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Jungle Fever

WHEN THE NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) held its final championship games in St. Petersburg, Fla., this March, it chose the Bay-front Center for its post-game party location. The center includes the Mahaffey Theater and a sports arena. To dazzle 1,300 VIP guests, Clearwater, Fla.-based Wizard Studios transformed the drab arena space into a tropical paradise.

Guests entered the building through the theater lobby where they were greeted by costumed carnival revelers. Making their way through a narrow passage crowded with palm trees and other exotic foliage, guests passed a waterfall and entered a giant clearing full of magical decor, intoxicating aromas, colorful lights and tropical rhythms. The attendees did not suspect that they had just taken the back hallway to a sports arena.

The Wizard team carpeted the arena floor and hung black duvetyn drapes overhead to disguise the arena seats and the exits. "People didn't even know they were in an arena," says Gale Santacreu, Wizard's national sales manager.

To achieve the dramatic lighting, Wizard used a 150-foot truss with two 50-foot T-bars at each end. White-clad dancers on pedestals slowly changed poses, surrounded by white spandex star shapes. Changing colored lights moved over the white surfaces.

After two hours of indulging in hors d'oeuvre and cocktails from more than a dozen stations while listening to a Latin band, guests moved from the arena to the Mahaffey Theater to view a live televised interview with the coaches of the "Final Four" teams. Notes Santacreu: "We did this with the world's longest conga line." The lights changed, conga music played, and guests snaked back through the foliage hallway into the theater, accompanied by two fire-juggling stilt-walkers.

After the interview, guests returned to the arena for dessert. "While they were in the theater, we changed over the lighting and food stations," says Santacreu. "Lights now were blues and greens, and a baby grand piano and flaming desserts changed the mood of the whole room."

The evening closed to the sounds of a sultry torch singer. -T.M.

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