This week, we spice up our Oh-Ah-Ha Live blog and introduce you to the fun and creative side of the Event Industry. I know, we can all do with a bit of fun lately… . Let me tell you, there is never a dull moment when you’re in the room with Lizz Santos. Her Experience Design and Production Company ‘Cut the Mustard’ takes you on a journey of unique event experiences that captivate the audience and has delegates talking for years to come.
Consider yourself warned.
If you are even vaguely familiar with the events world in Aotearoa, there is a good chance Lizz Santos is a familiar name. She is an extraordinary networker and has bucketloads of experience. But more than that, Lizz oozes personality. She has pizazz, a passion for diving in (only) warm waters, and she never ceases to amaze me.
Roller-coaster into the Event Experience Industry
Lizz’s story is a testament to the idea that life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.
Born in the UK with a background in theatre, her brother suggested she move to New Zealand.
Her reply? ‘Where’s that?’
Thank goodness, she went anyway.
After a relatively short stint in teaching, she was shoulder tapped by The Museum Art Hotel to organise a themed event. Lizz saw a niche in design for something theatrical and out of the ordinary. ‘Cut the Mustard’ was born.
Driven by new creative business challenges of all sorts, The Museum Art Hotel project signified her transition into the Event Experience Industry. However, she doesn’t allow herself to be pinned down by a particular environment, trend or idea.
The next thing we know is a chandelier made of vegetables.
The Secret Ingredients that drive Event Design and Experience
Creativity is Lizz’s middle name. It’s at the core of who she is and how she runs her business.
‘I love pulling stuff out of thin air at the last minute.’
Let’s just say that’s not quite the wording she used, but we try to keep thing polite on the blog.
‘There‘s nothing like a deadline to get the creative juices flowing. A deadline and people. I love the thrill of lots of people pulling together to create a whole vision.’
But you would be mistaken to think Lizz is a bit of a loose cannon with a healthy dose of luck in business. Her understanding of design and the functionality of things keep her firmly in touch with reality. It’s how she pulls off the rearrangement from ‘You can’t do that!’ into the ‘Yes, I can!’ with success.
Lizz is very aware that we all have unique personalities and that she’s not everybody’s cup of tea. She’s a big believer in the idea that the right client who’s open to a mind-blowing event experience will find you. And if it doesn’t gel, that’s ok too. ‘
The Magic of Christmas Trees and other Side Projects
But in Lizz’s world, design is a broad concept. She’s an Aladdin’s cave brimming with ideas. Event Experience Design and Production is only part of what she does. Not all of her projects are success stories, but by golly, do they blow my mind.
Lizz is adamant she never lets money dictate her knack for design. It is her deep belief that in a space that thrives on creativity; you need to be risk-positive. But there’s learning in everything.
Sometimes, it’s also about perseverance. Her venture in flat-out epic Christmas trees once had people frowning. Now, it may be her lifeline in what has been a year from hell in the Event Industry.
Each Christmas tree is undisputedly special. They are Big and Full and Fun and Funky. And after all we’ve been through, people are ready for a bit of cheer and celebration.
The bookings say so.
Ah-ha Moment: Never underestimate…
We always ask our Oh-Ah-Ha Live guests about their biggest Ah-ha moment, and we couldn’t wait to hear Lizz’s moment of insight. Suddenly, things turned a bit subdued.
For all her light-heartedness and positivity, Lizz says her biggest insight is never to underestimate: Don’t underestimate what might happen in the future, how far you sometimes can stretch a budget, what a client can come up with or what YOU can do.
Expect the unexpected.
We all learned the meaning of that this year.
Despite the struggles (2020 went from feast to famine overnight), Lizz has been reassessing and reinventing. She now runs her Event Experience business a bit differently. These days, she subcontracts to other businesses where otherwise she would have turned to one of her (then) 3 warehouses. When the going gets tough, she focusses on people, on being kind to herself and on allowing things to unfold.
And on trusting that ultimately everything will be ok.
Lizz is not your usual creative…..
After graduating from university in the UK at the age of 22, Lizz took up the position of Set & Costume Designer in a foreign country not knowing anyone or without having any knowledge of the language. She spent 5 years at this position – Pori City Theatre in Finland – and excelled. She grew creatively taking on each challenge vigorously with passion and fervor to try everything she could to stretch not only her design talents but also her interpersonal skills and business acumen.
From 10 years working in Europe on the top stages in theatre and opera and her developing skills and passion for film and TV, she landed on the shores in New Zealand in 1999 to try her skills in the Southern Hemisphere. A stint on The Tribe Series 3 as an Art Director led her to designing various TVC’s and music videos in Wellington and Auckland.
Her career took an interesting turn when Chris Parkin at the Museum Art Hotel asked her to design a themed event for him in 2002 and Cut the Mustard was born. This relationship continued when Chris asked her to design the interiors (foyer & downstairs toilets) a couple of years later.
The challenges of balancing her creative passion, staff, and an often demanding workload coupled with tight deadlines, has driven the company to be not only the oldest in Wellington but arguably the most successful. Her close relationships with her clients demands creativity, respect and trust and its success is clearly seen in the regular businesses that continue to use Cut the Mustard’s services.
An avid networker, her contacts are vast in all areas of the corporate and private sector, she has a big personality and bags of experience in many areas which makes her diversity in all areas of both business and the creative field, remarkable.