In the universe of corporate event entertainment, the folks on stage aren't the only stars. Ask event pros and they'll tell you — the greatest act in the world won't win applause from guests or clients if it isn't chosen wisely, staged beautifully and produced with a focus on venue, audience and corporate message. A look at three 2002 Gala Award-nominated events reveals the best in shows.
GET IN THE GAME
When entertainment itself is the event theme — as it was at a Los Angeles party designed to highlight Microsoft's Xbox game system — the entertainment on the bill had better be rave-review quality. According to Julia Zarro of Marina del Rey, Calif.-based Zed Ink, the objective of the 3,500-guest event, held at the Park Plaza Hotel for attendees of the Interactive Digital Software Association's E3 conference, was to “show the world that [Microsoft] knew not just how to entertain, but how to create groundbreaking new forms of social entertainment that would set new standards in an already forward-thinking industry.”
The party, nominated for Best Event for a Corporation or Association, Budget Above $500,000, featured a vast array of on-stage and interactive performances selected to appeal to “the widest variety of tastes and temperaments” while being “the ultimate social experience,” Zarro says.
To ensure a flawless production, Zed Ink brought in more than 100 production staff members, including stagehands, carpenters, electricians, sound technicians, stage managers, and makeup and wardrobe suppliers.
Among interactive entertainment highlights, Zarro counts belly dancing in the event's Middle Eastern-themed Mosaic Room, snake charmers and psychics on the rooftop Varanasi patio, and fire-eaters at the exotic outdoor Temple Lounge. Staged headliners included pop diva Nikka Costa and modern rock band Garbage. In keeping with the concept of social interaction and “collective crowd energy,” Zarro says, “all of the performers and all of the staff were hired not just on the basis of looks, but on the basis of outgoing energetic personality. For instance, the most chatty, personable people were cast as elevator operators so that even the most quiet, isolated spaces were some of the most entertaining.”
Designed to promote tourism to Hong Kong, the “Asia's World City” event — produced by Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Extraordinary Events for client Tourism Hong Kong at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles — used entertainment to create the feel of Hong Kong in Hollywood. The event is nominated for Best Event Entertainment Concept and Execution, Entertainment Budget Above $100,000.
According to Extraordinary Events president Andrea Michaels, “Every element that we chose to showcase had to be authentic and perfect down to the last detail.” To make sure that cultural protocol was acknowledged, Michaels and crew took such measures as hiring a movement specialist to train clothing models in the gestures of the eras their clothes represented — all part of the dynasty-theme fashion show that was a highlight of the event. For a traditional sword dancing performance, Michaels says, budget wouldn't allow for professionals to be brought in from overseas, so her staff searched until it found a local dancer who had reached the master level of the skill.
To add interactivity, Extraordinary Events lined the walkways of the studios' gardens with decorated booths and costumed performers, including tai chi practitioners, opera singers, noodle-pullers and face-painters.
Michaels says the guests, including “a good percentage of Hollywood's movers and shakers,” plus press and travel companies, “gloried in the information” presented through the event's unique entertainment.
ASTOUND IN THE ROUND
“Anyone can hire an act,” says Richard K. Lowy, of PGI, Vancouver, British Columbia. Instead, he says, “Creating a surreal experience from the moment the guests arrived until they left the building was the ultimate goal” behind the atmospheric gala his company produced for client The Hartford as the closer of a multi-day incentive program. The event is nominated for Best Theatrical Entertainment Production.
Keying on the client's longtime desire to do a cirque-type event, and its need to knock the socks off an incentive group of top producers, Lowy says, his team worked with San Diego-based performance troupe Il Circo to create a “full sensory surround experience” for the gala's 450 guests.
“The whole concept was that the inside of the building was the inside of a child's mind,” he explains, describing an entry corridor lined with costumed “freeze models” representing fantasies “hanging in the corridors of our mind.” While guests sipped cocktails on a mezzanine overlooking the corridor, a musical transition triggered the models to “come to life” and lead party-goers into the main dining space. Once guests were seated around the room's circular central stage, ten overhead plasma screens bearing the image of a “gatekeeper” character gave diners “the eerie feeling that they were being watched,” Lowy says. Eventually the gatekeeper appeared in live form on the stage, kicking off a spectacular show of aerialists, hand balancers, acrobats and other performers, symbolizing a child's dream of flight.
Throughout the event, Lowy says, “Great lengths were taken to ensure that all production staff, wait staff and facility personnel were either costumed or not in view to protect against bringing the guests' minds back to reality.”
For a complete list of Gala nominees, turn to page 42.
Extraordinary Events, 818/783-6112; PGI, 604/689-3448; Zed Ink, 310/821-8473