Sometimes you have a vision for the event,” Doug Matthews muses. “Other times it doesn't gel until the last minute.” For the December “Glacial Fantasia” gala he produced in Vancouver, British Columbia, coming up with a design to dazzle 160 international guests involved a blend of both, says the managing director of Pacific Show Productions.
MIX AND MATCH
According to Matthews, his client — a major pharmaceutical company eager to entice a group of top-tier medical professionals — demanded “cutting-edge, uniquely Canadian entertainment” first and foremost.
To highlight the gala's Canadian location and December date, the client wanted both a wintry theme and a performance reminiscent of Montreal's renowned “Cirque du Soleil.” At the same time, the client demanded that an illusionist — an element unrelated to the Canadian winter theme — be incorporated into the entertainment program. To top it off, the client requested “strolling and visual characters, but no interaction at all with guests,” Matthews says.
As part of Atlanta-based event company consortium Team Net, Burnaby, British Columbia-based Pacific Show Productions is no stranger to producing complex entertainment for top corporate clients. Still, Matthews says, when it came to devising a way to blend these diverse components into a cohesive evening of entertainment, on-the-spot inspiration took up where in-depth planning left off.
To meet the client's entertainment requirements, Matthews recruited top talent from across Canada, including stilt-walkers, fire-dancers and rhythmic gymnasts. He then configured the event venue — glass-walled Enterprise Hall, overlooking the waterfront of Vancouver's False Creek — into multiple performance spaces to accommodate a variety of winter-themed acts. Outdoor preparation included turning off plaza lights to enhance the effect of torch-bearing greeters. Indoor setup included fireproofing pyro-performance areas with protective rubber carpeting and installing a central stage with a 20-foot-tall cyclorama backdrop to display snowflake and northern lights gobos.
A last-minute rehearsal on the day of the event brought Matthews face to face with a daunting demand from his client. Unexpectedly, client representatives observing the rehearsal announced, “‘By the way, [some of] these people are from New York City. We don't want any sudden noises — they might go under the table,’” Matthews says. “I thought, ‘That's funny, because we're starting with a big pyro show.’”
A scramble to soften the big bang for guests still wary after 9/11 ended up being the “final thing that brought the show together,” Matthews says. “In about 15 minutes, I scripted a whole piece on Canada being a land of ice and snow, where people go to bed in the wintertime and dream a ‘Glacial Fantasia.’” A friend of Matthews' who was videotaping the performance offered to read the script as a voice-over. The narration, which described Canada in winter as “‘a land of fire and ice — the Earth rests, the people rest, and yet they dream images so wild, exciting, magical, waiting for the reawakening,’” prepared guests for the pyro blast and eased them into the event's main show; the dream theme became the thread that connected the disparate entertainment elements.
On event night, surrounded by more than 100 pin-lighted white birch trees, sitting at tables topped with hand-carved iceberg centerpieces, guests cozied up to a dinner of herb-crusted beef strip loin prepared by the Four Seasons Hotel, Vancouver. After dinner, a 40-minute performance showcased Matthews' handpicked acts. Hailed by Matthews' introduction, fireworks kicked off the show, followed by stilt-walkers and gymnasts performing among the tables. Back on the main stage, an illusionist produced a sign bearing a client logo, then “transformed” the sign into a pair of aerialists. Hoop performers rounded out the show, which closed with a pyro performance and a wintry blast from silent snow cannons positioned in an upstairs mezzanine.
A restrained audience response may have concerned some event managers, but not Brigitte Diem, who hired Matthews for the event. The vice president of Concord, Ontario-based Meeting Canada Corp. explains, “These guests don't scream every time they like something — they're VIP doctors.” Instead, she says, “They thanked us, they said it was amazing — especially the snowstorm.”
“This was a difficult client,” the appreciative meeting planner says, “but Doug never gets upset. Nothing is too much for him.”
Pacific Show Productions 4095 E. 1st Ave., Burnaby, B.C. V5C 3W5, Canada; 888/878-5588, 604/298-2112; www.ps-productions.com
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