FRIGHT FEST "Do you know how funny this is going to look on my expense report," the client asked, "to have more than $10,000 for dead trees?" But the trees were just part of the design package from Beverly Hills-based Special Occasions Inc. that created a murder-mystery dinner for client corporation SunAmerica's annual holiday party.
Special Occasions transformed the stately 72-year-old Ebell Theater in Los Angeles into a sinister haunted house. Different rooms featured spooky vignettes, including a "dead men's party" of ghouls sitting at a decaying dinner. The designers replaced all the Ebell's lightbulbs with flicker candles. "Shroud" swags-deteriorated muslin stained with tea and coffee-decorated the walls and ceilings. In the courtyard, the dead trees were draped with Spanish moss and lighted so they seemed to sway.
Buffet tables, draped in blood-red velvet with black gossamer overlays, boasted gold candelabras. A coffin decorated the main buffet table. "Guests dropped their plates" when its occupant sporadically sat up, note Special Occasions partners Marianne Weiman-Nelson and Burt Nelson. On the dining tables, tombstones set in beds of moss with black roses and leaves served as centerpieces. Some included severed "heads" that rolled their eyes and emitted eerie groans.
Finally the murderous "master vampire" revealed himself. Giant video screens came alive with the image of ... the Taco Bell Chihuahua. Why him? "We had to get hokey," Burt Nelson explains.
Special Occasions Inc. (design/production, floral)
357 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211
RESOURCES: More Than a Mouthful (catering); Regal Rents (china, flatware, linens, rentals); Charly Event
Productions (fabrics); Resource One (linens); Images by Lighting (lighting); Theme Warehouse (props)
BUMPER CROP Amway Corp. wanted to honor its top independent business owners-its Diamond Club-with a "Diamond Field of Dreams" incentive trip to Hawaii. But how to create the movie's famous cornfield-cum-ballpark in a Maui hotel ballroom? Start sowing.
Pamela Huver, CMP, meeting planner for Ada, Mich.-based Amway Corp., partnered with Lori McAllister of M Group Scenic Studios of Scottsdale, Ariz. The team arranged for the Maui Farmers' Co-op to grow three acres of corn plants in individual pots. When the 2,500 stalks were 6 feet high, they were transported to the Grand Wailea Resort to line its pre-function area and ballroom.
At the event, paths through the corn led 650 guests past prop bleachers, stadium lights and a farmhouse to the center of the ballroom. There stood a baseball diamond complete with AstroTurf, bases and pitcher's mound. Hand-painted linens portraying baseball fields with bases covered the tables. Oversize baseballs accented with yellow and white daisies, miniature baseball bats and baseball cards formed the centerpieces. The waitstaff wore baseball shirts and hats; the banquet captains sported umpire shirts.
The event was a grand slam, Huver says. "The key phrase from the movie-'If you build it, they will come'-came to life."
Amway Corp. (meeting planner)
7575 Fulton St. E., Ada, MI 49355; 616/787-7684
RESOURCES: Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa (catering);
M Group Scenic Studios (decor, fabrics, floral, linen, props); Lighting Design and World Audio & Lights (lighting)
'WINDY CITY' WINNER The Children's Place Association, Chicago's group home for juvenile AIDS patients, wanted "something less formal and more fun" for its annual black-tie benefit, according to Toni Hanrahan, president of Joseph Leigh Designs, Evanston, Ill. Her company played along, casting the "Windy City" as a cheerful scene for a crucial cause.
The colors of Chicago's flag-red, white and pale blue-dictated the color scheme of the event, which took place at the Winter Garden in the city's Harold Washington Library Center.
The centerpieces were reproductions of the city's street lamps, rising out of arrangements of red and white roses, casablanca lilies and pale blue delphinium. Each centerpiece displayed a different Chicago intersection, which coordinated with the guests' table cards.
The menu included a Chicago Stockyard beef dish and a layered potato cut in the shape of the John Hancock tower.
As a parting gift, the 445 guests received the Chicago In A Box board game as the orchestra played My Kind of Town.
The playful event yielded a serious payoff--$200,000 for CPA, Hanrahan reports.
Joseph Leigh Designs (design/production, floral)
1113 Wesley Ave., Evanston, IL 60202; 847/869-5423
RESOURCES: George Jewell Catering (catering, china, flatware, props, rentals); BBJ Boutique (linens); Show Department (lighting)
PUMP UP THE VOLUME When the client trusts you, you can "go out a little farther," notes Lisa Field, founder of Los Angeles-based Catering by Field. She went way out, creating an edgy bar mitzvah that was a cacophony of color and shape.
Keying off the raw, warehouse atmosphere of Quixote Studios in West Hollywood, Calif., Field brought in eclectic decor elements, ranging from 120 feet of chain-link fence to Chinese lanterns, oversized dice and party poppers.
The 200 guests walked down a purple carpet to enter rooms stocked with such exuberant retro furniture as turquoise kidney-shaped tables, red vinyl ball "chairs" and blue AstroTurf throw rugs.
