Here There Studio on the community-building power of Kill Bill-inspired meals and ping pong tournaments.
When Lizzy Karp and Ken Tsui were set up on a friend-date at the Chinatown Night Market back in 2013, they learned that they shared the same passion for connecting people through experience, stories, food and pushing them out of their comfort zone. “We didn’t realize that we were going to end up getting into business together,” says Tsui, who was leading the revitalization of the market at the time, “but we sort of started a few projects, just to see how we work with each other.” Three years later, under the name Here There Studio, the pair has developed sell-out event series like Sensory Cinema, where film classics are paired with a tasting menu by some of Vancouver's top chefs; the Record Club (which evolved from Karp's Rain City Chronicles), that consists of a new take on classic album parties; and a whole lot of crazy, unique events and projects all over Vancouver, from Dinner and Discovery to The Life Aquatic to The Golden Dumpling Cook Off. VanMag recently spoke to Here There Studio about the local culture they are creating in Vancouver. Here There's screening of Fantastic Mr. Fox was accompanied by multiple courses inspired by the Wes Anderson movie. What is it that you are trying to achieve with these events? Ken: We are always developing different fun things and trying to push the envelope in the city, how people can get engaged with food, story, video, film and music. We just want to create work that shares our enthusiasm with other people and try to make that connection. Doing things like sharing Kill Bill is just trying to get people who are big fans of that movie in a room together, because we are fans of that movie and we want to share our excitement the way that we know how. We want to build a kind of culture where Vancouver does have an outlet for storytellers, for chefs to be creative outside of restaurants, for makers and designers to be creative outside of their job. Pushing those envelopes. Lizzy: We get very excited and bring a lot of passion and obsession, whether it’s cult films or music or books. We both find inspiration in unexpected spaces. When we get to partner with a forgotten venue or an unusual place, ideas are born. And I think that as we continue to produce different kind of series (like Sensory Cinema) we’re creating a Here There audience, which is rapidly growing and that is made up of these individual communities of passionate people. And there’s overlap, you’re not just a film lover, or a book lover, or a food lover. Vancouverites are multidimensional, so it’s been very exciting for us to see that growth. The Vancouver Aquarium played host to "The Life Aquatic," a night of storytelling and music after-hours among the displays of marine life. About the unexpected spaces in the city, why do you think it’s important to activate places that people have forgotten about? K: I think that they are at the heart of our inspiration. Since the beginning we’ve let locations inform the way we approach an idea. Whether that idea is something that is going to be an event- cause we’re not only an event company, we’re a creative studio- or digital, or print, or something edible, we let the space guide us. We let it tell part of our story or be our key inspiration. L: Space and place are a very hot conversation in Vancouver, whether it’s about communities changing or accessibility into those spaces and affordability for cultural acts, and we work hard at getting communities interested in different spaces in the city to get people taking about them. But there is also a really important conversation around what Vancouver looks like, and what culture in Vancouver looks like, or even creative business in Vancouver. One of the things we hear at any event is “what is this space, I’ve never been here”. It is really exciting for us and the owners of the places to have an engaged audience coming in to see their space. A sampling from the Dinner and Discovery dinner, a meal created by chef Annabelle Choi in support of ArtStarts in Schools. Has anything ever gone wrong at these one-of-a-kind events? K: We always feed off of working in weird, crazy conditions that are unpredictable sometimes, and things do pop up all the time, but the most satisfying part about what we do is that we manage to solve those problems and pretty much dodge a bullet every time and that is the most exhilarating part of this job, to be able to do things that way. Thinking flexibly is important. L: And creatively. I think Ken and I are very good at taking creative risks and giving an excitement to our collaborators to be risky in how they work with us, whether it’s a chef or an artist or a business organization. Our projects are often an excuse for them to do something really different and that means being nervous or stressed at the beginning, and usually upon execution they’re pretty excited about it. K: It wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t take risks. When we take people out of their comfort zone, we’re out of our comfort zone too. We’re all there. And there’s so much room for that in Vancouver. L: And we attract people that definitely have that appetite. A dramatic scene from the Round the World Showdown ping pong tournament. Do you have any favourite event, venue or project? L: We got some faves! In 2014 we hosted something called Round-the-World Showdown, which was a city-wide ping pong competition and party where 40 teams representing creative agencies, small businesses and clubs came out in costumes to compete for a new ping pong table to donate in their name to an organization. And it kind of embodied the spirit of what we’re trying to do, giving people and excuse to do something totally playful and weird, transforming a space, which no longer exists, into what felt like a ping pong club. You could feel the energy in the room from the competition itself and people being able to do something different. Vancouverites still talk about it. K: For me, I like it when we get to do the weirder, crazier stuff that we don’t normally do a lot of and one of my favourite projects was when we worked with Modo, the car co-op, and developed a video series called Let's Go! that taught potential Modo users how to use the car and why they should use it. Each video was about three minutes and we got to work with some of our closest friends and create these really fun videos while I took them on the road and fun adventures. Even though that wasn’t an event and it wasn’t location-specific, it did challenge a lot of people in the way that they saw how to use these cars, but also how to get out into Vancouver, have a good time and enjoy the city for what it is. Here There is a very flexible creative studio where we focus on solving problems in different ways. No event would’ve been as effective as creating a video series that gets people excited about those cars. Snacks to accompany a screening of "Amelie" at another Sensory Cinema event. What about next events and projects? L: We are continuing the series that we’ve been working on in the past, Sensory Cinema and the Record Club, as well as newer bigger projects (that are still a surprise). K: There’s also a virtual reality project that we’ve been working on, and our first print project, which talks about a place we really love in the city, is coming out in 2017. We’ll also be collaborating with lots of friends, we’re really excited about it. You’ll be seeing us in a different light coming the new year.