Immersive Parties With A Curious Invitation

A Curious Invitation’s Suzette Field on entertaining 2.0

There are many disadvantages to eternal damnation but, according to Suzette Field, a dull social life isn’t one of them. In fact, the London-based events curator makes the underworld seem like one hell of a party (sorry). Author of the 2014 book A Curious Invitation: The Forty Greatest Parties in Literature, Field is currently planning three balls with Hades taking centre stage: Paradise Lost, Seven Deadly Sins and Revels from the Underground. Oh, and October is Month of the Dead, a series of 28 seances, workshops and storytelling events at historic cemeteries across the capital.

“I tend to use literature and film as my source of inspiration as you have access to some of the greatest minds of all time,” says Field. “It’s such a joy to be able to tell these stories.” There are serious skillz involved, too – no one brings death to life quite like Field and her team.

Take A Curious Invitation’s upcoming Halloween ball. “The theme this year is Seven Deadly Sins, so to represent gluttony, there’s going to be a banqueting room. We’ve built an enormous table and on it there’ll be five naked models painted gold, who’ll feed the guests grapes. On the next stage we’ll have a full symphony orchestra then a DJ on the stage after that, and so on – we usually have between seven and ten stages and over 100 performers at the big events.”


They’re big alright – Field accommodates 2,500 revellers at her annual Halloween, New Year’s Eve and Valentines balls (though her most ambitious undertaking to date was curating the 2010 opening of the V&A’s Renaissance Galleries – a masked ball for 12,000 people), and hosts four smaller parties of around 500 guests the rest of the year.

Alternative nightlife is on the rise. From immersive dining and theatre to themed pop-ups, we’re looking for more from our nights out than 2-4-1 margaritas and a dance floor packed with boozed-up Biliebers. “The trend for pop up is infectious,” says Field. “There’s always been an appetite for it, particularly in London. It’s just that now it’s easier for people to realise their ambitions thanks to the internet.”


While London has no shortage of weird and wonderful events, Field was ahead of the curve when she started throwing “off the wall” evenings at her Shoreditch warehouse in the late 1990s. “I always think life chooses things for you. Opportunities came my way. I was renting a huge warehouse for £100 a week and had all this space, so decided to host ad-hoc events, like a drive-through cinema with classic cars you could sit in. This was before Shoreditch was on the map.”

The popularity of these early experiments in events curation led to a collaboration with the Great Eastern Hotel. “We would take over the entire first floor with our masked balls and slumber parties and the business just grew from there.” One of Field’s most memorable parties was an homage to the American actor Vincent Price at the Coronet Theatre in southeast London. “We set up three stages under the old railway arches outside and turned them into immersive zones. Each room represented a different Vincent Price film. We even flew his daughter over from California.”

A Curious Invitation

It’s not just massive knees-ups that keeps the indefatigable Field busy; she also curates talks at National Trust properties, the V&A and Cafe Royal (the latest was Antonia Fraser on Harold Pinter) and runs workshops in taxidermy. How does she  maintain the pace? “I have a passion for it and have been doing it for years, so it gets easier. The rewarding thing about looking at events as an art form is that you see the guest become part of performance itself. It’s ephemeral, of course – you put so much work into one night then it dies away, but each guest will remember something different. You could have 2,500 narratives of the same night.”

So, if Field could go to one party in literature, what would it be? “The Moscow ball in The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Satan comes to a different city each year and throws a ball for all the denizens of hell to give them one night off eternal damnation. It’s hugely decadent.” If dancing with the devil doesn’t appeal, let Tom Waits reassure you – “There ain’t no devil; there’s just God when he’d drunk”.

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Suzette’s top tips for making your party stand out from the crowd

There’ll usually be at least one shy person at a party. A good way of encouraging them out of their shell is introducing an unusual workshop activity like vegetable animal making or butterfly setting. It gets people talking.

Themes are always a good idea, but it’s good to include a few pointers to get people’s creative juices flowing. For masked balls, I’ll break the dress code down into categories, for example “Venetian Carnival”. It’s also good to have a large box of masks to hand.

If you want to start curating events professionally, start with a talk or something small and immersive based on whatever your passion is then you’ll build up a following from there. A good mailing list is key – I have around 30,000 now.

For more information on A Curious Invitation's next events and their London Month of the Dead this October, take a look at her website www.acuriousinvitation.com


Posted in Spotlight

by Alix O'Neill
on on 22 September 2016

  immersive events

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