BFI Musicals! was a UK-wide season of film celebrating the spectacle and craft of big screen musicals from October 2019 - January 2020. As part of the season, cinema event specialists Live Cinema UK teamed up with Make a Scene, Manchester's gay film club, to present two much-loved queer musical classics in suitably spectacular fashion.
Cabaret (1972) & Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) toured venues across the UK - from Belfast to Cardiff to Sheffield - in an all-singing, all-dancing format that included live performances from trans drag icon Grace Oni Smith, immersive decor and event experiences, and even a post-screening "musicals only" karaoke party.
Unsurprisingly, audience participation was encouraged.
To celebrate camp, cult musicals in a live, interactive environment; providing audiences with a unique experience and new readings of the films.
To engage LGBTQ+ audiences, and to support and highlight the work of LGBTQ+ artists and producers.
To develop relationships, both new and existing, between Live Cinema UK and partner organisations across the country.
A total of 1,121 people attended across 11 events, including sell out shows at HOME (Manchester), Band on the Wall (Manchester) and Queens Film Theatre (Belfast).
67% of attendees had never visited the venue before. 33% were under 30. 47% identified as LGBTQ+. And 96% rated their experience as "Good" or "Very Good."
Live Cinema UK were able to strengthen relationships with organisations across the country; delivering events in 3 new locations (Belfast, Cardiff and Lancaster) and cementing an ongoing collaboration with Make a Scene.
Cabaret (1972) & Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001).
The partnership key to the delivery of the tours was between Live Cinema UK and Make a Scene. This was a new collaboration for this project and one that continues following the successes of the tours.
Budget in brief
Total budget: £23,758
Key sources of income -
BFI Musicals! Grant: £18,300
Box office share: £4,808
Additional contributions: £650
Live Cinema UK leveraged a number of partnerships to successfully develop and deliver the tours, reaching new audiences in a range of locations.
The audiences reached reflected the tours' target demographics.
Cinemas and touring organisations collaborated well, with cinemas seeing the benefits of taking a risk on live cinema programming.
The "musicals only" karaoke was a great added value event.
What has been difficult
Some cinemas are unfamiliar with live cinema events and are less confident in programming this sort of activity.
Sound issues at one cinema affected the audience’s immersive experience.
Dressing room spaces were not always ideal!
Cabaret ticket sales were slower than those for Hedwig and the Angry Inch – perhaps due to screening in January.
What you would do differently if you did it again
Provide clearer messaging to cinemas about the live elements involved and the the spontaneity of the performances.
Push to create localised Musical-aoke events hosted by local drag queens as this approach was very successful in Belfast.
Agree greater access and flexibility in terms of screens and dressing rooms - this would make event set up and prep less rushed.
Agree greater flexibility on event start time; allowing events to flow organically and for performances to begin when the room "feels ready."
The Hedwig events were a celebration of trans visibility, not just on screen but also through the live performances from Grace Oni Smith.
Cabaret was a celebration of sexual fluidity, bisexuality and homosexuality, and also directly challenged racism, homophobia and antisemitism.
The Cabaret events had a strong message of social cohesion running through them. In response to the film’s depiction of the rise of Nazism, the events made a clear statement about inclusion and took a stand against racism, antisemitism, and homophobia. The event opening saw the performers reclaim the phrase “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” – a deliberate challenge to one of the film’s infamous musical numbers. Moments like this reminded the audience that they all belonged at this inclusive, unified, queer cinema event.
After the Hedwig events, Live Cinema UK held positive discussions with the audience where people were able to express the importance of seeing the film on a big screen in a space with like-minded people. These conversations created a sense of community at the events – elevating the film’s themes of celebrating self-expression and personal identity.
What audiences said
"This was excellent! It felt like a family gathering. I loved this show. The Hedwig intro was phenomenal."
"An amazing celebration of queer cinema art and life."
"Outstanding! What a way to first see a movie."
"Great atmosphere and the hosts worked the audience really well. Great combo and will definitely attend the next one. Great balance of film and interactive elements."
"It brought another dimension to a film I've loved for years. A really joyous event!"