Choir singing, storytelling and theatre combine with selected delicacies at the evening event “The Flying Cow" to create an experience that appeals to all the senses. The effect of these multi-sensual experiences and the emotions associated with them determine the expectations and experiences of the guests.
In this holistic staging, everyone - from the organisers, students and choir members to the guest - is part of the experience. This innovative approach corresponds to the "Affective Hospitality" vision of EHL Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality. "Affective Hospitality" focuses on the individual emotions of the guest, and on the hospitality skills needed to create these emotions. How better to present this concept than on a unique experience evening?
Following this vision, Michael Hartmann, Managing Director of EHL Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality (SSTH), together with star director Felix Benesch, among others, created the first and only choral dinner show. Culture and culinary delights combine at SSTH to create a unique evening. We spoke with Felix Benesch, the star director, to find out what challenges lie behind such an extraordinary task.
Mr. Benesch, what challenges did you have to face during the event project?
In this project, I had to reconcile many different things: "The Flying Cow" should have something to do with SSTH, i.e. represent and involve the hotel management school. The play was also supposed to be topical, apt and entertaining in negotiating some of the aspects that the hotel and culinary industries are dealing with today. Entertaining means: exciting, funny, original, emotional, surprising - and if possible not banal.
In addition, there are the challenges using the choir presents me with: The program had to be built around songs that the choir “incantanti” had mastered in its repertoire. About 20 roles had to be written and tailored to the actors, because we wanted to give everyone a role to play.
How do you deal with such projects, how do you develop stories and where do you inspire yourself?
Nothing works without research, which means, first and foremost, reading and talking with people. Only then do I develop ideas, which I then work out step-by-step. For this project, a common saying among author's is particularly relevant: "Having ideas is paradise, working them out is hell".
What did you pay particular attention to in the development of the story? What do you think is important for the director when developing a theatre production?
I usually mainly write scripts for film and television. I particularly enjoy combining narrative tricks from this world with theatre, music and, in our case, culinary art and applying them in a completely new way.
The highest principle for me is: Don't bore people. I try to achieve this with surprising twists and turns and a clearly set, forward movement in the stories. As many associative spaces as possible should open up. When everything plays together optimally, the viewer's imagination creates a film that is richer, crazier and perhaps even more spectacular than any cinema production.
Where do you think events of the future will develop?
A more conscious use of storytelling will certainly gain in importance. I am convinced that stories have always played an important role. When I stay at the "best hotel in St. Moritz", it's already very effective storytelling. And when, for example, I get Brigitte Bardot's favourite dish served there, then even more so.
I hope that the trend will be towards small, individual and higher-quality events. I am interested in the special features of a place, a community, and environment. I find it ever more absurd to strive for or emulate international and perhaps even global successes. We are surrounded by marketing strategies that are all too often very transparent, and also a bit stupid. Always and everywhere, we are manipulated. This creates a longing in me for the real, the unadulterated, the transparent. I want to know what I am dealing with.
I see our "Flying Cow" as an exemplary project of this kind. Here "only" about 20 local youths and young adults act with their voices and bodies. And the SSTH kitchen shows what it can do. Not a single effect device is in use, no instrument, no microphone, no high-tech - and no international star guest is the focus either. That is the magic. I am sure that we can move at least as much with it as with the hottest "shit" from NYC or Hong Kong.
About Felix Benesch
Felix Benesch grew up in St. Moritz and Chur. His first director's work was Peter Weiss' "Die Verfolgung und Ermordung Jean Paul Marats" in 1989, followed in 1990 by the production of Wolfgang Bauer's "Magic Afternoon" at the Churer Stadttheater. After the transformation of the Stadttheater Chur into a guest theatre, Benesch was assistant director at the Burgtheater Vienna in 1992-96, where he worked with directors such as Manfred Karge, Achim Benning, Peter Zadek, Ruth Berghaus and Claus Peymann. In 1995 he also directed Büchner's "Woyzeck" at the Chur Open Air Theatre as a freelance director.
Benesch also worked as a director at the Lucerne Theatre, the Schauspielhaus Zurich and the Klibühni Chur. He also taught at the Max-Reinhardt-Seminar in Vienna. Benesch is regarded as a precise, sensitive director who regards theatre above all as a place of encounter and humanity. Since the end of the nineties, Benesch has also worked as a screenwriter for film and television, writing for the “Tatort” series, among other things.
Photo (c) Matthias Heyde