April 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions The Countdown Begins April 1999 Current Issue
April 1999

The Countdown Begins

Whimsical tips for creating the perfect millennium bash

By Cheryl-Anne Sturken

The new millennium doesn’t actually kick off until 2001, but that’s just a small detail. It’s how to celebrate this New Year’s Eve when the calendar ratchets into the double-zero slot that has folks around the globe working themselves into a tizzy.

But why wait? Celebrations held before Dec. 31, 1999, not only get a jump on the millennium madness, they cost significantly less and are sure to garner a higher guest count.

“Parties held before the end of 1999 will cost a lot less. And because many people are gong to want to be with their families on the big night, you won’t have to deal with divided loyalties,” says San Francisco-based event planner Linda Wiggins, owner of Finesse Productions.

Many attendees will be reluctant to attend a company event requiring air travel on New Year’s Eve, fearing havoc as a result of computer glitches, warns Sally Schwartz, president of Chicago-based Paint Me a Party Productions Inc. “People are very apprehensive about traveling at that time,” she says. “They’ve all heard the Y2K stories. They’re going to want to stay put.”

Another reason to celebrate early is that entertainment will be hard to come by, not to mention pricey, on New Year’s Eve, says Fred Shepherd, national director of sales and marketing for the Design Group, a Minneapolis-based destination management company. “The attitude we’re encountering is, ‘Hey, I’m worth three times as much on Dec. 31, so I’ll wait for the highest bidder.’” But, says Shepherd, the same band would be available for a party held in, say, October.

To help planners get off the party-planning fence and to get the creative juices flowing, M&C asked destination management companies to share their millennium-party ideas and tips, including their takes on the traditional midnight countdown. Keep in mind that each event can be as glitzy or as low-key as desired. And, as always, the number of attendees, food served and entertainment choices will determine final cost.

Party Down...town
Steve Kemble Event Design
Dallas, Texas
(214) 943-5949
Fax: (214) 943-2811

“There is so much the average company can do to have a really fabulous time, without spending a ton of money.”
Steve Kemble, owner

Why waste money on pricey decorations jazzing up some tired ballroom when the city (OK, a few streets) can be the company’s millennium stage for a few hours? In Dallas, downtown’s Commerce Street is the gathering place of choice for many groups.

Stage a grand entrance for VIPs, with a helicopter fly-in or cowboy escort. As a metaphor for the company’s strength as it advances into the new millennium, hire hulking body builders dressed in combat boots and black boxer shorts to act as wait staff, and have them serve champagne from hubcaps.

At midnight, have breathtaking fireworks explode overhead, and invite attendees to enter an enormous wine-stocked tent, where each will find a bottle whose vintage is the year he or she was born the ultimate take-home gift.

And, if in Dallas and money is no object, why not kick off the next century by driving a symbolic 100 head of longhorn steer straight through downtown?

Big Band Blast
Design Group
Minneapolis, Minn.
(612) 522-6460, (800) 616-6460
Fax: (612) 522-6461

“People are looking for an excuse to celebrate. You absolutely must have a chandeliered ballroom.”
Fred Shepherd
national director, sales and marketing

Swath the ballroom ceiling with billowing, sheer fabric through which twinkling lights shine. Decorate tables with lots of teal, purple and gold silks, and add centerpieces made of white roses and single-stem orchids. For a touch of elegance, trail fabric and lights from the ceiling to the center of strategically placed tables.

The evening’s keepsake? A gift-wrapped, digital desk clock inscribed with the company’s logo and set to count down during the evening’s festivities to midnight.

Onstage, a 30-piece swing band performs. Hire professional swing dancers to encourage wallflowers and to give the evening a classy air.

As midnight approaches, ask guests to raise their clocks, begin the final countdown from a giant clock unveiled center stage, then ring in the new year.

Millennium Metamorphosis
Paint Me a Party Productions Inc.
Chicago, Ill.
(312) 666-1200
Fax: (312) 666-1199

“You need the right space for whatever theme you’re doing.”
Sally Schwartz, president

The 4,000-square-foot Butterfly Haven in Chicago’s new Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, scheduled to open this November in Lincoln Park, is the ideal location for a butterfly-themed party. But if a visit to Chicago is not an option, not to worry. With the right props and lighting, any ballroom can be transformed into a cocoon.

Guests step into the room to find themselves in a virtual cocoon. Huge, iridescent leaves hang from the ceiling, and enormous caterpillars (giant costumes inhabited by as many as 10 actors each) meander about.

Tables are draped in gauzy fabric, through which colorful, flickering lights shine. Natural centerpieces are formed from bark, mosses, rocks, water and candles of various shapes. Partygoers are encouraged to mingle and move through a series of rooms, from the Sleep Pod area (comfy pillows and costumed massage therapists) to the the Larva Laboratory of Love (guests don lab coats and experiment with natural juices and liquors to make a love potion) to the Butterfly Bingo corner (forget numbers; it’s butterfly species that players must collect). And to keep spirits high, the Morph Patrol, a roving band of makeover artists, canvasses the room with a millennium makeover kit to transform guests into their bug of choice.

As midnight approaches, pass out insect antennae, and watch each of the enormous caterpillars “morph” into 10 colorful dancing butterflies.

