Warm-up Acts

On Friday night, I was lucky enough to get tickets to the West End production of One Man, Two Guvnors that is now playing at The Arts Centre. What struck me most about this production was the way that they approached the before show ritual and completely turned it on its head!

one man two guvnors band
Upon walking into the theatre to see One Man, Two Guvnors, the audience is treated to a skiffle band on stage for the fifteen minutes between when the doors open and the curtain goes up.

For those of you who haven’t met with the genre of skiffle before, here is a quick rundown. The genre originated from the African-American communities in the United States in the 1920s and 30s and consisted of small bands that would form for rent parties, dance parties that charged admission so the owner could pay their monthly rent. The bands would usually perform with homemade or improvised instruments such as the washboard, tea chest bass or musical saw. That is until the banjo came into prominence! Skiffle then came to prominence in the UK in the late 50s and early 60s and launched the careers of many famous rock, folk, pop and jazz musicians such as Mick Jagger and John Lennon. (See the end of the post for an example from One Man, Two Guvnors).

While rather uncommon in today’s society, it is a pretty enjoyable and upbeat kind of music and left me with the desire to learn the washboard! It is also especially relevant when the play is set in the early 1960s.

Anyway, back to marketing and customer experience. Whenever a pop or rock artist puts on a show, they hire a warm-up act to raise the energy levels, increase the anticipation and prepare the audience for the show they are about to see. That is exactly what this band does for the audience.

It was able to raise the energy levels of the audience because rather than sitting in the chairs waiting for the remainder of the audience to file in, you are already starting the show. And it is much more enjoyable than having a quick chat to your friends about the beauty of the theatre, the comfort of the chairs and any reviews from friends who might have seen the show. Plus, it makes me feel like I am getting more bang for my buck which is always a good position for your customer.

Raising the anticipation of the audience is a powerful tool, but only when done well. I have been to plenty of events where the warm-up act has been too long, too boring and too bland which only puts the audience in a bad mood when the star attraction comes out. In the case of One Man, Two Guvnors, the skiffle band was rockin’ in true bluegrass style. And as it is a different medium to the play that the audience is expecting, it doesn’t detract from overall mood and definitely doesn’t go on too long as it is only the 15 minutes between when the doors open and the curtain rises.

Finally, possibly the most important quality of this band was the ability to transport the audience immediately back to the 60s where the play is set. The band looked like a young version of The Beatles, the music sounded like a young version of The Beatles (with some bluegrass) and, even though I wasn’t alive them, most of the audience appeared to be taken back to their youth when The Beatles were still young.

Actually, I take back what I said about that being the most important quality of the band. I had never seen people move so quickly in a theatre. So maybe the most important quality of the band is that people actually wanted to get to their seats so they could enjoy the warm-up act. It certainly gets the show going a lot quicker, but you have to balance that out with an 80-year-old breaking their hip as they push others out of their way to find a seat so they can start enjoying the music!

A very interesting way to start a show and a better way to get your audience into their seats at exceptional speed than leaving it all up to your ushers.

Here is the opening skiffle song if you want an example:

What do you think? Leave me a comment below – I love to read them!

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