Q&A: Ross Mollison
Spiegelworld is the company behind the bizarre and acclaimed variety show Absinthe, and Ross Mollison is the man behind Spiegelworld. The Australian producer and Spiegelworld founder brought Absinthe to Caesars Palace seven years ago for what was meant to be a six-month run. The show's inimitable, free-wheeling style and unique group of rotating performers made it one of the most talked about shows on the Strip and Spiegelworld has capitalized by launching the comedy Opium this year and making more big plans, including the addition of a giant wormwood tree art installation with 30,000 LED leaves at the Absinthe courtyard and developing another original, We Are Here.
Was 2018 the biggest year yet for Spiegelworld in Las Vegas?
It was certainly the most fun year. We took over the box office and went to seven days, which means we are now doing 728 shows a year at Absinthe. That’s been really satisfying. And right now we’re building this tree that we hope is going to be transformative. You make all these plans and have all these dreams and everything takes longer than you want, but slowly, piece by piece, it all comes together.
How important is that question of “what if?” Is that your foundational approach to creating entertainment?
I think we look to do things that are fun foremost and then if we enjoy them, we try to turn it into a business. We were talking earlier about the NoMad Restaurant and (restaurateur) Will Guidara has a system he calls the 95 and 5 rule. Ninety-five percent of the budget to things that are important and 5 percent is for total whimsy, things that are there for fun. I said we have the same rule except 95 percent goes on fun and 5 percent is the stuff that’s important. We did a workshop in New York for We Are Here and spent so much money, but everybody who came thought it was incredible. I think it’s going to be an enormous hit in Vegas.
We Are Here is a disco-themed show, very different from your other Vegas offerings. What is the status of that production?
We’re negotiating with resorts and trying to finalize an opening and hoping to announce that very soon. There’s a lot of enthusiasm for it. It’s such an exciting time in Las Vegas. There are so many opportunities out there.
What size and style of room will best fit that show?
I like to start as small as we possibly can. I think it will end up being around 600. I’m quite convinced the bigger we make it, the better it will be, and I can see in five years time moving into a 3,000-person room. But let’s start small and build intimacy. That’s what our brand means. We are so focused on the design of everything we do.
Has the expansion of the cast and the schedule made Absinthe stronger?
Well, it means I have more fun. I have to get around the world a bit more and find the artists a bit more often, but when I see someone great, I’ve got a bigger opportunity to say, “Hey, you want to come to Vegas?” It’s been really fun. These are people who spend their lives working on (their craft) and they are so disciplined, just an extraordinary combination of art and sports talent. It’s such a great pleasure to go out and meet people and get new ideas. We have 60 or 70 artists in Vegas now, from musicians to acrobats to comedians to variety artists, just a great group of people.
Is it difficult to incorporate those new acts into the show and find space to keep the ones the audience loves most?
It’s a little like running a sports team. When you meet people from middle America saying, “That silk act was quite interesting,” you have to think that 20 years ago no one knew what a silk act was. There’s a lot more awareness now, because of Cirque du Soleil and America’s Got Talent, of all these different forms of art, and we’re trying to find new forms. We try to keep those beloved acts in, but sometimes things and people move on, and like a sports team we are always looking for new talent. Only the clowns stick around forever, the grumpy old clowns.