The use of four different patterns in linens ensured that the tables clashed. Stacked on each table were wooden risers painted in three different fluorescent colors, topped with three lava lamps. A random mix of red, black, gold and silver chiavari chairs added more spice. Multicolor confetti was sprinkled "over everything," Field says.
Colorful gobos of '60s-style geometric flowers played over the chain-link fencing. A chicken-wire wall, which established the adults' cocktail area, sparkled with tiny lights attached in amoeba-like shapes. The buffet tables glowed with fiber-optic tube and "lightning" lights.
The visual explosion did the trick; the guests went "from wow to wow to wow," Field says.
Catering by Field (catering, design, floral); 3380 1/2 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90034; 310/837-4680
RESOURCES: Regal Rents (china, flatware, rentals, undercloths); Watt's Up (lighting); Modern Props (props)
ARTFUL EVENING Paris has its Jeu de Paume, an art museum on the site of a tennis court. Portland, Ore.-based Bruce Goldberg & Co. created its U.S. counterpart - a tennis court that served as a canvas for art.
The event: a fund-raiser for the Portland Art Museum at a private home for 250 guests. The theme: a celebration of the works of Impressionist great Claude Monet and his gardens at Giverny, France. The site: the sunken tennis court at a private home. The drama: BG&C hired two artists to paint a 15-by-60-foot mural on one wall of the tennis court depicting Monet's beloved gardens.
One wall of the tennis court, which had been tented and swagged with awning stripe fabric, was left open to offer a panoramic view of the Columbia River. The awning swags and table linens carried the summer-day color scheme of French blue and goldenrod.
Naturally, flowers were a strong motif, ranging from the stately centerpieces of blue iris, delphinium and stargazer lilies (suggesting the florals of Giverny) to flower gobos highlighting the white dance floor. An arbor built of PVC pipe and covered with wisteria acted as a proscenium arch for the band.
Of course, special sacrifices must often be made for art. "We had to raise the tent to accommodate the height of the mural," Goldberg says.
Bruce Goldberg & Co. (catering, design/production, props)
8620 N. Lombard, Portland, OR 97203
RESOURCES: West Coast Rental (china, flatware, tents, rentals); Richard Bloom (floral); Hollywood Lights (lighting); Party Tables (linens)
STOMPING AT THE SQUARE Fund-raisers for symphony orchestras can be reserved, dignified affairs suited to the gravity of the evening. Or they can be swinging soirees, as Bruce Goldberg & Co. proved recently. For 475 supporters of the Oregon Symphony, the Portland-based event designers created a sophisticated '30s-style supper club.
To establish the "club," BG&C enclosed Portland's historic Pioneer Courthouse Square with a multi-unit tent with a clear-span center, an area that had never been tented before. "That alone made a big impression," company founder Bruce Goldberg says.
To create the graphic Art Deco look, white shadow-stripe linens covered tables, complemented by black-and-white-stripe chair covers. Vivid fuchsia floral centerpieces provided a jolt of color. White "portal" columns with aqua portholes served as stylish camouflage for tent poles.
The symphony benefactors are "a relatively conservative group," Goldberg notes. But the Big Band-style of his supper club was right in tune.
Bruce Goldberg & Co. (catering, design/production); 8620 N. Lombard, Portland, OR 97203; 503/240-7178
RESOURCES: SculptChair (chair fabric); Richard Calhoun (floral); Hollywood Lights (lighting); ASAP Linen (linens); Stage Right (prop fabrication); West Coast Rentals (rentals, tents)
WATERWORLD For a company's holiday party, Richard Magid, president of Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Famous Firsts Ltd., took a dive. Using fabric, props, lighting and performers, he created an underwater wonderland at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.
Mermaids and mermen greeted the 150 guests for cocktails in the lobby, where cocktail tables featured miniature fish and sea flora frozen in ice globes. The seapeople then escorted the 150 guests to the library for dinner.
In the library, sheer fabric draping illuminated with translucent lighting gave the illusion that the room was underwater. Clusters of giant sea coral stood in each corner of the room, bathed in changing light. One wall featured a 40-foot simulated tank. Thanks to black light and exotic costumes, whimsical sea creatures drifted by, watching the guests as the guests watched them.
The tables, identified by parchment treasure maps showing the table number, featured blue, aquamarine and emerald-green lame covers. The crab character "Sebastian" from The Little Mermaid made a splash singing Under the Sea.
Why is Magid sure that the theme was a hit? "The guests stayed past midnight," he says. "In Boca, 'midnight' is 10 p.m."
Famous Firsts Ltd. (design/production, floral, tabletop props)
2200 N.W. 32nd St., Suite 1100, Pompano Beach, FL 33069; 954/974-1144
RESOURCES: Total Food Service at Lynn University (catering); Got'cha Covered (chair covers); Panache
Party Rentals (china, flatware); Costume World (costumes); Designs by Sean (draping); Aldrich Party Rentals (rentals); Jeren Foliage Designs (tree/foliage rental)