I still remember my first encounter with Scarlet English like it was yesterday… ‘Is this seat taken?’ I said, before claiming the seat next to her on the school bus. At age 13, we were on our way to a regional Eisteddfod (in Taree). Different acts, but both styled up for the show in our colourful costumes, big hair and strong makeup. Two young creative souls, full of butterflies and excitement, fearless, confident and ready to step out onto the stage. We’ve been besties ever since. Kindred spirits sharing a love for performance, music, dance, the arts – and karaoke.
Inspired by her pursuit for a career that offered flexibility, independence and self-expression, it’s no wonder that Scarlet has found her calling in the events industry. For over a decade, Scarlet has been crafting her creative management skills with some of the most reputable creative houses, theatre companies, corporate and government agencies, sporting organisations and music representatives across the nation. Fuelled by her passion for ‘The Arts’, her drive for delivering exceptional experiences, and her intuitive ability to problem solve and empathise. With no two days (or events) the same, Scarlet has worked with artists, athletes, CEOs, celebrities and scientists; coordinating events with confidence, agility, intelligence and efficiency – positioning herself as an absolute expert in her field.
Curious to gain an insight into the events industry, especially in the aftermath of COVID-19 we took 12 Rounds with Festival and Events Extraordinaire, Scarlet English to learn more about her incredible journey.
Welcome to 12 Rounds, a series of one-on-one interviews with exceptionally creative people that we’ve had the pleasure of working with at KO Studio. Our network of creative experts reaches far and wide, from photographers to animators, marketeers to food stylists, writers to sound designers, event extraordinaires and life facilitators.
Our Creative Director, Miss KO thought it was time to re-connect over a cuppa (or a vino) with these creatives to listen to their creative journey, capture some juicy insights from the industry, and share their key learnings with you (our readers).
It’s time to take 12 Rounds with talented event and stage manager, Scarlet English.
/01 How did you fall into event management?
Fall is the perfect way to describe it! Or maybe crash? I’ve been in the events industry for over 12 years now, but I didn’t initially consider it my career path. Never operating by halves or happy to stick to one thing; I’ve worked as a venue booker, a karaoke host, a clown, a copy and photo editor, a screen printer and textile designer, and a sometimes interior stylist. I also pour a pretty good pint.
Five years ago, everything in my life came crashing down and changed within the space of a year. At the time, I was managing front of house and amazing events at Sydney’s Carriageworks while also juggling my usual 3-4 other jobs and playing around with writing. I was in avoidance mode and running myself into the ground. Out in the cold one night managing crowds during the Vivid festival, I had the strangest feeling like I didn’t exist. For the next week, I was in hospital with pneumonia. This was the catalyst to huge life changes for me; I became more strategic with my choices, streamlined everything and focused. Once I decided to concentrate on events as a career, life improved vastly, both professionally and personally.
/02 What do you love about working in events?
What I love most is the variety. Events channel my energies into one industry while also feeding my need for challenge and novel experiences. I work on a range of events, from massive concerts and festivals to arts, commercial and corporate events, as well as private celebrations such as weddings. And, although I predominantly work as an Event Manager, I also jump across producing, operations and logistics, site and venue management, stage and artist management, communications, event styling, ticketing, front of house and volunteers, security and crowd coordination. Not only does this keep me engaged but it allows me a holistic understanding of events, which in turn makes me more employable!
Additionally, I get to travel and meet the most interesting people—artists, musicians, politicians, and scientists. But the best people are the events people. They know how to create something out of nothing and deal with crazy situations—while also retaining a sense of humour and fun.
Credit: (From top left) Wauchope Wedding. Curve Ball, Vivid. Festival of Dangerous Ideas, Cockatoo Island. Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. Semi-Permanent Conference. 2019 Melbourne Writers Festival. One Republic, NRL Grand Final 2019.
/03 What is the key to running a seamless and memorable event?
Events are like a microcosm of our world, but with heightened emotions. I say this because the key to running a seamless (if that exists), and a memorable event can be similar to how you choose to run your life. Everything is about attitude, perspective, courage, and trusting yourself and others.
1. Ensure you’ve researched and planned every detail—include all contingencies. Then be okay with throwing it out and changing tack if it doesn’t work. I like to think of the phrase writers use, ‘Kill your darlings.’ This refers to letting go of things or ideas you may be attached to but no longer serve you. Painful in the short term but works.
2. Know the desired outcomes, goals and audience. Who’s the event for? Who are the stakeholders? Seems simple, but truly understanding this will set the tone for the event and inform all your decisions.
3. You get what you pay for. If you ever find yourself questioning whether to get those extra toilets or water stations, don’t question, do get. Make room in the budget. Often overlooked, simple measures such as ensuring you have enough toilets, water, food, bars, and queueing systems will go a long way to ensuring a successful event. People don’t care how good the entertainment is if they spend half their time waiting in line.
