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Themed events: transforming venues, transporting guests

Themed events offer a unique opportunity to showcase a company's talent and creativity to attendees who are potential future clients.

Features | December 1, 2023 | By: Pamela Mills-Senn

Held to announce an engagement and designed to give guests a luxurious Middle Eastern experience, ABC Fabulous Events bedecked the interior with all manner of decor and details to uphold the theme. The tent was filled with pillows, lounge areas, colorful rugs, decorative chairs and tables, gold cutlery, hookahs and more.

Every event offers opportunities and challenges, but this is especially true for those designed around a specific theme. On the one hand, having this kind of “outline” can be handy for kicking off the creative process. But on the other hand, themed events typically come with lots of moving parts, relying on details large and small to effectively deliver the experience. As a result, complex planning, tracking of deliverables and coordination with multiple vendors—as well as potentially lengthy installs and teardowns over sometimes difficult terrain—are generally required. In the following, we take a look at three very different themed events and what went into taking them from concept to reality. 

Sumptuous retreat

The theme: A luxurious Middle Eastern experience, dubbed “Desert Oasis,” for a couple celebrating their engagement. Designed by ABC Fabulous Events Ltd. Held mid-April 2018 in West Nyack, N.Y.

The tent: A 45-by-85-foot sailcloth, adorned with blue flags at its peaks, served as the main area for dining, dancing and other festivities for 50 attendees. The tent was selected for its elegance and ability to transmit natural light, says Shlomo Deutsch, operations manager at the Hackettstown, N.J., party and event company, a provider of high-end tents, premium flooring, draping and bespoke furniture rentals.

“Generally, [this size] tent can accommodate up to 175 guests. However, given the Middle Eastern theme, the tent was filled with floor pillows and lounge areas separate from the seating for the guests,” Deutsch says, explaining the use of a larger-sized tent for the intimate gathering.

The space also had to accommodate an array of “culturally rich” details—such as a hookah lounge, musicians, catering, floral arrangements and a “very tall” camel that had to fit inside the tent (a separate 12-by-12-foot frame tent, raised up to 15 feet, was provided for the camel).

The camel wasn’t the only challenge, says Deutsch, adding that there was an animal care specialist on-site. Another was the site’s uneven terrain, necessitating the use of a Bil-Jax® flooring system for leveling and for ensuring a solid foundation. Staying within the clients’ budget while still delivering all the desired opulence also required careful planning, says Deutsch.

ABC Fabulous Events installed this 45-by-85-foot sailcloth tent to provide a spacious setting for approximately 50 guests. The party, dubbed “Desert Oasis,” was designed around a Middle Eastern theme, with the tent chosen for its ability to transmit natural light, imparting a sense of warmth. Photos courtesy of ABC Fabulous Events

That began in September 2017, taking about eight months. In addition to the tents, the company provided an array of items, including emerald-green carpeting (selected to complement the overall color scheme and to tie in with the theme), gold chairs, gold cutlery, glassware, chargers and tables, as well as multicolored drapery (a key design element). Additional vendors included a caterer specializing in Middle Eastern cuisine, a florist who created the thematic arrangements and a company that provided the hookahs.

Two crews (varying between four and eight workers on each crew) were needed for the install due to the complexities related to the flooring and other details, says Deutsch. ABC divides its logistics into tents/flooring and furniture, with separate crews sent for the specific components because of their specialized skills. 

“I wouldn’t send a tent installer to deliver a high-end bar, for example, because a bar is delicate and a tent installer is generally working with more rough work,” he explains. “This event featured both elements; therefore, one crew did the tent and flooring and the other crew delivered the furniture.”

The flooring and tenting were installed on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the furniture, cutlery, chargers and glassware arriving on Friday for a four-day setup. Teardown took one day and one crew.

What excited him most about this event? “The unique theme and the challenge of incorporating so many different elements, from a live camel to luxurious decor. The event turned out exceptionally well, particularly the atmosphere created by the Middle Eastern decor and live elements. I can’t think of anything I would have done differently.”

