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It doesn’t matter if you’re dressing a few tables or transforming an entire venue: successful theming is an art form. Get it right, and it makes a good party great. Get it wrong, and it makes a good party ghastly.
However, don’t pack the chest wig away just yet. In spite of the obligatory toe-curling tales (MDs in spandex…), the fact is that partygoers love a theme. Not only does it give you a structure to work within, but it also gets guests talking pre- and post-party, while creating an atmosphere during the event. The key to this in a corporate context is inclusivity, meaning buy-in from the boardroom and the postroom. Dallas might be the boss’s favourite TV show, but there’s no point choosing it if half of your colleagues were in nappies in the 1980s.
Another vital thematic tickbox is flexibility. You might relish the prospect of full fancy dress but more self-conscious – or senior – colleagues will need a less extreme option. And like a successful film pitch, you should be able to explain your party theme in a sentence. If not, it won’t be cohesive enough.
If your creative vision is obscured by Yoko Ono sunglasses, be aware that you probably won’t be invited to a ‘flower power’ or ‘1960s’ party in 2013. The tried-and-tested ‘era’ themes are still out there, they’ve just been repackaged in cooler boxes, so 70s might be ‘Studio 54’ or 80s might be ‘Wall Street’. Remember too that summer and Christmas should have a completely different vibe.
Your party purse is probably not bursting at the seams but even if it is, smart theming is crucial to ensure that tasteful doesn’t tip over into tacky. Fancy dress and iPod playlists are a gift for bottom-end budgets – theming your guests is free. Whatever you’ve got in the coffers, dedicate at least a third of it to a venue that won’t fight your theme – that’s a battle you’ll never win. Check that the AV is up to scratch. Some of the most successful theming we’ve experienced relies 90% on lighting and production and just 10% on physical decoration.
Planning a large themed event has more in common with styling for film and stage than, say, dressing a children’s party. Approaching a prop specialist is one way of translating the idea in your head to a live event (tip: if you want to make an impact with just a few props, create a ‘montage’ rather than spreading them around the room).
However, you and your budget can also get a leg up by piggybacking on one of the organised party nights, which, far from being a finished product, have all sorts of options for customising. With a few superficial changes, 1920s can take on a speakeasy, Rat Pack, art deco, warehouse party or more 1940s feel.
This article first featured in Square Meal Venues & Events Guide 2013.