Outrageous Theme Parties as Team Builders

Definition of Terms. Putting a hay bale and a wagon wheel on the buffet table and handing everyone a red kerchief and cowboy hat when they arrive is not a Theme Party. It’s what we professionals in the business refer to as “a stupid waste of money”.

My apologies go out to Directors of Catering Everywhere. But to calm everyone down, I am not saying that having incredible décor is not a great thing to have at your event. There are some amazing things available to make the party elegant or fun or crazy. It’s just not a theme party (by my definition and hey, this is my blog).

What I call a Theme Party is something inclusive, something so over-the-top that your attendees (and the hotel or venue staff) will be talking about for years to come. It’s an inter-active environment. It’s something attendees could never re-produce on their own. It breaks down barriers. Consider it team-building.

For example, a Casino Night is always (usually) a big hit. It gets people involved, mixes people together that might not normally socialize, all of that jazz. But by itself, although fun and occupying a rightful place in “things to entertain your group with” category, it’s not a Theme Party (by our hitherto agreed upon definition).

Want to make the Casino Night something memorable (and yes, we are talking big budgets here… like I said, it’s my blog), how about re-creating the set of Casablanca’s famous Rick’s Café Americain? Restaurant-style seating that can be adjusted, long bar, Moroccan-style furniture and décor, ceiling fans… you get the idea… have fun with it… a big band (and a guy who can sing As Time Goes By and a woman who can sing La Marseillaise)… and the casino is still a big part of the event, but in style… and the whole place is staffed with actors from the film… Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, the crazy Russian bartender, the good-natured head waiter… (we’ll leave out the Germans), and the serving staff is also in costume and in character.

Even better… tell your guests in advance about the dress-up party and give awards for the best costumes for movie characters, or a 1940’s dance contest. And…and…and… as you can see, I like this kind of thing.

So with that in mind… here are some other random, cool ideas for your next Real Theme Party…

Alice in Wonderland/Through The Looking Glass

The iconic Jaki Baskow (Baskow & Associates, Las Vegas, www.baskow.com) suggested this one (in a kind of stream of consciousness way)… Everything is backwards, nothing matches, all place settings are different sizes (plates, cups, glassware, utensils, flower arrangements, watering cans), lots of stripes, polka dots and/or eyes. Tables are long Mad Tea Party settings covered with all kinds of crazy stuff.

Lots of entertainers, in character. Jaki says that even the strolling magician does his tricks backwards (I guess I have to see that one). Servers dressed like Playing Cards. Guests enter through a Rabbit Hole or Looking Glass and can participate in games like Flamingo Croquet (Styrofoam flamingoes – they don’t talk back). The Mad Queen is there. The Cheshire Cat, of course. Have a professional in-character MC… Music and dancing… and if you can… send invitations (from the Queen) to guests before the event… and do that costume contest thing. For those who don’t come in costume, have some accessories available. I guess if you have outdoor access and can get far enough away from the door, you can have a hookah-sharing Caterpillar for the smokers in the group… OK, maybe that went a bit too far… play with it. 

The Summer of Love

I was a tad to young to participate in ’67, and my mother wouldn’t let me go to Woodstock (which is probably the last time I ever let her tell me what to do or not do), and so didn’t I join the party until 1970. By that time the narrative had switched from Woodstock to Altamont, and you definitely do not want to have an Altamont theme party (look it up).

So, although reading The Electric Kool-Aid Test and my search for the Merry Pranksters got me on the road to California, and I do have some hippie-cred having lived three months on a commune in Sweden (honestly, I can’t remember why I was there), and I spent a fair amount of time in remote hot springs chanting OM during various equinox’s and solstices – I missed the Summer of Love. Bummer.

If you missed it too, the Production Alliance Network (productianalliancenetwork.com) can re-create it in all of its hazily remembered glory.

The most critical part of any ’67 theme party… the music. You definitely need a great cover band, and although gyrating with outstretched wriggling arms to the Grateful Dead’s Dark Star helped you experience psychic liberation... you really didn’t need a partner (even though you thought you had one). I strongly suggest going the Soul Music route since anything with back-up singers is going to get everyone out on the dance floor with a big smile on their face. It’s irresistible.

Add in a vintage VW van, a Woodie (for the surfing crowd), a Mustang convertible… lots of peace signs, flowers, beads, light shows (lots of them), face painters, street jugglers, poetry readers, tarot and palm readers, big pillows and blankets spread out everywhere (it’s a Be-In… don’t need chairs – OK… you can have a chair)… lots of costume accessories (including wigs), photo booths, have a picnic, a parade… alcohol is still the only legal drug (most places for now), but it will do. Everyone can relax, party, and pretend that everything that happened after the summer of 1967 didn’t happen.

Studio 54

Jaclyn Bernstein with Empire Force Events/Access NY Metro (www.empireforce.com) suggested this one… The event she described to me was staged at The Capitale, allowing the use of two large events spaces in a Beaux Arts venue, but it can be staged in many suitable locations.

The foyer area was turned into a street scene, with a carpet printed street and sidewalks and realistic police barricades and steam pipes. Burly doormen kept the velvet rope pulled tight allowing no entry except for recognized celebrities—portrayed by impersonators—such as Grace Jones and Liza Minnelli, and those selected as “the beautiful people” by a dead ringer for night-club impresario Steve Rubell. Of course this created just the right amount of anticipation as guests jockeyed for admission utilizing all of their wiles and charm to get through the doors and into the real party.

Signature lighting systems were recreated by some of Studio 54’s original designers, and the iconic Man in the Moon hung over a modernized illuminated dance floor. Caged go-go dancers flanked the stage and a practically nude Lady Godiva rode her white horse across the dance floor. The evening climaxed with a surprise appearance by original Studio 54 performers, The Village People.

Once again I say… tell your people in advance that they are going to a dress-up party… and have prizes for costumes. Get people to go beyond their comfort zone and reveal themselves to their co-workers as real people, not just the guy in the next cubicle or the voice on the phone in the district office. Build camaraderie, and at the same time create a buzz that they will bring back to their work world… I mean… Lady Godiva on a horse on the dance floor? The Village People? Cool.

OK… you get the idea. There are an infinite number of possibilities and I will continue to add them to our Theme Party Blog and to our Library Archive at allthingsmeetings.com.

Please send me your favorite theme party ideas, we will check them out and share with everyone. The same goes for all of our other blog subjects.

Oh, and this too… if you have a particular subject you want to know more about, tell me, we’ll do the research and post it in one of our newsletters with links to resources. All subjects will be considered. neil@allthingsmeetings.com :)