At first glance, few people would imagine there could be a connection between Peppa Pig and Nelson Mandela.
However, those two highly influential icons share a common ground by being among the entertainment events staged by Round Room Live.
Now celebrating its fifth year in business, Round Room Live takes aim at two very different entertainment formats. Part of its business is focused on staging family-friendly theatrical productions featuring the popular characters of children’s television and online programming: Peppa Pig, along with Baby Shark, PJ Masks and Blippi, are the focus of live musical shows that tour North America.
The other part of the business offers more adult-focused immersive experiences, including exhibitions inspired by Mandela’s tumultuous life and the “Jurassic World” franchise.
Round Room Live is run by Westport residents Jonathan Linden and Stephen Shaw, both Canadian natives who previously worked with Live Nation before going into business for themselves.
“We were more focused on concert touring bands like the Rolling Stones that filled large venues,” Linden recalled. “Between tour cycles, we needed to find activities for everybody to engage in other ticketed activities, so we got into kids and family shows.”
Linden called the latter “a really interesting part of the business and a bit distinct from the concert-touring business. We thought it was an interesting area for us to jump into it and run our own company.”
The Rolling Stones inspired Round Room Live’s first offering with an immersive production called “Exhibitionism” that launched in New York in November 2016. That presentation was curated from more than 500 items of original stage costumes, rare instruments and lyric books, backstage and touring paraphernalia, album art, photography, stage designs, personal diaries and previously unreleased audio and behind-the-scenes footage.
For the family-friendly theatrical presentations, Round Room Live’s initial endeavor involved licensing the rights to the “PJ Masks” animated series from Entertainment One in 2017 for a nationwide tour.
Linden acknowledged that choosing the right vehicle for a touring show was often tricky.
“It’s sort of an evolving process,” he said. “When we first got into the business, the major kids networks would have a successful show and that would be a good indicator of what we wanted to take on tour.
“But more and more over time,” he continued, “between the streaming services and YouTube, there’s lots of different ways that children consume entertainment, so we’ve had to adapt and evolve and keep an eye on where we see the brands that are trending.”
Linden added that when they were made aware of the 2016 Pinkfong tune “Baby Shark,” the company “took a bet on a brand that at the time was really just a song – it was very successful, a very catchy song, but it didn’t have a broadcast TV show and it didn’t have a traditional consumer packaged goods line or following. But we were confident that it was going to pull together the type of following and it was going to have the lasting power that we were hopeful for.”
Theatrical productions aimed at children often have a tendency to be corny and even a little tacky in the presentation, and Shaw admitted that quality control is a major concern for Round Room Live’s shows.
“When we started out, we had a high priority in making the integrity of the brand come through within the narrative and the theatrical presentation,” he said, noting that the company works with “everyone from the writers of the animated kids’ series on TV and the marketing, the development and the production teams to ensure brand integrity by integrating the creators of the brand within the live theatrical activation and story. That show is the people’s professional IP.”
For the immersive exhibitions, Round Room Live co-produced “Mandela: The Official Exhibition” with the Royal House of Mandela (RHoM) and RHoM Investments. The celebration of the South African leader’s inspirational life was staged in London and Berlin before arriving at the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry in October; the company is planning an East Coast presentation in 2022, although a venue has yet to be named.
Also happening is a “Jurassic World” event in Dallas featuring large animatronic dinosaurs similar to the creatures in the popular film series. Linden explained that in staging such productions, the company is seeking “historical, culturally significant exhibitions that make a different contribution and have historical value, and they can play in museums and cultural institutions.”
Entertainment One acquired Round Room Live in 2019, and Entertainment One itself was later acquired by Hasbro. Shaw noted the company was “fortunate to have a corporate partner that helps us manage our way through the pandemic” when live entertainment was put on hold for more than a year. The company resumed its operations in June with the “Baby Shark” tour and the opening of “Jurassic World.”
“We’ve been optimistic that people are anxious and eager to have live entertainment back and finding the most safe and efficient way to bring it back,” Shaw said, citing the addition of a Tupac Shakur-inspired immersive exhibition being planned for next year.
“We’re excited that it feels like trends are going in the right direction, with children now being vaccinated,” he said. “And we’re optimistic that the landscape is changing and 2022 is going to be great for live entertainment.”