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Meet the team: Strictly Come Dancing Live Executive Producer Richard Curwen

27/10/2017

As executive producer of Strictly Come Dancing Live Entertainment, Richard Curwen is the man who makes it all happen behind the scenes on board our Strictly Come Dancing themed cruises. We talk to Richard about the enduring appeal of the dance series and what it takes to make each show come together

Richard Curwen

Richard Curwen

Can you tell us a bit about what your job involves, both with the BBC and with P&O Cruises?

At BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC, I’m responsible for live experiences and live entertainment surrounding Strictly Come Dancing and the international version, Dancing with the Stars. So, be that an exhibition, cruise, residency – any of those things fall under me. It’s my job to make sure they meet the standards of the brand, that they meet the expectations of the audience, and that they are exciting and entertaining experiences. With P&O Cruises, we do four themed cruises a year where we’re on board for two weeks, and I’m in charge of producing and directing everything that’s happening on the cruises.

 

What is your background and how did it lead you to where you are now?

In my early days, I used to tour with bands and was part of the management of them. Basically, when the lead artist told me they’d run out of wine, I was the one that had to find it at 3am, in somewhere obscure. So I became very familiar with the live experience, putting on shows and working with crew. When I finished that I went into the music industry more generally, then I moved to television at the BBC. I started in the entertainment department, so I was there when Strictly was created. Then I moved over to commercial arm BBC Worldwide to carry on developing live opportunities around Strictly and Dancing with the Stars, and I’ve been here since 2011.

 

What would a typical day on board a Strictly Come Dancing themed cruise involve for you?

Each day varies, but it’s always very busy. We work to make the experience look seamless, as if it miraculously happened, rather than that we spent months planning it. We usually start rehearsing around 8.30am, be it the main show, the fashion show or the guest competition. Then we may have Q&As with the dancers or costume fittings, or we might run an autograph session or dance classes. Then there’s the lighting. We want all our shows to look magical because that’s what you expect from Strictly. To achieve that, the best time to light the theatre is overnight – it’s the only time you won’t be disturbed. So the lighting team and I will be up until 3am, usually about six times during every cruise.

 

How is producing a show for a cruise ship different to producing one in the studio?

P&O Cruises ships have amazing theatres and an incredibly hard-working and talented crew. But you have to take into account the fact that it’s a moving theatre, and you can’t predict how the ship might move and what the weather might do. Ultimately, you work with what you’ve got, because you could be in the middle of the ocean and if you’ve forgotten to bring something, you just don’t have it. The shops on board are more than lovely, but they typically don’t stock stage props! I’ve been known to phone dancers on shore and say, ‘Go into a shop and buy some canes and hats.’ So it’s working with what you have.

Janette Manrara and Aljaž Škorjanec perform on a 2017 Strictly Come Dancing themed cruise

Janette Manrara and Aljaž Škorjanec perform on a 2017 Strictly Come Dancing themed cruise

With live shows, there’s always a possibility that something could go wrong. Have you ever had a ‘the show must go on’ moment on board a Strictly Come Dancing themed cruise?

I think the biggest ‘keep calm and carry on’ moment was on our very first Strictly Come Dancing themed cruise. Natalie Lowe was dancing with Ian Waite, and Natalie spun out of Ian’s arms, straight off stage and into the lap of a man in the audience. Luckily he really didn’t seem to mind at all having this tall, beautiful dancer land on him. She got up, Ian pulled her back on stage and they carried on the routine as if it was a deliberate part of the show. So you have those moments where you’re thinking, ‘Should we stop?’ and you look down from the production booth and go, ‘No, they’re good. It’s fine.’

 

What are some of your proudest moments on board a Strictly Come Dancing themed cruise?

This year, we had one show where we had four standing ovations, which of course makes you feel very proud. Our dancers are phenomenal, but my job is to make them look phenomenal, so I take some of that credit as well. Another is when you meet fans of the show, who may have mobility issues, who say Strictly has encouraged them to get out and try different kinds of dancing, such as wheelchair dancing. You see how Strictly has changed their lives and you feel proud that a show that’s shiny and fluffy and lovely is actually helping people and matters to them so much.

 

Strictly Come Dancing is a true phenomenon. Why do you think it holds such an appeal?

It’s a very positive show. I think some other shows have a ‘point and laugh’ element, but there’s none of that in Strictly. Also, dancing is more accessible. You could watch Strictly and go, ‘Well, I could learn to waltz.’ So the engagement with it, the closeness to it is much greater. And it’s just a feel-good show. It’s shiny and sparkly and everyone is having a great time – and that comes across to the audience.

 

What is your favourite destination that you’ve visited while on a Strictly Come Dancing themed cruise?

The place that amazed me most was Svalbard, within the Arctic Circle. When we got off the ship, all you could hear was birds and nothing else, because there was nothing. It was just extraordinary… Beautiful with glaciers and snow-capped mountains, and peace and silence. And you could only get there by ship. It blew my mind. Luckily we had a day off that day, so we were able to enjoy it.

 

When you have downtime on the ship, where do you like to go to relax or have fun?

If people can’t find me they usually ask at the spa. I end up with stiff shoulders and back and legs, as I could be standing for hours and hours in the theatre. So that’s the one place I get to go and be pampered for an hour. I’ve seen a lot of the shows on board too; I enjoy them all but I really like Once Upon a Time on Britannia. And if I get a chance, I like to get Eric Lanlard’s Afternoon Tea at The Epicurean. I usually can’t eat afterwards because I’m so stuffed.

 

Find out more information on Strictly Come Dancing themed cruises for 2018 >

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