4. ‘Not my job,’ isn’t helpful. Be flexible and jump in when needed, events don’t run with that attitude. Maybe you’ll surprise yourself and discover that you do enjoy a little sewing/plumbing/ticketing/fill in the blank.
5. It may seem counterintuitive when busy to stop and chat with an upset patron or staff member, but how you handle that situation could be the difference between having people on board who help or a mutiny. Everybody wants to be heard, be the person who listens.
6. Surround yourself with good people who know their stuff. Events are about teamwork and no one role is more important than another. Don’t micromanage, support and guide if needed. Trust people to deliver and the majority of the time they will.
Credit: Bjork, Live performance and VR album launch. Invictus Games Sydney, Welcome event. The Wiggles, Australia Day Concert.
/04 In your opinion, what sort of impact can an event have on a brand and/or it’s customers? And how do you know when an event has been successful?
Oh, it can have a huge impact, either positive or negative depending on the execution. Events provide a platform to connect more organically with people, something that’s hard to come by now. I’ve worked on quite a lot of experiential activations and the best have been those that provide a sensory experience and don’t do the hard sell. People will willingly commit to brands that offer a unique experience, and the time and space to engage with them.
There are plenty of ways success can be measured: data, ticket sales, social media, returning patronage, growth, continuity. It can sometimes be a long game because people need to walk away with an experience that sticks, they need to see the event as worthwhile. It’s all about trust. In the short-term, nothing beats watching the facial expressions of people as they engage with the event, and the crew and client camaraderie from a job well done.
Events provide a platform to connect more organically with people, something that’s hard to come by now. I’ve worked on quite a lot of experiential activations and the best have been those that provide a sensory experience and don’t do the hard sell. People will willingly commit to those brands that offer a unique experience and the time and space to engage with them.
/05 How would you describe your event style? Do you follow a creative process when organising and styling events?
Events can be encompassing. I can get consumed by them and enjoy working out every tiny detail. I’m an analytical, lateral thinker; first I start with mind mapping and research, then I like to get into some serious spreadsheet action. In saying that, remember what I said about best-laid plans? It’s more important to be flexible and just do what works.
I also find it’s best to be collaborative early on in the process, as you’ll have a larger creative and knowledge base, clearer direction and understanding of what is required. Events are about everybody, exploring different perspectives leads to better results.
Credit: (From top left) Studio 301 Producers BBQ Aria Awards Week. The Burning, Dark MOFO. Hermes Beach Party. Game of Rhones, Wine Festival. Salesforce Reimagined Live stream Conference. 2019 Dally M Awards.
/06 The global impact of COVID-19 on the events and entertainment industry over the last year has been devastating to witness. With border closures, lock-down laws and social distancing measures in place, so many events, concerts, and festivals were (and still are) sadly cancelled. In this ‘unprecedented time’, it’s difficult to foresee what the events industry will look like in the years ahead. In your opinion, what will be the long term effects on the events industry? What could the ‘new normal’ for events look like? And with so many of your projects put on hold (or cancelled) during this time, how have you personally managed to adapt and survive the current environment?
The effects of COVID have been devastating for everyone. Arts and events have been one of the hardest-hit industries. The event industry was the first to close and will probably be the last to fully reopen to some kind of ‘normal’. The constant financial stress has taken a toll, but the psychological costs are much worse. People lost their identity, their sense of value, and hope. Events are all about connecting people, so when they disappear there’s a loss to all—those who attend and those who make.
The federal government response to the arts and events industry has been appalling. Basically, we’ve been told we don’t matter, and we don’t count. Nobody has reported this better than comedian Luke McGregor. There seems to be a very narrow view of what the arts and event industry is. That it’s just about gigs and shows. But it’s vastly more wide-ranging than this. Generally speaking, any organised gathering is an event. How many conferences and seminars do you think politicians and business people attend? Huge amounts of money are spent on these events, so there must be some value to them. Also, what do you think the flow-on effect is across the economy? We’re not only talking about artists and venues but also production, transport and logistics, furniture and equipment hire, hospitality, accommodation, tourism, education, design, journalism, printing, manufacturing, agriculture and retail. Tasmania and the MONA effect is the perfect example of how arts and events positively impact our society.
Events people are a creative, resilient bunch, used to solving problems and fixing things. I think the realisation has been—if we can’t solve COVID itself, then we need to solve how we think about it instead. And there’s already been a lot of innovation around that, with businesses changing their event model from physical to virtual, people applying their highly transferable skills to other areas, and industry-wide collective action. And we’re very lucky here in Australia that physical events have started to return. Perhaps they’re not in the form we’re used to right now but maybe this change will lead to something even better? Regardless, connection is a core human need, and virtual isn’t going to cut it in the long-term. Adaptability is the key to our survival.
