as well. I was asked by Sydney Festival at the time can you come up with a show in about September and we were on in January and at that point there was nothing. So, it was great pressure, and with a key collaborator of mine iOTA, we sort of just came up with, we weren’t initially sure all the music was going to be original and then as it turned out we were fascinated by that challenge and all these characters came and were created from nothing and then it landed and it made such an impact and, in many ways, it travelled the world.
And in fact, the next stop that we went to with Smoke & Mirrors was the Space Theatre in Adelaide. David and Lisa Campbell at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival were the first people to take it on the road, so that’s another beautiful circle in a way. To walk back in that space, I haven’t been in the Space Theatre since Smoke, so to walk back into that space again and think about what L’Hôtel could be in that space was a really exciting prospect.
How did the actual idea for the show come about and what was your inspiration?
Certainly, it was framed by Ebony in that way, it was to do with a French thing, because at that time Adelaide Cabaret Festival and the French Festival had come together, so I was given the “Could there be something French about it, could there be food?” and I just started pondering what the world could be.
To be honest, probably while down in Adelaide too, I’ve done some work down there on a number of instances and whenever I am, I’m down at the Intercontinental Hotel and I find 5-star hotels such intriguing places, as in everyone’s living in such close proximity to each other and yet you don’t know each other. There’s something so secretive about them too. So, I think thematically that just really interested me and another theme I’m really interested in is that mask because I think it applies in our everyday life, what is that persona we present and what is the truth and when we’re not connected into that truth what are the problems therein. I find that very rich.
And so, really it was just about daydreaming about a place, where would this be, where would this be set, well wouldn’t it be great to get the fineries of a 5-star French hotel. I just thought there was something within the two sides to that, that creatively was stimulating.
Have you spent much time in 5-star French Hotels?
Haha, I have not! Of course, I’ve spent time in 5-star hotels, but never 5-star French hotels. So hopefully all those people who have had that experience can go along and see the show and say “yes, instinctively you were right” or “no, you should’ve done this” So I look forward to hearing from the audience.
I think the key thing though, isn’t it great that it can feel like they can escape into a Paris of their imagining, that they enter with their glad rags, in this beautiful fine French hotel with champagne and cheese and performance. I just hope they have a real night of escape.
L’Hôtel will make its world premiere at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. The 90-minute show will take place on:
Fri, 11 Jun 2021, 7:00PM
Sat, 12 Jun 2021, 5:30PM
Sun, 13 Jun 2021, 5:30PM
Thu, 17 Jun 2021, 7:00PM
Fri, 18 Jun 2021, 7:00PM
Sat, 19 Jun 2021, 5:30PM
Sun, 20 Jun 2021, 6:00PM
WHAT’S INCLUDED IN YOUR L’HÔTEL TICKET
The ticket price includes:
- a 90-minute performance
- 1 x glass of French champagne on arrival
- French cheese board and accompaniments
- Mini French Éclair
PRICE AND HOW TO BUY YOUR L’HÔTEL TICKETS
$150 plus a service and handling fee of $8.95 per transaction.
For more information and to purchase tickets, click this link:
If you’re interested in cabaret, you may like to read our interview with past Adelaide Cabaret Festival director Julia Zemiro