At Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, You Are the Guest of Honor

BY JOSE MORALES

 Welcome to Downton Abbey. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

Welcome to Downton Abbey. © Guild Magazine - 2018.


This video is courtesy of NBC Universal International Studios.

When discussing historical period dramas of this decade, one of the main series to come to mind is the internationally acclaimed British TV show, Downton Abbey. Set in the early 20th-century, Downton Abbey takes the viewer into a historical journey from its first episode: the news of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. From there on, the show opens a door into the lives of the wealthy Crawley family and their servants, and the struggles faced by both aristocrats and the working class when the tides of life shifted from the often romanticized Edwardian period (characterized by large garden parties, leisure walks during peaceful afternoons, and where every meal of the day was an orchestrated affair), through the major historical events that shaped England, and the world, such as the Spanish flu, The Great War, political scandals, the rise of the working class, the roaring 20’s, and eventually, the decline of the British aristocracy and the economic hardships that followed. Thus, what has made Downton Abbey so endearing and captivating to its audience is how easily and powerfully it connects us to each of the characters (both aristocrat and working class alike) throughout these historical happenings. This connection is something that has driven many of its viewers to want to learn more about this period of time, the locations where the show was filmed at, and to want to immerse themselves into the world of Downton Abbey. With the creators of the beloved show announcing a future film, those who cannot wait for more of Downton Abbey can now experience Downton as never before, thanks to Downton Abbey: The Exhibition.   

Now in New York City until Sept. 3rd, 2018, Downton Abbey: The Exhibition has been meticulously created with the Downton Abbey fanatic in mind. Offering three floors of everything Downton, the creators of the exhibition did not spare attention to detail, crafting an exhibit that holds true to the show every step of the way. “Julian Fellowes (creator of the show) created such a rich world – full of so many characters and stories. We were overindulged with choice in terms of content,” tells us Nick Young, Creative Director of Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, from his London office. “Our main focus was how to bring the best of the series to life. We spent nearly 18 months developing plans and building the exhibition after speaking with fans to discover what they would like from a Downton experience.” 

 The bell board at Downton Abbey. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

The bell board at Downton Abbey. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

In contrast to the time period when the show takes place, the use of interactive technology is prominent throughout the exhibition, allowing the guests to fully become involved in the world of Downton. When entering the exhibition, you will be welcomed by none other than the beloved butler, Mr. Carson, albeit in digital form. A few steps later, a hologram of Mrs. Hughes at the bottom of the recognizable servant stairs awaits to guide you into the servants’ quarters. It is immediately clear that Downton Abbey: The Exhibition is not your basic type of exhibit where you will look around at objects and move on, but an immersive and interactive experience. “Downton Abbey is set in a different era, but the characters are all very forward thinking. It is not your typical period drama,” Nick Young continues to explain during our interview. “We see them grappling with the introduction of new technologies like telephones, electric lights, and hairdryers. We wanted to embrace technology, as they have done, to give fans the best possible experience.” This use of technology not only keeps the guests interested throughout the exhibition but also allows for the presentation of vast material and curious facts about Downton Abbey that otherwise might be difficult to showcase for the guests.

While walking through each of the three floors of Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, the guests will get the most realistic experience of what is like to walk through the majestic Crawley mansion. “We really want people to feel like they’ve entered Downton Abbey, as they pass from room to room,” Nick Young tells us, as we continue to discuss the process of creating this exhibition. “The New York venue, having three floors, was initially a challenge we had to overcome, but ultimately traveling up from the downstairs sets to the staterooms adds to the experience. Although you won’t find an escalator in Highclere!” he laughs.

At the exhibition, the guests will find themselves walking through true-to-life replicas of the many sets where most of the action in Downton took place - from the kitchen of beloved Mrs. Patmore, to the servants hall with its recognizable bell board, and to the grand dining room of Downton where so many important events of the show took place. The process of choosing the specific sets on display was carefully thought out by the team behind the exhibition. As Nick Young tells us, “There are two worlds in Downton, those living upstairs and the family serving them below. We had to make sure both worlds were well represented. In doing so, we made a point of showcasing the work of Donal Woods, the show’s production designer, and his incredible downstairs sets, which evoke the presence of a genuine Edwardian household.” The grand dining room on the second floor of the exhibition is truly a sight to behold, meticulously set up and ready for one of Downton’s many elaborate events. In the background, the voice of Mr. Carson explains to the guests the proper etiquette to follow when sitting at this table. “We chose the dining room as the main room upstairs as that’s where most of the drama in the show took place, and it exemplifies how different the Crawley’s life is compared to most of ours,” Nick Young explains. “We treated the table settings as if they were the Crown Jewels and spared no expense. Plus, there’s so much process and protocol involved in dining at a house like Downton, we felt compelled to employ a guide – no other than Carson himself!” 

When leaving the dining room, the guests will explore other rooms, such as that of Lady Mary’s bedroom. As they proceed, they will continue into a room specifically dedicated to the historical aspects of the era where Downton Abbey takes place.  Here, they will see many of the props used in the series, offering an intimate look into the lives of each character. They will also learn about the worldwide events that shaped not only Downton but also influenced the story of each character. 

The upper floor of the exhibit is dedicated to the fashion of Downton Abbey throughout the years. The work of three costume designers is displayed: Susanna Buxton, Caroline MaCall, and Anna Robbins. The latter joined the series for its 5th and 6th seasons and was the fashion curator for the exhibition. Many of these outfits are originals of the era they epitomize. The delicate state of these customs and fabrics present a challenge not only during filming but also for the exhibition, as they must be kept in a controlled environment in order to be displayed to the public. As Anna Robbins tells us from her London office, “I am really proud of the costumes we managed to curate and fit in the exhibition. For example, Susannah Buxton’s costume for Lady Sybil with the harem pants, we spent a long time restoring it and making it strong enough to exhibit. There is such beautiful and original fabric in there, and it was really important to me to bring it into the exhibition and give it the space it deserves.” When discussing her work being displayed at the exhibition, and one of the pieces she feels most proud of, Anna immediately remembers Lady Edith’s wedding dress for the finale of the show. “That was a real labor of love,” she tells us. “I found a stunning dress that was Brussels lace, and I gathered more original lace to match it. I shopped for about nine months, with the process constantly in my mind because I knew that this is where the show was going to end.” (To read more about our interview with Costume Designer Anna Robbins and her career, look out for our second issue of Guild Magazine coming out soon).

For fans of the show who patiently wait for the movie, and enthusiasts of the post-Edwardian Era, Downton Abbey: The Exhibition offers an opportunity to enjoy everything Downton up close and personal. It is the closest experience to being inside the world of Downton Abbey, and see details you are not able to see on camera. It is an intimate experience created with you in mind. Here, you are the guest of honor. - GM 

UPDATE (9/4/2018): After its successful run in New York City, Downton Abbey: The Exhibition is now set to open on November 10th, 2018 in City Place,  West Palm Beach.

 

For more information:

https://www.downtonexhibition.com

218 West 57th Street between Broadway & 7th Avenue.

Tel: (866) 811-4111

 

The Guild Team would like to thank Stephanie Berman of Decadent PR for offering us a private tour of the exhibition, and arranging our interviews with both Nick Young and Anna Robbins. www.decadentpr.com

 

 

 Guests interact with one of the many exhibition displays. © Guild Magazine - 2018

Guests interact with one of the many exhibition displays. © Guild Magazine - 2018