Bompas & Parr on creating the landscape for extraordinary Experiences
An inhabitable cloud of gin and tonic, a multi-sensory fireworks display, and now the world’s largest subterranean boating lake with Captain Morgan - are just a few of Bompas & Parr’s genre-defining experiences. Each project seems like a hodge-podge of different fields, but under the creative stewardship of Bompas & Parr - all these seemingly disparate ideas slot perfectly into place.
In conversation with Sam Bompas; we unlock what goes on behind the scenes of London’s most cutting edge creative agencies. What ingredients go into making of a good immersive experience, ad how the experience industry inspires people to step out of their homes and into the real world. According to Sam, the starting point of every project is to make London an evermore magical place to live in. Because Bompas & Parr don’t just create experiences that transport you to imagined fantastical worlds, but also create portals to your most amazing life.
How did you go from expert jelly makers to founding and running your own creative studio? 
There wasn’t a rubicon that was crossed or anything like that. When we were making the jelly, we wanted to control the whole environment so that we could give people the total experience, rather than just the partial food one. We gradually built up our staff, and it all took us by surprise. The main focus is and always will be delivering extraordinary experiences for real people, and the makeup of the studio is really a response to that. 
Today, convenience is such a massive thing — and it seems you can get anything delivered to you home. How does Bompas & Parr inspire people to create real world experiences?
What we do isn’t convenient. You have to commit to go, make an effort to wear the right outfit, and  coordinate with your friends. In life, you don’t look back at the moments that were convenient. How many ready meals, have you looked back on and said, ‘that was an epic meal!’ However, you do remember the things that required a bit more work and commitment. 
As a studio, we culturally celebrate doing things the hard way because you get to learn a lot; and the same is true for experiences. In a world where everything is digital, the real world becomes ever more important. By creating these fabulous experiences for people, they are able to articulate stories about themselves.
How have your combined backgrounds in marketing and architecture — helped inform your ethos in experience design? 
I think between Harry and I, we can tackle a wide variety of creative challenges. Because we come from different backgrounds, we’re able to put together disparate knowledge that isn’t normally associated with one another and use that to drive genuine innovation. We lionise that approach across the studio. What would they like to learn and how? It could be pyrotechnics or knife skills, or even story-telling and pottery. The real sweet spot comes when you draw a line between all of those things to make something that people haven't seen before. Getting people together with different expertise is more interesting than a load of people with same backgrounds in the same room. You need different insights to fuel innovation.
Why do you think the immersive experience scene in London has really blown up in recent years? 
I think people are looking to be entertained in a way in which they are the protagonists. They don’t just want to go to an art gallery and look at a painting on a wall, or in the cinema and just be in the audience. People want to be the creators themselves, but there’s a limit to the amount of creation they can do at home. They can spend a whole weekend creating an extravagant dinner party, but people don’t have the luxury of time or commitment for that. Experience creators aggregate all that energy to create something impossible for any single person to do.
Could you give us a brief history of the experience industry? 
Experience isn’t actually a new thing. In Coney Island during the early 20th century, they had theatrical experiences wherein you can walk through a recreation of the San Francisco Earthquake. The cinematic screen, which was first invented in the UK, was actually used to create a ‘time travel’ machine where you travelled back in time to the dinosaur age. These sorts of experiences have existed in the past, but stopped when labour costs got very high — so it became cheaper to do things that could scale. That’s when things like the theatre or cinema became normative ways of creating mass entertainment in the public arena. Now that we’re so used to that, we are now looking for a different way.
Where did the idea for the Lost Lagoon come from?
The Lost Lagoon was a collaboration with Captain Morgan. I love making mixed drinks, but for other people it could be a little intimidating. Punch is great if you’re entertaining because you can make something for a lot of people at the same time. We wanted to create an interesting cultural experience, where people would come along and learn how to make fabulous punch, but also have a theatrical experience with Captain Morgan. It’s a new genre where brands are almost the cultural protagonists for the era. Of course, a subterranean boating lake, a float up bar, both in the genre of Neotiki - were the only way to go.

What makes a good immersive experience? 
You need a strong sense of anticipation before people arrive, a remarkable venue that people haven't experienced before, a sense of on-boarding, and perhaps a special dress code because this takes people out of their everyday life. You also need fantastic set design, acting, costuming, and spectacular appeal. Most importantly you need to have a story; a narrative arc across the full experience. The more people can be heroes of that story, the stronger it is. A very good exercise is to take storytelling archetypes like 'The Hero’s Journey' and applying them to the narrative you are doing, and seeing how you can subvert it. 
For us, food & drink is very important. Usually it’s the letdown for immersive experiences, because it’s often an afterthought and quite complex to realise. It’s usually seen as a revenue stream instead of a crucial part of the creative. It’s all about creating a landscape that becomes a playground where your guests can be co-curators with your team and the audience. Giving them a  sense of agency and the ability to affect their environment and make something, and underlying all of that is a sense of purpose.
Are there any places in London that are in your hit-list that you haven’t had a chance to check out yet?
I love the Barbican Conservatory, the John Sloane Museum,Dennis Sever’s House is incredible on 17 Folgate Street. It’s completely enchanted, it’s been creating otherworldly immersive experiences for years and years. There’s lot’s of interesting immersive concepts in bars too. I love going to the Rake, White Lines is very innovative, and Lioness which is opening soon.

Now let’s talk food. What are your favourite London restaurants and why? 
Top of the list has to be St. Johns, it’s absolutely smashing. Every time you see how much impact its had on the way it I'm fascinate day the evolution and enormously impressed. The Anchor and Hope is fantastic, and I also think Kricket is great. The place I really want to go to at the moment is BRAT, but haven’t had a chance to go to yet.
What's Next?
We’re working with Valstar Paint to create
the Institute of Primal Colour, where you can use your non visual senses to find your perfect colour palette. For this we’ve worked with Professor Charles Spence, an experimental psychologist at Oxford University, to look at the resonance between the different senses. So you can decorate your house with your sense of smell. It should be thought provoking. Quite often people are hesitant to make choices on how they decorate but by pushing their spectrum of the senses, hopefully we can break that down.
In what ways do you try to be Less Ordinary with what you do? 
We try to make London an evermore magical place to live in. It’s our starting point for all our creative work.

Interview by Hannah Tan-Gillies 


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