Miao Mangmang & Craig Bryant • Prahran
The MC Showroom in Prahran, named for owners Miao and Craig (hence the MC), is one of Melbourne’s premium independent venue and performance spaces, combining a black box theatre with a music production suite. When COVID restrictions hit in early 2020, they were faced with the challenge of navigating an unknown landscape. Through the Business Resilience and Recovery Mentoring (BRRM) initiative, The MC Showroom found new and innovative ways to pivot as the live entertainment industry underwent a fundamental shift.
“Yes absolutely. Guy [from BRRM] provided professional insights into our current financial status, and advice on a realistic yet progressive roadmap through which we should safely invest and build. To have a mentor like Guy to bounce off ideas with and validate certain decisions was a confidence booster and helped put things into perspective. It is especially important during this time when it’s so easy to feel lost or hopeless.”
Founded in 2017, The MC Showroom is privately owned and independently run by production power-duo, Miao Mangmang, and Craig Bryant.
Inspired by their annual trips to Broadway and West End, Miao and Craig decided to transform a converted warehouse space into an artist-focused, purpose-built black box theatre in Melbourne. They hoped it would act as a blank canvas for artists to be as experimental and adventurous as they dare.
“We love seeing how creativity shines through in smaller, quirky venues with independent productions. They use something as simple as a milk crate or some table lamps and create magic,” Miao says.
While they initially intended for this space to primarily be a music production suite for Craig with a serving of theatre on the side, its eclectic lineup of shows meant that the theatre’s reputation soon exceeded itself. With ideal acoustics, location, and infrastructure, the space was a perfect base for performers, and venue hire soon became their primary revenue.
Part of what makes The MC Showroom unique is that it is purely location-based, with no hospitality business attached.
This meant that the impact of lockdown hit hard, as their only stream of revenue was from live performance.
“When you’re in crisis mode, you try to think really quickly about how you can innovate and pivot to survive the storm,” Miao says.
After the cancellation of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2020, they were one of the first performance businesses in Melbourne to deliver a livestream service.
“As a black box theatre who has hosted a lot of film shoots, we had the perfect setup and acoustics for livestream. It was a natural next step for us.”
However, with continued restrictions, this option became temporarily closed to them as well.
“We had no idea what the landscape was going to look like as it was unfolding,” Miao says.
“We couldn’t predict how much the live performance industry was going to shift, so we were quite lost as to how best to invest in the future of our business.”
When Miao and Craig discovered the Business recovery and resilience mentoring program through the Business Victoria newsletter, they realised it was the perfect opportunity to benefit from an outsider’s perspective. They quickly applied for the program, which provides professional consultation and gives mentor options.
“We chose Guy as a mentor as he has an understanding of the arts industry and was the best fit for our business,” Miao said.
Over four two-hour mentoring sessions, Guy helped them to put together a three-phase, medium-term plan for recovering from the pandemic that took into consideration their ‘profitable core’.
“Talking to Guy was a reality check. He was able to give us clarity on the direction of our business, while we were intertwined with the operational side of things.”
“Guy is a keen listener, a quick-thinker, and someone who can offer both insightful knowledge and pragmatic solutions.”
From a strategy perspective, Miao explains that the sessions helped inject some fresh ideas from the view of an experienced outsider. They also consolidated some tactics into a more holistic approach, including identifying the core strengths of the business and utilising those to fast-track their recovery.
“The system we worked out was very important for us.
They explored concepts like how to realistically expand and adapt, and still make the business a potentially profitable offering for existing clients. This led them to hire a social media specialist, who could assist with getting their business back on track.
“Being a live performance venue, the process of reopening had been rather daunting. The program has helped me to systematically prioritise the actions that need to be taken.”
Miao and Craig have celebrated their four-year anniversary of The MC Showroom. Now at the helm of this year’s International Comedy Festival and Midsumma Festival, things are looking up for The MC Showroom and the live performance industry at large.
“I was surprised at how quickly things have started to go back to normal,” Miao says. “Since reopening in December last year, we’ve seen enquiries and audiences flood back in.”
Miao believes that more than ever before people are remembering the value of art and local artists.
“During 2020, people learned to appreciate local talent. With their creativity, they helped to support and entertain many people through the uncertainty and loneliness of lockdown. This gives me hope for the future of local artists.”
In terms of the future, Miao says that The MC Showroom will continue to work towards digitising their business in order to properly record performances and open to a wider audience.
“In the long run, while we’ll always be a location-based business, we want to make our business much more accessible and digital-friendly.”