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Lessons from the Crosswalk: Pop-up Theater

POSTED ON: 03/23/17

Romance hung heavy in the air at the intersection of Beverly Boulevard and Genesee Avenue in West Hollywood. On the sidewalk, a hairy, oddly dressed character struck heroic poses while an ample-bosomed maiden stared dreamingly into his eyes and trilled in a wobbly alto voice. This was either the beginning of an inappropriate public tryst, or pop-up theater.

To the relief of passersby, it was theater. Specifically Crosswalk Theater.

An invention of The Late Late Show host James Corden, Crosswalk Theater (or Crosswalk the Musical) is exactly what it says it is – a pop-up performance of a beloved musical, staged in the middle of an active thoroughfare.

Corden serves as both troupe director and star performer (it’s his show). His latest theatrical undertaking: Beauty and the Beast.

Luke Evans, Josh Gad and a very reluctant Dan Stevens, who star in the film as Gaston, LeFou and The Beast respectively, were on hand to reprise their roles. Corden, of course, cast himself as Belle (and was resplendent).

After a pep talk and some dubious acting exercises lead by Corden, the troupe got the “Walk” sign. The music to “Bonjour” blared, and Corden and his company – complete with dancers and scenery – transformed an L.A. crosswalk into a poor provincial town. It was a glorious 60 seconds of pop-up theater.

The number abruptly ended when the light changed and Corden screamed, “Cars! Cars! Cars! Be safe!” He frantically rushed his cast out of the path of traffic. Three more songs from the show followed. The finale was indeed grand, featuring a costume change by Corden, who traded his simple blue dress for a sumptuous golden gown. It was probably the most thrilling minute in recent musical theater history.

Stevens eventually gave into the enchantment of Crosswalk Theater, raving, “Across that road and on the other side was everything I love about theater – and a gas station.”

What can we, makers of retail pop-up, learn from Corden and his band of Mercedes-dodging artistes? Quite a lot.

Eight Inspirations From Pop-up Theater:

Activate a concept that is immediately understandable. People may have never considered crosswalk-meets-theater, but once they hear the words together, they get it. If you have to explain it, the joke is dead. Go for elegant simplicity.

Mash up unexpected elements. Live performance on a busy street? Why not?

Shock people out of complacency. Show them something they’ve never seen before, or even imagined. Take risks. Embrace the fact that anything is possible.

Build in opportunity for real-time participation. Some drivers pointedly ignored the performance (which made for funny video), while others sang (and honked) along.

Bake the social media components in. The Crosswalk Theater segment currently has a larger audience online than it drew during its original TV airing; it is inherently sharable. Always be creating content.

Do something traditional in a fresh way. Stars appearing on talk shows to plug their latest projects is older than Jack Parr. Crosswalk Theater is a never-before-seen way to say, “see my movie.”

Remember that your brand is the star. Even in a street filled with major stars, our eyes are on Belle… er… Corden. It’s his show. Make sure your brand doesn’t get lost in the crowd. Own the Moment.

Execute flawlessly. Corden’s pop-up theater “performance” is impromptu; its staging is not. Rest assured that there is a huge crew just out of camera range capturing footage, cueing actors, adjusting costumes, policing traffic, holding permits, manning the craft services table, poising for injury, managing props, wrangling pedestrians and handing out water.

 

Discover more during “Pop-up or Perish!: A Retail Marketing Mandate,” a new webinar from MR Pop-up. In this free session, pop-up experts (along with this guy) share the whys, hows, whens, whos and what-the-heck-happeneds of modern retail pop-up. Learn more here.

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