Hollywood Boulevard is a popular tourist and industry destination known for such iconic landmarks including the Walk of Fame, Madame Tussauds, the TCL Chinese Theatre and the newly renovated Egyptian Theatre, to name a few.
And now World of Wonder, the media company behind unscripted hits “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “Million Dollar Listing,” as well as documentaries including “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” and “Stonewall Outloud,” is expanding its physical presence on the block with a multi-functional space that includes a gallery, theater, store and production space.
TheWrap recently caught up with World of Wonder cofounders Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato to talk about the company’s expanding “click and mortar” strategy.
So much of your content is on the air (“Drag Race,” “Million Dollar Listing”) or online (via the WOW Presents Plus streaming app). What’s behind the strategy to have a permanent, dedicated physical space for WOW content?
Randy Barbato: Our strategy has just been to connect the dots, and the growth has been important to us because we feel like we’ve identified a community. And that community is much larger than people have perceived.
We want to service that community, whether it’s original content for WOW Presents Plus — which we’ve increased by close to 20%. this past year — continuing to grow our live events and opening our pop-up shop. Our merchandise has been up over 42% this past year. That’s before we open the physical store.
And we’ve always wanted for World of Wonder to be an experience and also to be a physical destination. Our main offices are in Hollywood on Hollywood Boulevard. We not only have the shop, we have a gallery and our just-renovated movie theater, which we’ve turned into a television studio.
Fenton Bailey: We’re literally two doors down from Netflix [at the Egyptian Theatre]. They just spent, what, $70 million on renovations? We haven’t spent $70 million, but we have a theater, too, bitches! [Laughs] It’s a strategy I call “clicks and mortar.” It’s not just online; people want to feel part of something. That’s what inspired the idea of doing DragCon in the first place — the idea that you can see the show, but you can also be a part of it, whether you go to DragCon or Drag Race Live! Las Vegas.
Walk us through the space. You’ve recently started hosting events there, including the “Drag Race UK” Season 5 premiere, right?
Barbato: So on the corner, we have this physical space that we dress up for different events. It’s quite a big space; just had an event for a new series called “Sissy That Psyche,” where we had a great party and some ballroom walking.
Then we have a smaller store space, which right now we have for the pop-up. We have half the space, and then after the holiday, it’ll be the full space. We’ve always been intending to have a merch space on the Boulevard, but with the pandemic and other things we put it off. Meanwhile, our merch business has gone through the roof. This year’s Black Friday was up 87% from last year.
And what about the theater? Will you utilize it as a production space
Barbato: It will be a multifunctional space that will be for performances and community-based shows, as well as a television studio.
We just filmed the first season of a series called “House of Laughs,” which hasn’t premiered yet. It’s a stand-up comedy series that we filmed in our theater with all these incredible LGBTQ comedians. It’s funny, it’s smart and we produced it for a reasonable amount of money. And it also is a platform for these great voices that might not have the kind of opportunities that white, cis, straight male and female [talent] have.
How does it feel to establish this very queer space in the middle of what is arguably the biggest tourist spot in California, if not America
Bailey: It’s a dream come true. Growing up in England, Hollywood was always this shining place upon a hill, this sort of mythical place. I think to some people, Hollywood Boulevard is “meh.” But to me, it’s the yellow brick road.
When Ru[Paul] got his star on Hollywood Boulevard, it was so exciting because it was right outside World of Wonder. And then just across the street, John Waters got his star.
Barbato: And Andy Cohen got his star out in front! So it’s kind of the “gay” corner of Hollywood Boulevard. [Laughs]
World of Wonder is hosting a special holiday pop-up shop at WOW HQ at 6650 Hollywood Blvd in Hollywood, California, from Nov. 24-Dec. 23. The pop-up will be open every Wednesday through Sunday from 12-5pm.