Special Events

Let Them Entertain You

A decade ago, successful event entertainment meant a name act providing music, magic or mirth to attendees during an awards banquet. Fast-forward to the 21st century, and the hottest acts do more than just entertain. No longer relegated to the end of the show, today many acts integrate their performances throughout the entire program.

ENTERTAINMENT AS MESSENGER

Corporations want the entertainment they hire to reflect their company's image as well as carry their message to employees at the event.

“The single most important ingredient of cutting-edge entertainment today is to motivate or inspire the attendees, not just entertain them,” says Sam Trego, president and executive producer of Imagination Entertainment, San Diego. “This is why theater and theatrical elements cleverly woven into an event can have the greatest impact. Theater touches the audience member on an emotional level, and this can provide a perfect backdrop for business to transpire or for company branding to occur.”

Dick Smith, executive vice president of Chicago-based TBA Entertainment, agrees. “The only reason to spend money for entertainment today is to increase the company's revenue through sales, to lower the cost of operating the company and to enhance the company's competitive standing in the marketplace,” he says.

According to Smith, Bill Cosby is a favorite for corporate events, because “when he does a corporate date, he wants to know as much about the company as possible. Then he pokes fun at the technical words and terms of that company in his own comic way.”

GETTING THEATRICAL

Musical theater is one of the hottest entertainment categories because its format offers flexibility. Paul Creighton, executive vice president of T. Skorman Productions in Orlando, Fla., explains: “The trend now is to feature entertainment integrated throughout the evening and building to a finale, rather than just a one-hour big wow of a show as the finale to dinner.”

Blending theatrics with an element of the unexpected is helping make The Three Waiters popular, with teams now performing in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The performers pose as waiters, then burst into operatic arias that escalate into a performance in true “Three Tenors” style.

POP CULTURE CROSSOVER

Among the hottest mediums of entertainment are those that are already embedded in the public consciousness.

Comedian Jim Flaherty says he entertains and educates his audiences simultaneously with characters taken from popular television shows. His repertoire includes impersonating Regis Philbin in a “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”-style game show, parodying Jeff Probst in a tribal council scene from the hit series “Survivor” and even portraying characters from “Star Trek.”

“I did a very successful ‘Who Wants to be an On-Site Trader?’ send-up for one company at a trade show to help them sift out their hot leads,” he says. “And the 10-minute ‘Star Trek’ mini-episode, with me playing all the parts, was the perfect fit for EMC to debut a product called Enterprise Storage.”

CELEBRITY STILL KING

Celebrity headliners still thrive, “if a client's budget allows for it,” says Steve Kemble, principal of Steve Kemble Event Design in Dallas. “I recently booked The Commodores to perform for a 2,500-person corporate event. They provided nonstop action and a pyro-filled show that had the crowd up on their feet through the whole performance.”

“Retro-bands from the '70s such as Abba, Earth Wind & Fire, Chicago and K.C. and the Sunshine Band are all hot right now,” says Thom Neighbors, partner in Long Beach, Calif., event firm Bravo Productions. “We also get a lot of requests for Tony Bennett, because he transcends all age groups.”

JOIN THE PARTY

“Today's entertainment has a party aspect to it, and the performance artist has to get people involved,” Creighton says.

The Blue Man Group, already known for its impish television commercials for Pentium processors, is increasingly in demand, thanks to a show that is percussive, surprising and funny. The mute, blue-headed characters use instruments crafted from PVC piping to create otherworldly sounds that morph into audience sing-alongs. There are about 30 Blue Man teams performing worldwide today.

Andy Graziano, president of Metairie, La.-based Mobile Music Unlimited/Funtastic Fotos, explains: “People today expect a fully interactive show that's much more than providing music. You may bring attendees up on stage and dress them up as the Village People to perform ‘YMCA,’ or have the ladies lip-synch to ‘RESPECT’ a la Aretha Franklin. In addition you might feature a light show and offer attendees the opportunity to have their photos taken in front of a gigantic green screen that makes it appear as though they are in another time or place.”

RESOURCES: Blue Man Group, www.blueman.com; Bravo Productions, 562/435-0065; Jim Flaherty, 203/453-2819; Imagination Entertainment, 619/640-6500; Mobile Music Unlimited/Funtastic Photos, 800/466-9209; Steve Kemble Event Design, 214/943-5949; TBA Entertainment, 630/990-2500; T. Skorman Productions, 407/895-3000; The Three Waiters, www.threewaiters.com

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