Kids come in all types, with a huge variety of tastes and favorite trends. It's up to smart event professionals to blend solid party-planning experience with inspired imagination to create celebrations that appeal to both the young and the young at heart.
TRICKS AND TREATS
“Everything is about getting their attention,” says Linda Eck of the young party-goers whom she is hired to entertain as owner of Chicago-based Eckcellent Entertainment. And when it comes to getting and keeping kids' attention, it's magic, she insists, that does the trick.
For children under 10, she performs simple tricks with common household items such as pencils and yarn, and infuses her magic shows with “a moral or a virtue,” she says. Characters based on popular TV programs, films and books are big with little kids, so Eck often performs magic in costume. She makes sure to avoid licensing conflicts by creating original acts inspired by — but not representative of — trademarked characters. “They can call it a ‘Harry Potter’ party,” she says, “but I just come as a sorceress.”
A former student of Chicago's famed comedy breeding ground The Second City, Eck says improv skills help her get through unexpected snafus at children's events. She recalls showing up at a party to discover that all the young guests were physically disabled — a fact the client had failed to mention beforehand. “I got there and looked around and said to myself, ‘Don't look surprised,’” Eck says. She explains that she had to think fast to adapt the active games associated with the “Mrs. Sherlock Holmes” show the client had requested. She urges event pros to pose thorough questions about tastes and special needs to clients before the event.
Birthday girls and boys may be distracted by the sight of presents and spend the entire event asking if it's time to open gifts, which can embarrass parents and frustrate young guests, Eck adds. “You can't assume that kids know what the routine is going to be,” she cautions, advising parents or planners to help ensure the success of children's parties by explaining the party schedule at the beginning of the event.
Events that celebrate milestones along the road to adulthood offer event planners an opportunity to delve into teen trends and cultural traditions.
Freddrick Campioni, creative art director of San Antonio-based Theme Travelers, says parties that combine elements of the debutante “coming out” party and the traditional Latin quinceañera account for much of the youth event market in his region, thanks to its large Mexican population.
The “quinceañera-deb,” as Campioni calls it, is reserved for female honorees and usually held to celebrate a 15th birthday.
While planners typically bill a single client, Campioni explains that for a quinceañera celebration, most elements of the event — including the celebrant's dress, along with the event venue, floral and food — are paid for by the padrinos, or godparents. Usually these are close friends or family members who are honored with sponsorship of event items.
Campioni recalls a particularly elaborate quineceañera-deb he designed for 800 guests that included a lavish dinner made up of family recipes and traditional Mexican and Spanish menu items. “I think Anglo guests absolutely love these functions,” he says. “There's such a gorgeous array of foods.”
Bar and bat mitvahs — other teen celebrations that combine a religious ceremony with pageantry — account for 50 percent of Randy Schuster's business. The president of Highland Park, Ill.-based Randy Schuster & Associates says great youth parties are in the details.
Contrary to popular opinion, Schuster says, “Your dance floor doesn't have to be the biggest dance floor in the whole world.” Nightclub themes are hot with teens, he says, and he reminds planners that in the best clubs, “part of the excitement is having the crowd in close, dancing.”
Take-home gifts can be one of the most popular elements of a great teen event, Schuster adds, but “not necessarily something that says bar or bat mitzvah on it. I feel that when you do that, they're going to wear it for that night and they'll never wear it again.” Instead, he says, “Come up with a cool logo for your party, and you can use it for napkins, you can use it on their backdrop, and you can use it for their giveaway.”
CARE WITH FLAIR
At corporate events where guests are invited to bring family along for the fun, childcare can be a special event of its own.
Garen Gouveia, president of Monterey, Calif.-based Corporate Kids Events, names Hughes Aircraft, Charles Schwab and MetLife among his clients. Gouveia says he finds that in many cases, corporate event planners don't just want a babysitter for the children of corporate event guests, but “a program that's really special for the kids.”
His company, which runs all of its employees through federal background checks and requires that they be certified in CPR and first-aid, helps out by designing kid-friendly programs for children age six months to 18 years. The activities include team-building activities, crafts, entertainment and field trips.
Most importantly, Gouveia says, “We try to base all our programs on the environmental or historical theme of the location of the [corporate] event itself,” he says. That way, “the kids are going to take away a little bit of where they've been and feel like they're just as important as the adults that are attending the event.”
Good old-fashioned party games still take the cake at kids' events, but even the classics are being streamlined and updated by pop-culture influences.
Kids, especially in the pre-teen and teen segments, like physical fun, says Margaret Fescina, senior event coordinator for West Babylon, N.Y.-based New York Party Works. “Boys especially tend to really like to hit each other,” she adds. For them, her company offers Bouncy Boxing and Gladiator Joust — two games that combine inflatable elements with contact sport activity, and echo recent blockbuster film themes. Another inflatable with a movie motif is the 33-foot-high Titanic Slide, which Fescina names among her most popular kids' items. “They always like throwing themselves down a big slide,” she says.
Her company's music videos are all the rage these days, Fescina says. Young guests can dance while doing lip-synch or karaoke, and go home with a keepsake video. “It's very popular,” Fescina says, “and people watching it really enjoy it, too.”
Parsippany, N.J.-based Whirlwhims dives into the family event arena with Pitchburst — a kid-friendly, compact, use-anywhere version of the dunk tank. Instead of the hard ball and 500 gallons of water used by most dunk tanks, Pitchburst involves a soft ball and a water balloon, says Whirlwhims managing member Bill Holsten.
Holsten explains that even very young participants can enjoy the game, which involves one participant aiming at a target from three to 10 feet away. When hit, the target triggers a small pin to pop a water balloon positioned in a basketball hoop above a seated participant's head. The whole game consists of a folding 8-foot-tall vertical board, a hoop, a short beam, and a toggle arm that screws in with four screws.
Though it's got great summer appeal, Pitchburst is also perfect for kids' events in any weather, Holsten says. “Use a kiddie pool underneath to catch the water and you can use it even in cold weather, indoors,” he explains. “It's quite a bit different from a dunk tank, yet delivers just as much fun.”
RESOURCES: Corporate Kids Events, 831/659-1877; Eckcellent Entertainment, 773/631-3331; New York Party Works, 516/501-1414; Randy Schuster & Associates, 847/433-9011; Theme Travelers, 210/479-3131; Whirlwhims, 973/402-5531