Sure, it might be known as The Greatest Show On Earth, but that’s due in large part to Nicole Feld. As Executive Vice President of Feld Entertainment, Nicole knows a thing or two about how to put on a sensational show — and how to create lasting memories for families everywhere. We spoke to Nicole about “Fully Charged,” this year’s latest iteration of the iconic circus show, what it’s really like to be in the family business, and why her 18-month-old daughter doesn’t even blink an eye when an elephant strolls past her.
Let’s talk about this year’s show and how it differs from previous years.
Well, this year’s show is all about what goes on behind the show along with kids’ imaginations and their fascination with how things work. We thought it would be a fun concept and the show is nonstop action from the beginning to the end. The performers have an exuberance about them that’s very rare to find.
Having seen Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey many times over the years, I have to say that it’s truly a family show.
That’s what we’ve really strived to do. I think about things in terms of what would interest a child. For so long, I thought about moms as a demographic, like my mom, who’s in her 60s now. She’s a kid of all ages, but now she’s taking her grandchild to the Greatest Show on Earth. I think about me and my friends and what do we like to do; what engages us, entertainment-wise. I’m listening to the same music that the kids are listening to on the radio. I want an entertainment experience that touches me and captivates me as well as something that’s going to engage my child, too.
I would think that could be hard, to try and appeal to everyone, especially parents.
I go to a lot of entertainment events and when I see a parent on their Blackberry, it’s the kiss of death. The last thing I want to see is a parent on their Blackberry; it’s like I want to go up to them and say, “What did I do wrong?” At least I know, six minutes later if they didn’t like that act or it didn’t speak to them, there’s going to be a different entertainment experience that they’ll like and that will get their focus.
And that’s the great thing about live entertainment. It’s a focus group every single time. Because it’s live, we can change it. It’s not like a movie that if it’s bad and you’re the director, you can’t do anything. If this act isn’t funny or the kids aren’t laughing, we can change it.
So now you’re in the third generation of this family business. What has that experience been like for you?
Everybody has a different feeling about what it means to them. In my experience, I can’t imagine being in anything else. I did work for a period of time outside the company before I came back. For my family, for me and my sisters, it’s a way of life. We were around it; we grew up in it. So when I decided to come back, I realized how much I knew just from being around it, and every day you get reminded of what you don’t know.
What is it that you’re still learning? Sometimes when you’re in the middle of it, it can be hard to see the next step.
I think you’re absolutely right. My sisters and I bring fresh perspective to the field. Even though I’m young and I’m a parent now, I can now widen that sweet spot of who we’re trying to cater to. At the same time, it is what I know. So what we try to do is go outside the business. We hired a director and a new creative team every year. I’m expecting these people to work through all different kinds of entertainment, whether it’s Broadway or rock n’ roll; all different kinds of live entertainment. They might say they did this one thing when they were working on Madonna’s tour and they can bring that to me, and I can say, “You know what would be great? If you took that idea and then we can marry it with what we do best as the Greatest Show on Earth.”
What’s it like being a working mom and managing this huge career with kids?
Well, my daughter already has a flair for the dramatic at 18 months! [laughs] She’s around it all the time, though. I’m fortunate enough that I can bring my child to work. So when I’m in the middle of rehearsals, she can be down there with me. I can see her and have those moments with her during the day. She’s already show savvy; she’s going to grow up around all this like I did, unphased by an elephant that walks by. She’ll even take a nap with really loud show music going on.
I think it’s great because you’re showing her that Mom loves what she does and has created a working environment that’s flexible.
That’s a great point. What I love is that she’s meeting so many different people and she’s exposed to so many cultures and experiences. I hope that makes her a more open and outgoing person. It’s interesting because I went to an all-girls’ private school in Washington DC for 10 years and then I have this whole other life. And I think I would have been a very different person had I just had that other life, because of the experiences that shaped me. Because of what I did on the weekends versus what the other kids did on the weekends.
What’s next for Feld Entertainment?
In the summer of 2014, we’re launching Marvel Universe Live, which is a partnership with Marvel and Feld Entertainment to create a huge, arena-style spectacular. It’ll have all the over-the-top entertainment from Ringling Brothers but with all of the characters from Marvel together in one place. It’s taking what we know how to do best, which is entertain families and give them a good time, and now we have access to stories and superheroes to bring them an amazing live event.