Behind the Scenes: «Jingle Bern»
How does a director feel during a dress rehearsal? Can you tell from a performance how good the food is backstage? And why do the members of the Casino team have little bells in their desk drawers? We spoke to Nadine Imboden, Florian Gurtner and Nik Leuenberger about minute planning, sudden self-doubt, and goosebump moments. Find out why every drop on the rim of a plate is one too many at a dinner show and what makes «Jingle Bern» so special.
Is used to the stage, as she was a ballet dancer for many years. Today, she is a director and choreographer with years of experience in television formats such as SRF Benissimo. She also works as creative director for national and international shows. 2023 is the third year she’s been involved in «Jingle Bern», which makes her very happy as it is a project close to her heart.
Created the dinner show «Jingle Bern» as Head of Culture and member of the Executive Board at Casino Bern. With this event format, the destination Bern gained an exclusive product and attraction. For «Jingle Bern», Nik is in charge of the sales process and the coordination between the various departments. As former artistic director at the Casinotheater Winterthur and PR manager at the Swiss National Circus Knie, he is experienced in the conception and production of dinner shows.
What are your roles at «Jingle Bern»?
Nadine: I’m a part of «Jingle Bern» for the third time now. As the director, I’m in charge of concept and production. I put together the different acts, cast and book the artists, and choreograph and stage the dinner show.
Florian: I’ve been on the Casino Bern team since the re-opening after the renovation. I am the chef the cuisine for the event sector, and as such I manage the kitchen and cooking processes – for «Jingle Bern» and other events.
Nik: I’ve been Head of Culture at the Casino Bern since just before the re-opening in 2019. I helped develop the concept behind «Jingle Bern» when we were looking for new formats for our establishment and trying to harness synergies between the gastronomy and the culture sector. Events used to be organized by external organizers, today, there are many in-house productions such as «Jingle Bern».
For those who have never heard of «Jingle Bern»: what kind of an event is it?
Nik: It is a combination of musical, acrobatic, illusory, and culinary acts, making it the ideal Christmas event for corporate customers. Why? They are booking a care-free package, offering their customers or employees an unforgettable experience that involves all senses. A feast for the eyes, ears and, thanks to the delicious food, body and mind.
Nadine: Speaking of food: the «Jingle Bern» audience gets served excellent food – and so does the crew backstage. Every year, I hear from artists that the food at «Jingle Bern» was the best they’ve ever had backstage – and I agree. The Casino’s kitchen crew is so passionate about food, and that directly influences the quality of the show. So, congrats to you and your team, Florian. What you accomplish is incredible.
Florian: Thanks, Nadine. It is quite the challenge. We cook on a very high level and, even though there are a lot of guests, the dishes comprise many different elements – there are no cutbacks.
There is the possibility to book an exclusive «Jingle Bern» experience for your company.
Why should people choose «Jingle Bern» and not some other dinner show?
Nadine: We are different from other shows. Take the music: we offer a unique mix of classical and modern – just like the establishment that «Jingle Bern» takes place in. It is an old, classical building, but equipped to the highest standard. The ambiance in the Great Hall is breathtaking and, thanks to the high ceilings, we have lots of “air space” for acrobatic performances – they bring a quite poetic element to the show. Classical establishments usually don’t have concepts like «Jingle Bern». This generates recognition value.
What are the greatest challenges when working on «Jingle Bern»?
Nik: One of the challenges is showing the diversity and therefore the value of the event in our PR work. For 198 Swiss francs per person, you don’t only get extraordinary entertainment, but also an exquisite 4-course meal. Many think that it’s all about the entertainment. But our focus is just as much on the food.
We’re in March 2023 – usually way too early to be thinking about Christmas. What are you working on right now, Nadine?
Nadine: We are currently in the booking process. Which artists are we booking? Which acts go together? In which order? What musical direction are we going in? We are already pretty pressed for time. The artists are planning out their year as well.
Florian, are you already thinking about «Jingle Bern», too?
Florian: No, it would be too early to work on the details now. The only thing that’s already set is the structure of the menu. Meaning: which components can we include? We want to create a 4-course menu that we will be able to execute. Many things don’t make it onto the menu because they’re not feasible. The final menu will be written in the summer, taking into account the event menu that the Casino already has. That way, we’re able to produce a basis, allowing us to work more efficiently and sustainably. We try to think not only of ourselves as the event team, but to also include the restaurant in the planning. Take a soup, for example: we can make the same soup in the event sector and the restaurant, thereby delivering consistently high quality.
Nik: If I may add something, Florian? Honestly, we’re always glad to get the menu by the summer. The programme alone is less informative than also having menu to present. When it comes to food, we all speak the same language. This makes the menu an important element of the sales process.
Do you also spend time together offstage?
Nik: It’s an important part of the show that the organizing team and the artists celebrate together what they achieved onstage. Since year one, we’ve celebrated our joint success with a big party at the end for the entire crew. Artists, technicians, waiting and kitchen staff – everyone who is involved in «Jingle Bern». That really brings the people together. And we also take the opportunity every year to show the artists our beautiful city. We’ve been to the Parliament Building and on guided city tours, and I always recommend physiotherapists, places to shop, eat ... Many of the artists are surprised by how beautiful Bern is. This year, we’re teaming up with the Bern Convention Bureau, which has a great network and offers valuable tips and recommendations.
