Performers in Las Vegas and all around the world are coming up with innovative ideas in order to stay creative and productive during the coronavirus-caused shutdown of live entertainment. Mentalist Santiago Michel already had a special project in the works before everything changed.
The Mexico City native and UNLV student built buzz with the debut of Ilusión Mental at the Planet Hollywood Resort in 2017, the only Spanish-language show on the Las Vegas Strip. It played for 13 months before moving to another Caesars Entertainment property, Paris Las Vegas, for six months for nearly 300 shows before closing. Michel performed in LA, toured briefly in Mexico, staged some private and corporate gigs and was finalizing plans for a 2020 tour including dates in Miami, Mexico and Europe when COVID-19 struck.
Just before the virus took over, Michel met with Endemol Shine Boomdog, the North American division of international production powerhouse Endemol Shine Group—the entity behind TV hits Big Brother, MasterChef, Deal or No Deal, Black Mirror, Peaky Blinders, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, The Wall, Broadchurch and more—to discuss a concept he’d been developing for years.
“The idea of the show roughly came to my mind in 2018 with all the craziness and real-life dystopia going on in our world,” says Michel, who has temporarily returned to Mexico. “I started to formally work on it in 2019 and shot a pilot episode which I self-produced in Las Vegas, [then] started knocking on some doors and looking for a production company to work with.”
His Black Mirror-esque concepts about future fears becoming reality and how people will deal with such scary situations couldn’t have been better timed. The company recently signed him to a TV deal even with the pandemic wreaking havoc on production plans everywhere.
“In my mind, they are the perfect partner to work with [on] this kind of unscripted, real-life docuseries,” Michel says. “They are truly the leaders when it comes to creating and developing original, breathtaking content. Some of the shows they have done … speak for themselves in terms of the quality of content they produce.”
It will take a while for actual production to begin on the show, he says, because the concept calls for unscripted scenes with real-life, non-actor participants filming in outdoor environments. It’s unlikely any filming will start until 2021.
But that uncertainty doesn’t reduce Michel’s excitement for the project. In his relatively short time headlining a show he created in Las Vegas, Michel has already proven himself a unique performer with a pioneering spirit and cutting-edge ideas.
“It’s incredibly exciting and yet scary to do a show like this one. But when you are scared, that’s when you know you are on the right path,” he says. “This TV series … can be seen as somewhat risky, in part because we are doing some things that have never been done before. It looks to provide a holistic experience to the viewers and transcend the screen, get them to really have a dystopian experience on and off the show.”