Planning an event for any group requires flexibility and customization, what with all the individual dietary needs, music preferences, seating requirements and such. After you throw in limited attention spans, pop-star obsessions and naptime, then successful event production becomes a challenge indeed. The best in the kid-event business know how to take advantage of young tastes while avoiding party pitfalls, and they're doing so with crazy-hot style.
SONIA SHARMA, SONIA EVENTS
KIDS' STUFF: Sonia Sharma of Los Angeles-based Sonia Events takes kids' needs very seriously. And when it comes to tot-pleasing parties, no element is more important than basic comfort.
“You need to be sensitive to the accessibility of the location, to school schedules, to temperature,” she says. “If kids are cold and complaining, it doesn't matter how much money you spend on decor and food. They will have to leave.”
FAIRY TALE FÊTE: A recent upscale party celebrating a toddler's birthday tested Sharma's mettle but gave her a chance to showcase her unique talent for engaging little ones while keeping adults enthralled. The event's “Disney fairy tale” theme carried through every part of the party — a feat that required tight coordination of multiple vendors. As Sharma notes, “Anyone can get carnival games, but we had to reinvent them and customize them” to suit the theme. She started by selecting games that wouldn't prove too difficult for the limited hand-eye coordination of young children, then designed Disney-theme backgrounds for each one, calling on her game vendor to source Disney-theme prizes. Once she had specs for each carnival game booth, “We had our rental company create custom booths in all different sizes” — all of them tented and tasseled in homage to the event's fairy tale theme.
For the children's outdoor seating area, Sharma designed a comfy, green-and-purple lounge space inspired by Dreamworks' “Shrek.” Adults, meanwhile, enjoyed their own “Alice in Wonderland” theme area — “the original Disney ‘Alice,’ not the Johnny Depp one,” stresses Sharma — complete with a buxom Queen of Hearts character, half-painted white-silk-rose bushes, waitresses in Alice attire, and a black-tented wine bar watched over by a grinning Cheshire cat.
WHAT'S HOT NOW: At the high-end kids' celebrations Sharma creates, customization is key. Of late, she's seeing strong demand for custom dance-floor monograms and vinyl applications that rival those featured at high-budget weddings. “If the event has its own design or graphic,” she says, “I'll repeat it on the dance floor, escort cards, invitations, etc.”
ALEXIS MURPHY, JAC O' LYN MURPHY DESIGNS
MALL CRAWL: San Francisco-based Murphy, a mother of two (her company name splices the names of her children, Jack and Carolyn), loves how 'tween guests “like the simplest things,” especially if they're presented with a creative new twist. For a recent 'tween girl's birthday bash, Murphy created a shopping-mall scavenger hunt, announced to guests with invitations in the form of tiny purses with the party's information attached. Guests met at the mall for a food-court lunch, then received lists of tasks. A professional photographer followed the girls as they completed the tasks, including finding someone named John who worked at the mall, crowding into a bathroom stall for a picture, and “trying to get one French fry from a restaurant without paying for it,” recounts Murphy. “I have never seen girls laugh so hard.”
Guests left the party with an assortment of mall-theme goodies, including apple-flavored suckers from the “Apple” store, candy rings from the “jewelry store” and perfume samples from the “beauty counter.”
WHAT'S HOT NOW: While video game trucks and tech-themed events continue to attract young clients, Murphy sees a shift “back to simpler themes and ideas, but again with a modern or interesting touch.” Among her most popular requests are cooking parties and swim parties, for which she's created invitations using such unexpected — but thematically on-key — items as rolling pins and pool noodles. “It gets everyone excited for the party,” she says.
STEFANIE LERNER, ENCORE CREATIVE
KIDS' STUFF: With an extensive background in corporate events, Tempe, Ariz.-based Encore Creative knows just how important entertainment is to achieving an event's objective — even when that objective is just plain fun. The most important thing a planner can do with a youth event such a bar mitzvah or Sweet 16 is to “ensure that the entertainment is engaging and interactive,” notes director of sales Stefanie Lerner. Young guests, especially teens, “want to feel as though they are being treated as adults, and that their needs and wants as customers are being addressed.”
IDOL WORSHIP: “Lately we've been pitching all kinds of fun, engaging and interactive custom entertainment ideas, including ‘Starring Your American Idol,’” Lerner notes. For the popular “Idol” theme, “We bring the bar or bat mitzvah [child] to a band rehearsal where we work through a performance number with the child as the rock star,” she explains. The secret unfolds during the party when the band invites the honoree to the stage to perform. At first the child acts shy, but then takes the stage and rocks out, “rehearsed, confident and blowing everyone away,” Lerner says.
See the full story in the May-June issue of Special Events, available to subscribers only.