SWING DANCING, fireworks and feasting in the shadow of a dinosaur skeleton-a recent black-tie gala at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago had it all. G/M! Productions of Chicago put on the event for the technology division of a major national consulting firm.
"We do a lot of events at this museum," says Bonnie Hansen, the event producer. "The client wanted an off-site venue as opposed to a hotel"-a request she hears frequently, both from Chicago-based companies and out-of-town firms that want a change of scenery from the hotel in which they are meeting.
Wild-Style Lounge An hour-long reception on the museum's interior balcony kicked off the evening's festivities. G/M turned the area into a swinging "Leopard Lounge," complete with two 5-foot-tall fiberglass hands holding martini glasses with oversize olive props. Tall cocktail tables with fringed table lamps and leopard-print ties rounded out the lounge decor.
For hors d'oeuvre, Calihan Gotoff Catering of Chicago provided olive, juniper and gin gravlax and citron vodka gravlax with whip-ped potatoes, garnished with an herb-embossed potato crisp and white truffle sauce. Plenty of m artini glasses were on hand, some filled with cocktails and the rest with the gravlax. Guests also enjoyed seared foie gras with Granny Smith apples, served on demitasse spoons. "The bite-sized servings were just the right amount," Hansen explains, "and the presentation on the demitasse spoons went over really well with our guests."
Picture Perfect Dinner was served in the Stanley Field Hall, the main hall of the museum. G/M made the massive area come alive with graphic black-and-white tabletops, hip stage decor and lighting in dramatic color washes.
The table decor reflected the Field Museum's stately interior. Round tables featured white imperial-stripe linens, black napkins tied with silver ribbon, silver table lamps and white Casablanca lilies in silver Revere bowls set on mirrored rounds. Black Versailles chairs completed the sophisticated setting. BBJ Linen and Hall's Rental Service, both of Chicago, pro-vided the linens and china.
Frost Lighting of Chicago bathed the giant hall with sapphire and amber lighting effects highlighting the massive arches and columns.
Elements of the swing theme appeared in decorative disks and poles featuring cartoon-inspired swing musicians and dancers placed throughout the venue, including two flanking the stage. A "Swing Downtown" gobo was projected on a 30-foot-wide white stage backdrop; the framed menus also featured the swing logo. Chicago-based Ronsley supplied the decor. Polaroid photo stations by Chicago-based SMC Promotions placed throughout the venue helped guests to capture the moment.
Back at the dinner tables, the dessert also reflected swing-era style-the waitstaff served cherries jubilee in a '40s-style parade presentation. Serving ice cream with a flaming sauce in the middle of a sweltering summer night proved tricky. "The guests had to be expedient in eating the dessert" lest their ice cream melt into vanilla sauce, Hansen recalls. After dessert, guests gathered on the terrace to view elaborate fireworks, part of Chicago's annual "Venetian Night," and a boat parade on Lake Michigan.
Getting Into the Swing Three Cent Stomp, a nine-piece swing band from Chicago, got the young crowd flocking to the dance floor. The band members donned colorful, '40s-style suits, creating "a visual as well as an auditory impact," Hansen says. "We also had three professional swing dance couples who started the dancing. They got people out on the dance floor and helped them with the steps." The live combo alternated with a DJ, keeping guests entertained until midnight.
Throughout the evening, guests also had the opportunity of visiting the main floor and balcony exhibits of the museum, including "Sue," the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus rex ever found.
Know Thy Venue Staging a gala in a museum brought some hurdles. "You can't get in [the Field Museum] until 3 p.m., so for an event that starts at 7, it can be a challenge, especially for 800 people," explains Hansen. Because the event coincided with Venetian Night and the Field Museum has a prime location, parking and traffic were also headaches. "We forewarned suppliers, asking them to come early," Hansen notes. "We also secured a private parking area well in advance, and we had shuttle buses" that transported guests from other points in the city.
In addition to conquering potential problems with the venue, wowing a crowd of young, sophisticated professionals can prove daunting. Notes Hansen: "This age group is very much part of the fast-image video age," which often means a short attention span. "That's why it's so important to keep things interesting and to keep a good flow going throughout the event," she adds. "The fireworks, the varied entertainment, the Polaroids and the museum exhibits kept things moving throughout the night.