Ahoy matey

Although the venue provided the pole tent, Exclusive Events supplied all the swashbuckling details, such as this replica of a dock and pirate ship complete with barrels and rigging.

The theme: “Pirate’s Paradise” for a family-friendly corporate picnic called “Campout.” Designed by Exclusive Events Inc., a St. Louis, Mo.-based technical/creative production, fabrication, lighting and event design firm. The two-day event was held in central Missouri during the summer of 2021 at a campground resort and featured food, games and other activities. Approximately 2,000 people attended each day.

The tent: A 50-by-100-foot pole tent provided by the venue.

With the event taking place at multiple locations in the campground, Bryan Schulte, Exclusive Events’ creative director, says his team had to create five to six themed vignettes throughout the site. 

“Highlights were the photo ops, game areas, campfires and drink stations, but the main attraction was the mess hall tent,” he recalls. “We decided the structure of the pole tent created the perfect pirate ship.” 

Exclusive Events began its design by envisioning the poles as the ship’s masts, using canvas fabric for the sails, feeding natural hemp rope through the hems, and connecting these to the walls at select points.

“The flexibility of the rope in the hem created a curved end on each of the sails, making a very different look from that of traditional tent draping,” Schulte explains. “Then, at the base of each mast, we created wooden crow’s nests. These were finished with fake cannonballs, barrels, distressed sacks of flour and other large decor and dressing.”

Wooden ship rails with bollards and ropes flanked the archway to the tent’s entrance, while opposite was a structure fabricated to resemble the wooden walls and door of the “Captain’s Quarters.”

The 50-by-100-foot pole tent provided by the venue created the perfect pirate ship, with the poles serving as the ship’s masts. Exclusive Events used large canvas fabric for the sails, running hemp rope through the hemmed fabric and connecting them to the walls at varying points, a technique that gave them a curved look. Photos courtesy of Exclusive Events Inc.

Inside the tent were wooden buffet tables and two juice bars, built in Exclusive Events’ carpentry shop and given an aged, distressed look in the company’s paint shop (there is also an in-house scene shop and fabrics department). Liberal use of props and dressings—metal lanterns strung between the tent poles, pirate flags, rope ladders, realistic-looking parrots, metal compasses, maps, books and so on—placed throughout the tent and juice stations contributed to the pirate-themed atmosphere.

The venue presented several challenges, one being its remote location. A gravel road provided the only access to the campground, requiring large, box-style trucks to navigate this rural route that sometimes washed out. Additionally, once on-site, the event’s different areas often necessitated some creative thinking when it came to transporting heavy equipment.

The summer heat presented another concern, says Schulte, adding that only some people were able to work in shaded areas. As such, numerous cooling breaks were required. The tent’s placement by a body of water also became an issue.

“The bugs flew everywhere,” he says. “The water also created a lot of wind, so we had to think of ways to keep the photo ops and things from blowing away.”

Exclusive Events was tasked with carrying out the pirate theme at multiple locations at the resort campground where the corporate event was held. Shown here is one of several vignettes the company created throughout the site. Photo courtesy of Exclusive Events Inc.

The planning process took more than four months. Exclusive Events provided all the elements (excluding the tent) and was responsible for designing and building all the themed decor. Although the campsite had restrooms throughout, the company did bring in portable toilets for the campfire area.

There were eight crew members, including Schulte, involved in the main setup, which took a full day, plus the drive time. Once the main crew left, he and two others remained for a second day to bring other vendors (catering, event producers and rental companies that provided basic tables and chairs) into the spaces and designs. Teardown took the crew members six hours.

What excited him most about this event? “It was exciting because the client trusts us to conceptualize and realize the entire design from beginning to end. Drawing and sketching a pirate ship in a tent took some thinking outside of the box, and at the end of the day, the trust from the client makes the entire process rewarding.”

Rootin’ tootin’

Shown is one of three bars Oasis Events scattered throughout the event site. This one, running 8 meters long front and back, was located in the “Saloon Bar” area of the party, which was attended by 240 guests. Live performers danced on top of the bar, further ramping up the fun.

