Inspired by the natural world, Wild Rumpus creates 11 fantastical worlds with live performers and immense lantern models over 21 winter nights.
An important revenue earner for Chester Zoo’s conservation charity, The Lanterns runs from mid-November to late December and, despite Covid, welcomed 50,000 people in 2020. Produced by arts social enterprise Wild Rumpus, the event comprises a walkthrough of illuminated and interactive scenes from deep space to the bottom of the sea. We talk to co-founder and director of Wild Rumpus, Rowan Cannon.
Describe your event and how many people it attracts?
Lanterns at Chester Zoo is an illuminated arts trail – a wondrous night time journey around the zoo with all of the spectacle and magic that lanterns provide. It raises vital funds for the zoo’s wildlife conservation charity.
Attendees can escape to our 11 fantastical worlds, each different from the last, taking guests on an illuminated adventure like no other. This immersive, magical event is inspired by festive family tales and gives attendees the chance to see the zoo in a whole new light.
2020’s route took attendees on a journey around faraway lands, each filled with colourful lanterns, spectacular characters and Christmas scenes.
On a normal year the capacity is 130K. In 2020, due to Covid restrictions, the capacity was 50K over 21 nights.
Explain a bit about your venue and its history
This is the nineth year of the Lanterns at Chester Zoo. The zoo is the largest tourist attraction outside of London and we have worked in partnership for over four years on a number of different events.
This is our fourth year of producing Lanterns and we love working with the zoo. Its conservation work is really inspiring, and to be able to tap into its audience, which is not necessarily an arts audience, is incredibly exciting for us.
How have you planned the layout of the event?
We create 11 different worlds which are all themed and dressed with exciting lighting, decor and performers.
We build the structures ourselves – Wild Rumpus has a large in-house team of innovative makers with lots of experience in building big, wild and wonderful structures.
What entertainment do you offer and how did you choose and source it?
The event is a theatrical performance with a large scale story. Entertainment is created and produced by Wild Rumpus.
We put together story boards and narratives and build all the decor and commission illuminated costumes to match. We audition and hire performers directly.
On entry, guests are welcomed by the magical glow of the moon and stars that give the feeling that you are soaring through a dreamy moonlit sky. They then set off Over the Rainbow bridge into the dramatic and powerful world of The Observatory where planets will hover above.
After dancing through the black and white grasses of Zebra Grasslands, guests meander through our vibrant Cactus Desert and are met with an exotic world of colour and movement. The path is lit by glowing cacti, frogs and colour changing chameleon characters.
Then, as the winter night draws in, guests can look out for the spectacular Beyond the Sunset, a dramatic centrepiece at the heart of the zoo. This space is filled to the brim with dazzling animal lanterns – species that can only be found in the African Savannah – surrounded by lit trees and glowing grasses.
Following the Second Star to the Right, guests continue their journey through enchanting lands, leading to Walking In The Air…
The popular Underwater world transports guests to the bottom of the sea where they discover a huge breath-taking octopus.
What provisions do you make for power, lights and sound?
We work with Phil Johnson and his team, who are a joy to work with.
How do you manage admissions and visitor safety?
The admissions and stewarding management is the remit of the zoo. Lots of changes were made to ensure visitor safety around Covid-19. Face to face ticket admissions were moved online and the flow of people and social distancing were carefully managed.
Please detail the measures you have taken specifically for Covid-19
The zoo’s main priority was to ensure guests could visit safely and The Lanterns was no different. Adjustments were made to the event in 2020 to ensure there was less interaction with people and social distancing, which dramatically reduced the number of visitors each evening.
To make The Lanterns as safe and as magical as possible we offered timed tickets that gave entry every 15 minutes from 4pm to 8:15pm each night.
How do you publicise the event?
Selling the event is never an issue. Chester Zoo has a loyal and wonderful audience who come every year. The key communications effort was around reduced capacity and changing dates and it is testament to the zoo’s in-house communications team that the audience was incredibly accommodating and forgiving.
What challenges have you faced?
Because of Covid-19 we had to be really adaptable and roll with the punches. There was a lot of uncertainty around if and when the event would go ahead. Wild Rumpus had finished installing the lanterns and was a week away from dress rehearsal when the second lockdown happened. We had to quickly rearrange dates and reschedule performances. The actors were brilliant and accommodating
How have you financed the event?
Chester Zoo funds the event and commissioned us to produce it.
What are your plans for next year?
Plans are going ahead full steam for 2021. I’ve been dreaming about what else we can bring to the Zoo in 2021, and how we can be even more spectacular this year.
We are hoping that the full audience will be able to attend – one of the things we specialise in is audience interaction which we had to limit in 2020. We have a really wonderful, intimate puppet experience at Lanterns which was obviously very distanced this year, so we’re hoping to bring that back.
Wild Rumpus has lots of plots and plans in our minds for 2021, and we are really excited about bringing wondrous new worlds to Chester Zoo.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the outdoor event industry?
Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer! Volunteers are the life-blood of the outdoors arts/events industry and learn so many valuable skills.
Lanterns at Chester Zoo
Chester, CH2 1EU