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Special Events

Putting THEMES to Work


In the theme capital of the event world, newcomer PRA Las Vegas is giving clients the classics they demand, but with fresh, functional twists.

A Las Vegas lounge theme that year-old PRA created for client Sybase serves as a prime example, says the DMC's president, Terrie Thurston. Elements included liquid-lamé draping in deep blue, tiered seating, custom leopard-print table accessories and a custom neon “Club Sybase” entrance sign, plus “about 1,000 gardenias.” The event surrounded attendees with a well-defined destination vibe — still a critical client request, Thurston notes. It also blended multiple sensory elements — sight, sound and scent among them — demonstrating a new theme trend in which massages, cutting-edge lighting and fragrance- generating equipment all play a part, she adds. At the same time, the event kept the client's brand on bold display.

And it's the incorporation of brand into theme that is essential in today's ROI-obsessed corporate event market, says PRA Las Vegas founder John Daly Jr., CSEP, who also heads John Daly Inc. International, Santa Barbara, Calif. In the theme arena, Daly explains, “We are not just doing design and decor anymore — we're now marketing people. We need to work with a company's brand and turn it into something that is living, that guests can feel.” He points to an upcoming event for client Land Rover, in which the brand is not just incorporated into the theme, but is its foundation. The event — a combination product reveal and sales training — will include a buffet themed to reflect five difficult road terrains and will feature a full-size Land Rover on top of the setup. “With the theme, we're driving home the brand message — no pun intended,” Daly says.


Providing turnkey event services often means turning to elaborate theme design, says Solomon Rosenzweig of San Francisco-based DaVinci Fusion. Not only do theme events provide more design “focus” than your basic floral-and-finery bash, he explains, but they are invaluable vehicles for setting tone and appealing to guest emotion.

Nowhere has tone-setting been more important on DaVinci's recent event docket than at the California Academy of Sciences' annual masked ball in June. With the academy's regular museum site in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park closed for earthquake renovation, the June gala was its first major event outside of its building. “There was a feeling from the director of the museum and his staff that they wanted people to remember that the Academy of Sciences was always going to be the Academy of Sciences,” Rosenzweig says.

To create a palpable sense of continuity, he and his team used iconic elements of the science academy's museum — including its dioramas and planetarium — as inspiration for the design elements they brought to San Francisco's City Hall. Highlights included the transformation of the hall's North Light Court into a rainforest diorama scene through use of aniline-dye painted backdrops, theatrical lighting, live palm trees and flickering flame bowls atop bamboo poles. According to Rosenzweig, guests were particularly wowed by the out-of-this-world effect generated in the building's rotunda, where a moving nebula was accompanied by not just stars, but a lithograph gobo of the machine that actually produces the starry-night-sky image in the academy's planetarium. “The guests ate it up — it was magical,” Rosenzweig says.


High-concept environment design is fine for some events, says David Perrin. But he insists it's familiar themes, kept fresh and interactive, that draw clients including Disney, IBM and Nike to his Los Angeles-based The Perfect Party.

He attributes the demand for recognizable themes to several key factors. For a corporate client, themes give those involved in the event-planning chain of command a clear visual. “My clients are not creative types, they're not conceptual idea people,” Perrin says. “I usually first talk to someone in marketing or, surprisingly, human resources. They're the ones who gather the info for setting the budget. They have to go to other people, and they're not going to go with an esoteric idea.”

Instead, clients are likely to opt for popular Hollywood or beach themes, which are an ideal way to immerse out-of-town guests — the majority of his groups, he says — in the local color.

Also immensely popular, according to Perrin, is a “Magic and Mystery” theme, which might include a 1920s Houdini stage backdrop and table decor such as top hats, card decks and magic wands. Not only does this tried-and-true theme give him the opportunity to provide specific images of exactly how the event will look from entrance to bar to stage, but, on the guest side, it offers universal appeal. “It is an absolute fail-safe for any age group, any language, anything,” Perrin says.


DaVinci Fusion, 415/864-1000; The Perfect Party, 800/432-6239, 818/780-9793; PRA Las Vegas, 702/973-1400

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