When it came to finding entertainment to dazzle guests at the Patron's Dinner preceding the San Francisco Symphony's Black and White Ball, Suzanne Childers of Las Vegas-based Farrington Productions knew that ordinary just wouldn't do. Keeping in mind the event's budget — and the black-and-white decor theme — she set about creating what she describes as an “avant-garde, sensual, Asian-influenced and cirque-inspired entertainment experience.”
Childers' connections with famed Cirque du Soleil led her to a five-year-old contortionist from Senegal, who she knew “would become the ‘wow’ factor every special event planner looks for when envisioning their entertainment elements,” she explains. After finding her star performer, one challenge remained: how to make the little girl visible in the expansive San Francisco City Hall, the event venue. Childers solved the problem by hiring a bodybuilder — covered in white paint to contrast against the child's dark skin and outfit — to carry her down the staircase to the rotunda of the Great Hall.
While the young contortionist was the highlight of the evening, other entertainment included performances by Imago — a two-man balancing act featuring Chinese poles — and Cindy Chen, a San Francisco Symphony violinist. The Asian influence of the event was further seen in everything from the Kabuki makeup and kimonos worn by the performers to the minimalist use of the color red as a decor element, which added vivid contrast to the black-and-white theme.
Childers stresses the importance of maintaining a good talent database to refer to when budget is an issue. She notes that because of her previous work history with many of the performers, they were willing to perform for less than their normal fee. “The only way we made this event happen was our personal relationship with the talent,” she explains.
“I always take what I can't change and make it look intentional in a design plan,” says Nashville, Tenn.-based designer/producer Timot McGonagle. In the case of the Nashville Parthenon — a venue with limited electrical power and kitchen support — this meant taking a low-tech approach to the space and using the theatrical elements of the building to enhance the drama of his May event. Taking into consideration the cultural tastes of his client — one of a group of 200 friends who meet annually in cities around the world — he worked with the artistic director of the Nashville Ballet to choreograph a performance that would highlight the temple setting.
As guests arrived on the front porch for cocktails, they found the 22-foot bronze doors of the Parthenon tightly closed. When it was time for the entertainment to begin, the doors were thrown open by performers dressed as Grecian guards and guests were invited into the building, which was decorated to resemble an ancient Greek temple in the midst of a summer solstice celebration. With the dramatic 42-foot-tall gilded statue of Athena as a backdrop, dancers performed to the strains of classical music, which resonated from speakers carefully hidden around the interior of the temple. This, along with an LSG fog machine, “gave it an otherworldly, from-the-gods kind of feeling” that elicited rave reviews from his client, McGonagle says. “It was just a matter of focusing on what we could achieve — we had such a limited budget on lighting and everything else, it was really a matter of focusing on that performance.”
TOUR THROUGH TIME
“This [event] defined a new concept in entertainment in that it wasn't all about how fancy the production and the sound and lighting were,” says Andrea Michaels, president of Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Extraordinary Events. Instead, “it was about entertainment that was used for a reason, and that was to educate.”
In creating a memorable experience for her client, Mexico City-based CEMEX, she envisioned a walking tour through the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, Spain, that would foster teamwork by requiring the participants to split into groups and solve a series of challenges along the way. She also wanted to showcase the city's history through the eyes of people who had lived there. This was accomplished through the use of performers — dressed as characters including Queen Isabella and Christopher Columbus — who met with the group and recounted stories about Barcelona's history. “It totally was rehearsed, costumed, scripted and completely in character, so people knew what had happened in that very place,” Michaels explains. Additionally, several venues featured musical performances — such as a mini-symphony in the baroque church of San Felipe Neri — designed specifically for the client. The high quality of the performers in Barcelona meant that the talent was found locally, saving money and adding authenticity to the performances, she notes.
When it comes to creating great event entertainment on a budget, Michaels warns against spreading yourself too thin. “I would rather do one fabulous thing for the money than ten mediocre things,” she says.
For a complete list of Gala nominees, turn to page 23.
Atom, 323/654-4321; DivaSoul, 760/420-7341; Extraordinary Events, 818/783-6112; Farrington Productions, 702/362-3000; Ricky Kalmon c/o Judi Brown Management, 888/273-1725; Timot McGonagle, 615/780-2918
Entertainers explain how their acts play to events on a budget.
“As a very full-sounding six-piece band, we're getting a lot of work from out-of-town clients, as it's easier for them to send us back and forth compared to a ten-piece with a full horn section. You get a band that provides every bit the quality and the entertainment that you get with those larger bands, but at a lower price.”
— Tom Nadeau, DivaSoul, San Diego
“What makes my comedy hypnotist show so great is that it allows people to bond by getting everybody involved. The first five minutes involve me explaining exactly what happens, and the rest of the show is all about the group. It's a full production show, but it's a good value because it's only one person — me.”
— Ricky Kalmon, comedian/hypnotist, St. Louis
“I think that one reason that my act is great for budget event entertainment is that I'm able to entertain a large amount of people compared to a tarot reader or a character artist where it's more of a one-on-one thing. I also give away the paintings I create on stage, which makes a nice souvenir for party guests.”
— Atom, “The World's Fastest Painter,” Los Angeles