FOR EVENT DESIGNER Charles Banfield, space exploration seemed a dream theme for the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame Gala cocktail reception — the first portion of the June fund-raising event that precedes a seated dinner in the Bowl's box seats, followed by a concert.
“When we were planning this, we were at war,” explains the owner of West Hollywood, Calif.-based Charles Banfield Productions, noting the start of the United States' Iraq invasion early during event preparations. “The only safe theme was space, because nothing was happening in space.” Then, well into planning, with the event's theme established and promotional materials printed, space shuttle Columbia met its tragic fate, changing everything.
NEW FLIGHT PATH
When the shuttle accident occurred, Banfield knew a change of theme was inevitable. But as the planner of the event's reception and dinner — a 1,000-guest charity gala with a meager $37,000 budget (excluding food and beverage) — he also knew that spending limits were a serious issue. The result: “We still went with space, because we were so far into it,” he says. “But instead of going to space, space came to us.”
While the switch to a more playful “space invasion” theme avoided raising the specter of the Columbia tragedy, it also brought an opportunity to connect the event to fund-raising beneficiary Music Matters — an organization that promotes music education in Los Angeles. “The plot behind the event was that space aliens had sent a probe to come to the Hollywood Bowl to find out why music matters,” Banfield says.
Elements of the theme included a cadre of costumed drama students armed with clipboards and outfitted with surgical masks, who greeted arriving attendees and pretended to monitor their reactions to different kinds of music. The music itself, Banfield notes, was a combination of space-theme pop tunes and electronic lounge music accessed through Apple iTunes, an online music source.
When it came to getting the most bang for the buck — essential for such a minimal budget — Banfield says the Internet lent a hand. He notes that iTunes music was available for free, and could be broadcast over a large area simply by placing a microphone in front of the source computer, rather than using a fully integrated sound system. “In a space so vast, you don't notice distortion,” he explains. Further theme enhancement came in the form of food station signs written in an alien language — actually a font made up of arrow symbols, also accessed for free online — followed by an English “translation” below.
The turnaround from reception to dinner — where an additional 600 invitees joined the party — provided Banfield with the event's most daunting logistical challenge.
As soon as guests made their move to the Bowl's box seats, the reception area — actually a VIP parking lot — had to be cleared out to accommodate performers scheduled to arrive at 7:30 p.m. for the after-dinner Hall of Fame concert. That left a half-hour strike zone after the end of cocktails at 7, Banfield notes.
Dinner itself — Los Angeles-based caterer Patina's grilled beef with a tian of niçoise-style vegetables served at tables decked out with fiber-optic UFO centerpieces and light-up stemware — posed its own breakdown challenges. “Everything on the tables has to be disposable,” Banfield says. With the concert starting only minutes after the end of dinner, “teardown happens so quickly, you'll never get it back,” he adds. To make things more cost effective, Banfield says he had about 670 silver spandex tablecloths made, opting for a super-thick fabric to avoid the expense of sewing hems.
GIVE YOUR BEST
While Banfield, who donated his services for the gala, states firmly, “It's important that we have our charities,” he cautions that planners should know what they're getting into — and why — when they take on charity events.
“Music Matters directly affects me,” he explains, noting that his school-age daughter benefits from the organization's programs. “I think it's important enough to donate my services.” But, he adds, while such events can be personally fulfilling — as well as a good source of future business — “I don't think people should do charity events for the purpose of getting other clients unless they're willing to do just as good a job as they would do for a paying client.”
Banfield also credits Audrey Gordon from Chicago-based Audrey Gordon Parties and David Rand, executive director of catering and special events for Northeastern University, Boston, who both flew to L.A. to lend their services, as well as the vendors who donated their products and time. With all that help, he says, client the Los Angeles Philharmonic “got about a $200,000 party for $37,000.”
Charles Banfield Productions 8415 Fountain Ave., West Hollywood, CA 90069; 323/822-2778; www.charlesbanfield.com
Turn to page 57 for a list of resources for this event.
OUT OF SIGHT BITES
A SELECTION OF RECEPTION HORS D'OEUVRE
Flying Saucer Station
Roasted Zucchini Saucer with Herbed Couscous
Fried Potato Disk with Duck Confit
Cucumber Saucer with Salmon Tartare
Planet of the Skewers Station
Blue Corn Fried Chicken with Chipotle
Pecan-Crusted Catfish with Bourbon Aioli
Beef Short Ribs with Jamaican Jerk Marinade