WHILE MANY special event professionals are just starting to agonize over plans for New Year's Eve 1999, event producer Harith Wickrema can relax. That's because he staged his millen-nium blowout for a corporate client five months ago. And it wasn't just cocktails and a chorus of Auld Lang Syne, but an elaborate evening including countdowns to midnight in four different "countries."
Wickrema's client-a biotech firm hosting the first national meeting of its new pharmaceutical sales team-wanted to create an impressive event to unite the group and start it thinking of new horizons. Keying off the client's slogan "Think beyond and go beyond," Wickrema, head of Oreland, Pa.-based Harith Productions, took the 250 guests on an imaginary flight on the Concorde, chasing the millennium celebration across the world's time zones.
The night before the event, staff at the event site, Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort in Dana Point, Calif., delivered "boarding passes" to each guestroom. The next night, the festivities started out with cocktails and hors d'oeuvre in the foyer of the hotel ballroom, which represented the first-class lounge at Fiji's Nadi International Airport. Why Fiji? "That's the time zone where midnight 1999 will happen first," Wickrema explains.
COME FLY WITH ME After enjoying music from a Polynesian trio, the guests passed through a real metal detector, assisted by Harith Productions staff dressed in British Airways uniforms. The guests boarded the "Concorde," a flight simulated by a walk through the Black Hole special effects machine provided by Reinke Brothers/Effectech of Littleton, Colo. Once seated in the ballroom, guests started their dinner while a 20-foot screen displayed a laser show and video showing the Concorde's touchdown in "Hong Kong." Talking Laser of Marina del Rey, Calif., produced the laser effects; Bright Ideas of Irvine, Calif., handled lighting.
Close on the heels of the video, a team of 20 Chinese dancers burst into the room, complete with dueling dragons. The elaborate dance sequence lasted only five minutes; as the dancers exited to one side, a cadre of waiters bearing the next course and wearing "2000" eyeglasses entered from the other side. All the entertainment sequences were "short and sweet," Wickrema says. "You want to leave them wanting more."
The next flight brought guests to "Paris," where they shot off confetti cannons while cancan dancers did their high kicks.
The final leg of the trip took the group to "New York," with a recording of Frank Sinatra singing New York, New York while tuxedoed "Rockettes" formed a chorus line. Here, guests watched the ball drop in "Times Square."
In each "city," the group counted down to midnight in the appropriate language. The sponsoring company also handed out a short series of awards at each destination, breaking what could have been a tedious presentation into snappy segments. The evening ended with the "Rockettes" pulling guests onto the dance floor to enjoy the band.
The tabletops carried the event's theme, including a model of the Concorde, confetti and clocks. Each corner of the ballroom featured decor suggesting the event's destinations, including a rickshaw and lanterns for Hong Kong and a Manhattan street corner complete with taxicab for New York. Los Angeles-based EventWorks created the decor.
DREAM TEAM It took three tastings with Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort chef Stuart Clark and catering director Jeanne Friedman to develop the event's menu. "Our challenge is to motivate and excite the hotel staff to perform on a higher level," Wickrema says. "We need a hotel that can team with us to make the extraordinary out of the ordinary."
The highlight of the menu was the 10-inch-tall dessert course: a plate bearing a white chocolate globe with the corporation's logo and three different desserts. Sylmar, Calif.-based Chocolates A La Carte created the custom chocolates. Wickrema credits TheSpecial Event '99, held in January in Orlando, Fla., with introducing him to several special items he later used at the millennium event, including the custom chocolates and the Black Hole.
The event was a hit with the client, with the director of sales training labeling it "the best meeting we've ever had." Wickrema appreciates the trust his client had in him. "The client left me alone to do the job that I do best," he says. "We bring the creativity of the artist together with the precision of the scientist to make the event successful."
Harith Productions Ltd.
222 Pennsylvania Ave. Oreland, PA 19075
215/517-5500; fax: 215/517-5424