The Queens Ball: A Bridgerton Experience in Chicago was a spatial wonder in immersive marketing. But more than that, given the location on Chicago’s South Side – in a black-owned tennis club – the ball gave a not-so-subtle nod to the vision of on-screen diversity that Shonda Rhimes created with her reimagining of the book series with characters of different races. As has been said many times before, not only is diversity a good business decision, but diversifying every part of the business can boost the consumer’s affinity for a product.
A diversity of people showed up and showed out for the Ball, and they spent plenty money on wraparound services for their prep. Much like these events were big moments in the past, the Chicago Ball – especially for fans living in a city recovering from a long, cold, Covid-filled winter- is an event with a capital E.
The proof was in the crowd at the Queens Ball. The night that I attended, and instagram images from subsequent balls in the city show, the three hour immersive experience was one of those rare gatherings where people of all races and all ages – and not just lone representatives of one or two groups – party together in a room, all from different neighborhoods in a city that Dr. Martin Luther King once said was the most segregated in the nation. To be clear, Chicago is still fairly segregated – we don’t all live together – but for folks to unite in person to celebrate all things Bridgerton? That’s unique. To boot, the overwhelming majority of participants came dressed in ultimate costume to take part – some for their first time – in full cosplay regalia.
These dresses and suits were not cheap. Though my own satin ball gown came from Amazon
In my own search for a “Bridgerton dress,” I was brought to Etsy, where prices for a “Daphne dress” range from $100 to $1,000 for the blue and silver glittery gown. And on Amazon, in the weeks prior to the start of the Chicago Queens Ball, Amazon was sold out of all forms of Regency-era dress, only restocking this week, just in time for customers intending to go to the ball before it ends its run in June.
No matter how they acquired their outfit, cosplayers were rewarded with an experience that matched their finery.
From the flower-filled entry hall to the white-gloved attendants handing out Lady Whistledown’s Society Papers to the portrait artist “painting” your Regency-era picture by taking it and aging it digitally, the event recalled fun moments of the show that both newbies and die hard loyalists could enjoy. In particular, the Society Papers included a puzzle that could have you buzzing about the rooms in search of the the next clue and the next answer – a nice touch given that many people attend this event solo, so a party game of this sort gets all the wallflowers off the proverbial wall.
A live orchestral quartet only added to the ambiance of the evening, which was aided by professional dancers who taught the crowd how to do several dances for the night, including “Hole in the Wall” and the “The Tythe Pig.” The dances were listed on a “dance card” you could attach to your wrist. A dancer dressed as Duke Hastings led people to the floor to teach them the intricacies of the old English dances. The Queen made her appearance, and much like the Netflix
In terms of numbers, here are a few:
How many actors perform?
- 14 per performance, including the queen, several professional dancers, four musicians and five valets in “regal attire” who engage with guests.
How many glasses of champagne are served?
- On average average over 100 glasses of champagne are poured per performance.
How many waltzes waltzed?
- There are approximately 10 different dance performances over the course of an evening.
How many cities represented?
- Four at this moment: Chicago, Montreal, Los Angeles and Washington DC
The event, put together by Fever and Netflix, with a special sponsor in Tanqueray, was instagram ready. Several Regency-era backgrounds abounded for any number of video and photo opportunities. The branded mixed drinks, with names like The Sharma and the Diamond, were clearly designed to be paired with the Insta backgrounds.
The audience participation dances paired with the “scandalous” gloves-off performances of a Duke Hastings-esque character named Sir Wilfred Fitzwilliam and the Lady Maria Branwell, dressed all in blue and reminiscent of Daphne Bridgerton from season 1. Their love story, on display via dance proxy, encouraged crowd participation and provided a nice set of Easter eggs to mega fans. And of course, the Queen selecting a “diamond” of the ball and then showering said diamond with sprinkles and sparkles only upped the ante of the evening for unsuspecting guests.
I’ve been to a number of traveling immersive experiences – including the recent immersive Van Gogh visit to Chicago- but The Bridgerton Experience was less crowded and more intense in that it invited cosplay and thus, 360 degrees of immersion. All actors wore masks, though the audience was not required to. (Most people wore masks though, on the night I attended.) And plenty of merch was for sale at the open and close, including fans, sweatshirts, glasses and bags — all an offshoot of ongoing Bridgerton merchandising that includes dresses, tea sets and a special Pat McGrath makeup line.