Guests are encouraged to don insect costumes and welcome the new year by dancing what else? the jitterbug.

Future Shock
PRA Destination Management
San Diego, Calif.
(619) 234-9440
Fax: (619) 232-5869

“Serving things in unusual ways adds a lot to a theme.”
Sandi Cottrell, vice president

Black, and lots of it, is the key to this futuristic avant-garde party. Drape the walls with shiny, black fabric and use lots of powerful laser spotlights to create a sci-fi atmosphere. The room is dotted with free-flowing metal sculptures, and guests sit at angular metal tables with plexiglass tops, through which colored lights shine softly, as a hypnotic blend of techno-dance music and New Age saxophone plays.

Food is served from slabs of brightly colored tiles by servers who look as if they got lost on their way to a Star Trek shoot. For a sense of the surreal, serve champagne from huge platters of dry ice. Forget standard dinnerware; guests eat from odd-shaped tiles and quirky, long-stemmed glassware.

When midnight arrives, video monitors suspended above each table display exploding fireworks or the company’s millennium message, and out come the silver-suited, stylized dancers.

Musical Memories
Empire Force Events Inc.
New York, N.Y.
(212) 924-0320
Fax: (212) 675-9106

“It’s like a big corporate bar mitzvah with tons of tchotchkes.”
Jacklyn Bernstein, president and partner

The evening is a feast of musical highlights from the past 100 years, from ragtime to jazz, disco and rock ’n’ roll.

The room is a fusion of color and style, with clusters of tables themed to a particular decade and loaded with appropriate props doubling as giveaways. For instance, 1910 is a blend of soft colors, kazoos and straw skimmers with black bands. Red, white and blue set the stage for the 1940s, with tiny American flags and a wooden tabletop radio. Flower power rules the 1960s, with abstract daisies on linens, a floppy-hat centerpiece and smiley necklaces with attached bubble- blowers. And for the 1980s, lots of black spandex, leopard stripes and silver disco balls.

Flappers, a doo-wop singing group, swing dancers, a big band and a master of ceremonies guide revelers on a giant sing-along through a blend of hand-picked chart-toppers, from the Andrew Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train” to Elvis’ “Hound Dog,” and the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There.”

An image of a giant clock is superimposed over the stage, and a cry of “Let’s get ready to rumble!” signals the millennium countdown. Hundreds of balloons drop from the ceiling amid a hail of swirling confetti to announce the new year.

A Walk Through Time
Finesse Productions
San Francisco, Calif.
(510) 222-6994
Fax: (510) 222-5597

“People often confuse the millennium with the change of the century. It’s much more 1,000 years.”
Linda Wiggins, owner

A comedic twist and plenty of interactive entertainment will involve guests and will keep the mood light and frivolous.

Guests begin their stroll down memory lane by entering a giant walk-through millennium clock, then selecting one of several paths, each leading to a different period-themed area.

In the Dark Ages, attendees encounter barbarians, unicorns, satyrs, druids, monks belting out Gregorian chants, humorous troubadours, ribald jesters and maidens serving up goblets of mead.

A visit to the Renaissance is marked by encounters with Galileo and his new telescope, Michelangelo musing on the Sistine Chapel, Elizabethan musicians, Shakespeare working on a play, actors spouting soliloquies about the future and plenty of mock sword fights.

The 1700s through the 1990s leads to characters more familiar to inhabitants of the late 20th century: George Washington, Paul Revere, Martin Luther King, Charles Lindbergh, Mae West and Marilyn Monroe.

For a look at the present and a peek into the future, guests are invited to wander through a gigantic computer monitor where “celestial” lights sparkle through black drapery and exotic blue drinks are offered up by silver-sheathed servers.

As midnight approaches, pocket watches embossed with the date and the company’s logo are handed out, to help attendees count down those final minutes. Historical images are flashed onto a black wall and the music builds to a crescendo, signaling the birth of the new year.

100 Years of Food
Bravo! Productions
Long Beach, Calif.
(562) 435-0065
Fax: (562) 435-4421

“You want people to walk in and feel totally surprised, and you want them to participate. When guests participate, they bring an added sense of fun.”
Gregory Jenkins, partner

Find a wide open space one with panoramic views would be ideal and erect a whimsical tent for this elaborate food bazaar that’s a virtual ramble through 100 years of American cuisine.

Be sure to theme invitations to a decade and ask attendees to dress in a manner appropriate to the decade they’re assigned.

Divide the tent into decade-specific areas, and decorate each area with plenty of pop-culture icons and memorabilia.

For instance, create a diner for the 1950s, with jukeboxes and James Dean posters, and dish up burgers, malts and root beer floats.

The 1960s can be a mini-Woodstock, with a smorgasbord of vegetarian dishes.

In the 1980s corner, invite guests to chow down on stuffed potato skins, fried mozzarella and sushi while standing in a sea of shredded junk bonds. Pass out copies of the Iran-Contra hearings and broadcast the famous “who shot J.R.?” episode of Dallas on giant TV monitors.

To offer a glimpse of the future, think silver, black and white, with an emphasis on science and technology. Project images of Dolly the cloned sheep, futuristic cars, the stock market and space travel. And to count down the new year, invite guests outdoors for a laser and fireworks display.

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