Lessons from Chippenham panto and Fyre Festival

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You might be wondering what Chippenham Art Centre’s Christmas panto and the now world-famous Fyre Festival have in common. In short, they over-promised, didn’t manage expectations and - in the end - flopped. At least in these cases, there was no Brexit or weather anomaly to blame.

Jack and the Beanstalk was billed to be a spectacular show put on by a cast of six and brandishing professional staging and glittering costumes. After a tsunami of poor reviews, it turned out the high levels of disappointment stemmed from how the show was presented in promotional materials. Images released by the production company to entice the town to book tickets were a far cry from the show ultimately performed.

Then I heard about Fyre Festival, set against the backdrop of the Bahamas and promised to be the most luxurious music festival in history. Top models from around the world frolicked on yachts in the promotional video and Instagram personalities were paid hundreds and thousands of dollars to create a social media frenzy around the event.

Tickets cost up to $75,000 and guests were promised luxury accommodation, with food prepared by celebrity chefs and the very best art and music acts on the scene. On arrival, revellers were instead met with tents normally seen at natural disaster sites, set on concrete and furnished with rain-soaked mattresses. A tweet showing two slices of standard sliced bread with some cheese and garnish went viral, signalling to the world how wrong things had gone from the inception of the event to its delivery.

The severity of what happened with this festival is of course on a whole different level to the local panto. Beyond the frustrations of the rich festival goers who arrived to a scene of chaos, millions of dollars had been invested in the event. Most devastating perhaps was the impact on the local community, with locals losing their life savings - plunged into their businesses to support the event. Hundreds of people on the island went unpaid.

What went so wrong? In the case of Fyre Festival: many things by the looks of it. A fascinating Netflix documentary suggests that the main organiser, a relentlessly positive millennial in which too much faith (and power) was placed, did not know when to stop or take the advice of the experts he surrounded himself with. He is now facing a six-year jail term for fraud and numerous civil suits to repay the money lost.

While we don’t know what went on behind the scenes in the lead up to the Chippenham Christmas show, we do know that – as with all good pantos - there was a happy ending (at least for the customers). Each ticket holder received a full refund after the production company admitted that the lower-than-expected quality of the show was down to a double booking. We do hope the repercussions weren’t too dire for those involved.

Even if you’re not in the performance or creative industry, there are lessons to be learnt from these two cases. Coming up with a vision is one thing, delivering it is another. While we have all probably been guilty of over-promising at some point in our personal or professional lives, it’s OK, as long as you address the issue head on (and earlier rather than later). There is a fine line between optimistically pushing forward with a project with clear milestones and doing so while ignoring the warning signs – also known as “hoping for the best”.


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