Bern Convention Bureau
There are countless ways to organize a meeting or convention, but only one competent contact for successful events in and around the federal city. The Bern Convention Bureau is Bern’s one-stop shop for events, with professional, competent and friendly experts that are happy to help. Our secret? Being passionate about our jobs, personal commitment, our interest in innovation, and of course our love for Bern.
Until 2017, the bathrooms by the great hall didn’t have warm water. With the renovation, everything was brought up to date. The building is now heated with district heating instead of gas.
Nadine, you are originally from the canton of Valais, but you live in Zurich and all over the world, where you work on different projects. Bern is said to be a quiet, calm place. How do you see it?
Nadine: I’ve spent many a Saturday in Bern. People from Valais always go to “Bäru” (Valais dialect for Bern) on Saturday afternoons. (They all laugh) Bern reminds me of my teenage years and is just a cozy place. But it has more to offer than you might think at first glance. I’m proud to be able to work here in Bern and in this wonderful establishment. I like working with people from Bern. They are likable, down to earth, kind, and easy going – at the same time, they are highly passionate and always give projects their all.
Does every issue of «Jingle Bern» have a motto?
Nadine: We don’t communicate a motto. «Jingle Bern» is «Jingle Bern». But it’s important, especially for me, to have a recurrent theme within the production. We want to tell a story. And every year, there’s been a certain element that was present throughout the show. Last year, it was a glass box with a message that the audience got to hear at the end.
Valeria: Do you incorporate that element into the menu, Florian?
Nadine: I like to involve the kitchen team in the show, they even appear in some of the scenes. Even though they don’t actually have time for those things. But I try every time ...
Florian: ... Yes, there are certain things that we can consider, but we don’t plan the menu around them. In the end, it needs to be realistic for us in terms of production and serving. Everything else is fine tuning – and we’re far away from that after having decided on the menu. What we have at that moment is only the basic concept. We have components that we can play with, and that’s where Nadine comes into play again ... (laughs) But most importantly, it has to taste good and impress the guests. And we have to keep in mind that we have other events going on simultaneously. The restaurant is open as usual and, more often than not, we also have a banquet in the “Burgerratssaal” hall at the same time. This takes a lot of coordination and resources – and all of that happens behind the scenes, is invisible. Bringing us out onto the stage last year was a huge acknowledgement of our work. And the guests were stunned – I think many of them only just realized in that moment how many people are involved in a production of that size.
Nik: We’ve also thought about integrating the backstage kitchen area into the show, allowing the guests a peek behind the scenes ... We want to show the huge efforts backstage because they’re an incredibly important part of the show. And it’s interesting to see.
Florian, how do you manage to get warm food to 250 guests at the same time?
Florian: Luckily, it’s not exactly at the same time. But our schedule is very precisely timed. 2 minutes before the doors open, we get a sign and start plating. When the doors open, the first 20 plates are sent out. At the same time, the conveyor belt, which we set up backstage especially for the show, delivers a plate every 10 seconds. They are continuously sent out to the guests. It takes about 15-20 minutes for all of the plates to be out. Getting to the furthest table alone takes 1.5 minutes ...
They begin to discuss whether they could maybe rearrange the tables. Or should they try rectangular tables?
There are a lot of emotions involved in producing «Jingle Bern». Is there one moment that you look forward to the most? And others that make you nervous?
Nadine: The thing is, the entire preparation happens in my head. I’m constantly working on it, but I can’t see what it will look like. I don’t have a feeling for it, don’t know what effect the show will have on people. That’s why, for me, the dress rehearsal is the most demanding part. The ideas in my head are suddenly visible, but there are still lots of decisions that need to be made. That’s exhausting. The goosebumps come when the last curtain falls after the premiere, when everyone is smiling and applauding. I just feel a gigantic weight lifted from my chest.
Nik: We can tell – it’s almost visible. (laughs)
Nadine: (laughs) No, really. I’m usually quite confident. During the entire process – until we get to the dress rehearsal. That’s when I become insecure. I start thinking, oh no – is it really good?
Nik: Yes, there are a thousand options – lighting, sound, announcements, entrances, exits, sequences. You make so many decisions in those 2-3 days of rehearsals. That’s tough.
Florian: For me, the entire event is a lot of fun. It’s so interesting to be involved in something this big from the beginning, ordering the right products, planning the production, and finally doing the dress rehearsal with the Casino employees, where we can perform the entire show with the kitchen and waiting staff. Every detail matters: We make sure that we have the same people for each show and that they always make the same steps – that’s how we prevent mistakes. A droplet of sauce on the rim of a plate is enough to disturb the strict schedule, because then the plate has to be cleaned. My favourite moment is when I’m at the dress rehearsal and see that everything works. It means that we can go full throttle for the next 5, 6, 7 days. It’s the most demanding time. But it’s also the time that helps you grow most as a person. I love it.
Nik: For me, it’s when we hear one of the bells. Everyone on the sales team has a little bell in their desk drawer. That’s really true! (laughs) When someone sells more than one table for «Jingle Bern», they ring the bell. When we hear that bell, we know: the Great Hall is filling up. That brings us to an important aspect: all the preliminary work is useless if the tables are empty. There’s a lot of pressure on us, and we’re not a big sales team. That’s why every little chime is magical. My other favourite moment is the day on which everyone meets. The negotiations and preparations are over, everyone sees each other for the first time and gets to know each other, and we’re off! As their host, I have the pleasure of welcoming the artists to Bern, supporting them in anything they might need and answering all of their questions. I really enjoy that.