Max Fox doesn’t think small. When his company, International Shows, launched its flagship event, The Greatest Show, he skipped local theatres and went straight to the big names, booking a UK arena tour for his musical mash-up. His big dreams and outside-the-box thinking came in handy when COVID-19 struck the nation.
As someone who’s always on the ball, Fox had a feeling the pandemic wouldn’t be over quickly. “We went into the height of lockdown,” he says, “and I was thinking, ‘Once they lift [the lockdown], they’re not going to open up all the theatres, they’re not going to open the cinemas, and people are going to be scared of visiting venues where they’re close together.'” So he came up with the idea of staging drive-in cinema screenings and tribute concerts.
He ran it past his business partner, Dominic Creighton, and their new venture, Safe Events, was ready to rock.
The pair’s first dilemma was a big one: Where do you find a venue big enough for rows of cars, a stage and an outdoor cinema screen? Luckily, Fox knew the perfect place – a field near Blackpool. The event creator decided to do things the old-fashioned way. “I just knocked on the guy’s door,” he says, “and asked, ‘Is this available?'” Luckily, the answer was yes.
Keeping things safe
Logistics were next on the agenda, and that meant figuring out how to host a large gathering during a global pandemic. Planning a health and safety strategy was, understandably, pretty tricky. “[At the time] there were no case studies or reference points to guide you,” Fox explains, “so we were using our own initiative and trying to think through what could happen and how to mitigate that.” Given this event industry need, Eventbrite created a playbook to help creators consider health and safety risks for their event – Eventbrite’s COVID-19 Safety Playbook for Events.
“We’ve got a really detailed process of how we’re getting people in and out,” he explains. “It’s pre-bookings only. They’ll arrive, they’ll be scanned contactless with a QR code scanner like Eventbrite’s organiser app, [and] they’ll tune into an FM radio frequency to capture the sound.” And when attendees fancy something to eat, Fox has a solution: “We’re currently having an app made so people can get food and drink delivered without leaving their car.”
The performers on-stage won’t be exempt from social distancing measures either. There’ll be a much bigger stage than one band would usually need, and each band member will have to remain in the same spot. “The drummer will obviously stay where he is,” Fox says, “but the guitarist will have a box and the singer will have the front part of the stage.”
Diversity is key
The most important thing for Fox is that his events reach as many people as possible. “It’s not just one group of people that are scaling the walls,” he states. “Older people can’t go to the local social club, kids can’t go to the playground – everybody needs this social interaction.”
That’s why the current Safe Events schedule has everything from a singalong Grease event for families and a Queen tribute night for older fans to a Billie Eilish meets Ariana Grande evening for the younger generation.
Although guests won’t be allowed to leave their cars during the show, Fox has plenty of interactive plans. With the help of Zoom and a big screen, he’s hoping to create a virtual chat room. Plus, he’s encouraging performers to get people involved – for example, by asking attendees to flash their headlights.
Get all the help you need
Whether it’s licensing agreements or health and safety regulations, transforming a business during a pandemic comes with lots of challenges. Fox’s biggest piece of advice for event managers in the current climate is to overstaff. He notes that “normally, you’d have around four [SIA-approved security staff], but we’re having 10.”
The Eventbrite platform helped make things easier for Safe Events. “We had to programme a lot of things at the same time … so it was quite a relaxing experience to have it all made for you, instead of having to start from scratch,” says Fox. Eventbrite helped the company’s safety plans by highlighting a limit on the number of passengers per car.
So what’s next for Safe Events? Well, there’s an even bigger idea in the pipeline. “We’re looking at programming a national tour for Pride, because all the Prides across the country have been cancelled,” he explains. If things go to plan, that would involve drive-in Pride events with RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants. “I’m a gay man myself,” Fox continues, “and I think it’s important to still stand for our rights – even with the pandemic.”
As for the future of drive-in events, Fox is unsure. Drive-ins are “huge in America, but [they’ve] just not taken off in the UK. It’s not something we’ll be looking to do forever,” he admits. But “if it takes off, there’s always a chance.”