The theme: Wild West (“A Fistful of Dollar’s”) held April 2022 to celebrate a 50th birthday.  The event was designed by Oasis Events Ltd. Headquartered in the Cotswolds region of southwest England, the firm designs, plans, produces and manages bespoke events. The party ran from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. and the guests numbered 240.

The tent: A 15-by-30-meter clearspan encompassing the saloon and nightclub areas. There were three doors for fire exits and flooring throughout, manufactured by HTS TentIQ (which also made the tent’s legs and framework). Design elements included burgundy roof and wall lining for the saloon and blackout roof and wall linings for the nightclub. A 6-by-15-meter clearspan was installed for the catering, bar store and production area. The restrooms were covered by a 6-by-6-meter Chinese hat structure.

Seven weeks in the planning—a shorter-than-usual lead time, says Dany Fremantle, events director for Oasis—the celebration was held at a private farm, with tents set up in a field beside the farm and in a garden. Existing outbuildings were also incorporated into the event. 

Thrown to celebrate a 50th birthday, this Wild-West themed event was dubbed “A Fistful at Dollar’s,” (a play on the hostess’ nickname). Shown here is the “street” leading away from the farmyard and into the tent’s entrance. Oasis cladded the tent’s exterior with a variety of Western-style fronts. Photos courtesy of Oasis Events and photographer Ben Roberts (Blooming Photography).

“The client wanted lots of ‘happenings,’ surprises and entertainment to create a guest journey that was relaxed but with a high-quality vibe, with investment in anything to further this aim and no unnecessary spending,” Fremantle recalls. “So, for example, we used the barns to build the arrival drinks around, as rain cover in case it was wet, instead of hiring an additional stretch marquee for the garden, as suggested in our original proposal.”

This farmyard drinks party was held in the stable, which was decorated with troughs (where the drinks were placed), hay bales and small fires. Tequila shots were delivered from a horse lorry. A “street” leading away from this area was created by cladding the party marquee exterior in alignment with the theme. (“It felt like a film set, according to the guests,” says Fremantle.)

This street led to the entrance of the saloon bar, outfitted with a large deck, porch roof and bespoke swinging doors. There was also a raised “trading post area” with a bank, store, dynamite shop and so on. A long bar with scenic details and a full-height drape with party logo projection (designed to suggest a solid wall but one that could be opened to reveal an LED nightclub with raised DJ platform) were additional touches.

Guests to the Western-themed birthday party mingled under a 15-by-30-meter clearspan tent. A large deck, porch roof and bespoke swinging doors welcomed attendees into the “Saloon Bar.” Later in the evening, draperies were pulled back revealing an LED nightclub with raised DJ platform, dancers and other live acts.

Oasis provided/sourced every element, including the dancers, activities/games, three bands, a DJ, an actor posing as a sheriff who emceed the party—even the sawdust and hay bales. The company also hired and managed the other vendors, such as the production and design teams, casual labor, photography, catering and bar teams, security, prop hire, live acts and more. The build took nine days; teardown required three days.

What excited her most about this event? “The creativity made possible by the client’s desire to lean on the theming, the confidence in our delivery and the willingness to budget for things that would make a big difference to the look and the experience.” 

Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelance writer based in Seal Beach, Calif.

Tips for themed success

“Focus on preplanning, especially for themed events that require various elements to come together seamlessly. Coordination with other vendors is also crucial. And never underestimate the power of details—small thematic touches can significantly elevate the guest experience.” 
-Shlomo Deutsch, operations manager, ABC Fabulous Events Ltd.

“Have comprehensive logistics preplanned. Details such as site surveys, thorough production schedules and communication with other vendors allow a better understanding of roles and timing hurdles. It is imperative to success to have even the most minor details ironed out to avoid significant conflict.” 
-Bryan Schulte, creative director, Exclusive Events Inc.

“Work with a great designer who can really get behind the theme and the fun of the events to bring it to life. Small, fun elements really make the setting and the experience.” 
-Dany Fremantle, events director, Oasis Events Ltd.

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