The Secret's Out
It’s 2pm on a lazy Sunday afternoon and you’re trying to enjoy brunch. The latest hipster spot your “insider friend” recommend is packed to the gills, and you’re crammed shoulder-to-shoulder over some overcooked eggs and a weak Bloody Mary. But across the street, something is happening.
The lights are dimmed, the curtains drawn, but through it all, you can still make out the sounds of an epic daytime party: an invite-only affair for the city’s most exclusive.
Welcome to the secretive world of events in Asia, an exciting new trend mostly available only to those in-the-know.
“People are seeking out curated, unique experiences, and if everyone has had a particular experience, it tends to lose its value,” says Christopher Mark, co-founder of Black Sheep Restaurants in Hong Kong.
“It’s basic psychology that people enjoy things that they’ve had to work a little harder for. Hong Kong in particular, is a city that thrives on status, so an exclusive experience that not many people can have, definitely has its appeal.”
Black Sheep holds its monthly event The Fiasco at Italian restaurant Carbone, in the downtown Central district of Hong Kong Island.
It’s a speak-easy-inspired boozy brunch that while not completely exclusive, is certainly niche in its use of word-of-mouth as well as lack of promotion. The risk has paid off, though, because what started as a small event, has bloomed into a must-do with a multiple-month waiting list.
More than that, The Fiasco exhibits one of the strongest hallmarks of a secret-event trend: performing arts, through live theater. “A lot of these ‘secret’ events are centered on performing arts in a way that makes them very accessible,” says Mark. “People are seeking out creativity more and more.”
Indeed, one of the most popular of the trend has been Secret Theater Project, an event that started with humble beginnings in London, but has since expanded across the world, including Sydney, Hong Kong and soon, Shanghai.
The concept is simple: a group of people meet in a certain location and are taken on a literal adventure, as they’re thrown into an immersive theater experience.
It could be a secret underground club where the vampire-set aren’t quite what they seem, it could be an uninhabited island where a murder has taken place, but the line between actor and audience is constantly blurred.
“[Audiences] are directly involved in the action which really adds to the secret adventure,” says artistic director Richard Crawford.
“Traditional theater has become a mundane experience and I felt audiences wanted more. I also wanted to reach out to people who may not be interested in performance, and create an event that would be engaging and exciting for new audiences and take them on an adventure.”
Boredom with the norm was really what started the trend, and if one were to trace it all back, secret events had their roots in ‘90s supper clubs. Of course, they eventually became oh-so-hip private kitchens – but things are coming full circle, as some are blending the theatrical with their dinner.
Andsoforth in Singapore bills itself as a “series of theatrical feasts immersed around stories, drama and… secrets,” and true to their word, much of what happens in their pop-up restaurant isn’t available to the public.
“We think consumers are earning more and are willing to spend more on novelty,” says Stuart Wee, founder of Andsoforth.
“Our vision and goal has remained the same, which is to create concepts and events we love, and bring people to get past their phones and connect in an immersive environment, with actors as conversation instigators.”
Human interaction is at its very core, without the shameful FOMO (fear of missing out) attitude of seeing and being seen.
“It’s really just a form of urban tribalism,” says Black Sheep’s Mark. “People are seeking out like-minded people to share experiences with.” And really, what could be nobler than that?”