Fire and Ice
Tips for transforming a unique space into an unforgettable party
These days, throwing a high-tech holiday party your employees will remember is no easy task. This is especially true when said employees work in a high-tech industry.
As Natalie Vishny and her team at Swellegant Events can confirm: When you’re planning an event for a state-of-the-art digital cinema company, your special effects had best be spot on.
For the Irvine, California-based event planning firm, perfect execution was a primary goal with the Red Digital Cinema employee party this past winter. The clients wanted something unique, transformative and flawless for their 350 guests — and they wanted it all within three weeks.
“My planning time was limited, but the creativity was not,” recalls Vishny, who says she brainstormed with the clients for a full day about holiday themes. Ideas ranged from the more traditional “winter wonderland” to an adventurous “nightmare before Christmas,” but they eventually landed on an inverted classic: ice and fire.
The venue, an old airplane hangar in Orange County’s Great Park, wasn’t your typical space, but this affair was far from typical. To build a setting with an air of movie magic, the engineers rigged up 200-plus feet of truss in the historic structure and installed a complex framework of lighting, audio, power and special effects.
The party started at 3pm, so a big challenge was in creating the illusion of night despite the Southern California sun. Turns out, creating such illusion “doesn’t always have to be expensive,” remarks Vishny, who says the engineers covered the window with basic white cardboard to block out the light.
For the “ice” portion of the evening, some 13 tons of snow were hauled in and formed a hill that greeted guests at the door, while an ice sculptor with a chainsaw carved away at a Lord of the Rings-style dragon.
Inside the hangar, snow bunnies strolled the room with white martinis and white desserts in hand. Décor was all white lounge furniture and blue LED lights, with tinsel sparkling overhead.
And then, the transformation began. Roughly two hours into the party, everything went black, accentuated by thunder and lightning sound effects.
“Let there be fire!” proclaimed a fire god creature and the lights switched from blue to red. The catering staff flipped their white ties to red ties, the snow bunnies turned into she-devils and the dancing commenced among both entertainers and guests.
The ice-to-fire transformation was nearly flawless, but Vishny — a passionate perfectionist — says there’s always room for improvement. Here are her top secrets for transforming unique spaces into something unforgettable:
• Practice makes perfect. “The timing has to be right, and you have to test everything beforehand. … We always have a pre-production meeting, and a minimum of two site visits is absolutely necessary.”
• Manage expectations through communication: “You must communicate clearly with your clients about what can and cannot happen. … Make sure that there are really clear expectations between the venue and the client.”
• Plan for extra paperwork. “Whenever there’s a state or county-owned venue, you’re working through three or four layers of rules and regulations. With these unique spaces, make sure all the permitting is handled properly as soon as possible.”
• Go ahead, take a risk. “Don’t be afraid to pick a unique space. Ultimately, transforming a unique space is as easy as transforming a hotel ballroom. And it costs just as much.”
Since moving to Minneapolis in 1999, Eve has worked as a writer, an editor, a video producer, and a digital content manager/strategist in areas ranging from arts and education to science and technology. She oversees the content of Catersource magazine, web and social media.
eNews November 2013