How have I handled COVID? Like most others, I found it incredibly depressing at times. I moved to Hobart properly just before COVID hit. My plan had been to work between Tasmania and the mainland. Moving to a new place is usually challenging enough without the addition of a pandemic! The first few months of COVID involved variations of teen-like angst and drama, grand visions of hope, questioning all my life choices, and total complacency while in trackies watching Netflix. But there was also the realisation of small joys and accomplishments. An event career is very busy and doesn’t allow much time for self-reflection. I’ve now had all the time I need. I’ve worked out what’s most important to me—people. Mid last year I decided to study—Psychology, with additional units in Public Relations and Diversity, Access and Inclusion. I’m absolutely loving it. And now that events has picked up again, I’m able to apply my studies to my work. For me, this feels like a natural progression, not the forced hand of fate.
/07 What has been the highlight of your career? (Or your proudest moment to date.)
There are two. The first has been my Summer work, contracting for the last four years to the events team at the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet. Their team is amazing. I love how they work—they bring such passion and commitment to everything they do. The logistics around their major events would blow most people’s minds; they’re a highly skilled and talented bunch who work like clockwork. They’re also hilarious and so much fun to be around. I feel grateful to have been part of their team every year.
The second is responsible for my recent love affair with Tassie. Two years ago, I saw a job ad to work with Ten Days on the Island festival. I’d never been to Tasmania and felt like an adventure, so I drove my car down and crossed on the Spirit to Burnie. Working as Front of House Staff and Volunteers Coordinator, in a place I’d never been and where I knew nobody, was slightly daunting but I made it work. It was the best decision of my life. The team on Ten Days were fabulous, fun, resourceful, and clever, with that great, ‘Let’s jump in and get it done!’ attitude that I deeply respect. Travelling around for the festival, I fell in love with the island’s rugged beauty and was warmly welcomed by all the gorgeous people I met. Returning to Sydney, I realised I missed Tassie—two months later I found my new home in Hobart.
Credit: (From left) Ten Days on the Island, Enchanted Island: Opera in the Vines, and Dust.
/08 Is there a dream event on your vision board? What type of event would you love to organise and coordinate?
I wouldn’t want to speak to anything specific at the moment. But, as someone interested in social psychology, I think there are many creative opportunities to improve event experiences. And, somewhere on the vision board lives my own event/festival/venue. Something that incorporates all the senses. It’s a germ right now; I need to keep learning and am happy to do so.
/09 You’ve recently packed up your life in Sydney and relocated to Tasmania. How have you found the transition from Sydney to Hobart, and what sort of creative opportunities are you hoping to discover in this beautiful part of the world?
The transition from Sydney to Hobart has been tricky at times (especially during a pandemic), but also a great test of character. Like most others during this time, I’ve missed my close friends and family, especially my brand new first nephew! In saying that, living on an island works well given the circumstances, and I feel very lucky to be here. I’m constantly in awe of the natural beauty that surrounds me.
Tasmania is a highly creative place; people are passionate about the arts and doing things differently. I’m very grateful that work has picked up in Tassie. Since November I’ve been super busy working on some diverse and interesting projects including Hobart City Block Parties, Clarence Jazz Festival and now with the Australian Wooden Boat Festival. I’ve met some very cool and like-minded Tasmanians that have had my back the whole way. Looking forward to the future, I can’t wait to do more work locally, lay down some roots, and contribute to the arts, events and creative community.
/10 As social distancing restrictions ease, and ‘in real life’ events return to a ‘new normal’, what advice would you give to business owners looking to host a ‘COVID-safe’ event and still create an engaging experience for their audience?
This is a great question and something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Over the last few months, I’ve been responsible for ensuring COVID-safe events in Tassie and on the mainland. I would caution anybody being complacent and taking a tick-the-box approach, and instead suggest that now is an excellent opportunity to create better event experiences, whether we’re in a pandemic or not. Look at access and inclusion, crowd and social psychology, and methods and styles of communication. A holistic attitude and strategic planning are what’s required to create events that are remembered positively.
/11 What’s the vision for Scarlet English? What does success look like?
I want to keep learning and challenging myself to grow. I want to do work of value that brings joy to other people’s lives. And consciously make time for the joyous things in my own life like friendship, family and love, good food and wine, gardening, yoga, sleep and reading books in the bath. I’m excited about the prospect of returning to travel. I will write again! These are the things that make me happy. To me, this sums up success.
/12 What song pumps you up before you head into the ring?
Janelle Monáe’s, ‘Tightrope’ has just the right amount of funk and soul to embrace any tricky situation. I think she says it perfectly, ‘Cause baby whether you’re high or low, whether you’re high or low, you gotta tip on the tightrope.’