Special Events

Dinner Takes Center Stage

FOR A RECENT gala, M. Van Keken & Associates of Canada produced magic-and not with just the decor. The Vancouver, British Columbia-based special event and destination management company faced a double challenge. The first hurdle was time (the company got only four days' notice to prepare the event) and the second was distance (the event was to take place all the way across the country in Toronto).

"It was a great rush," says Martin Van Keken, president and executive producer. "The ability to pull off a major event professionally in only a limited time frame really emphasizes the expertise of our industry as a whole."

To dazzle the sophisticated client-a Chicago-based medical meeting planner-Van Keken picked out the stately, 86-year-old Elgin Thea-tre in downtown Toronto and came up with an ingenious idea: putting the audience onstage. The 130 guests would be dining on an illuminated stage while the musicians and comedians entertained them from a 40-by-40-foot stage mounted over the first few rows of seats.

To start the evening, guests assembled for cocktails in the main lobby, which also serves as the lobby for an adjoining theater. The other theater was staging a show that night, so timing was crucial. "We held the reception before the doors to the main theater opened," explains Van Keken.

After cocktails, guests moved from the lobby into the theater house for dinner. Here, warm tones of shimmering light accented the gilded architecture. Floral displays graced the walkways and the alcoves along the theater walls; a gobo of the company's corporate logo played on the closed theater curtains. But the guests saw no dining tables. Then, to the sounds of recorded orchestra music and a light show, the curtains opened to reveal 10 glowing dinner tables onstage. "The guests were completely stunned," Van Keken says. "We received a big ovation." -T.M.

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