What Possibly Could Go Wrong?
Typically when one enters a ballroom for a fundraising event everything appears to be in perfect order. Lovely music creates a festive mood. Stunning centerpieces - designed with thought of theme - establish a tone of elegance and propriety. Obligatory table-favors – great treasures at best and curiosity throwaways at worse – await each place setting. Dutiful banquet servers stand at attention ready to go. There is an awareness of calm, a sense of organization, and a feeling of order with no hint of the heart-in-throat mayhem that took place in the stunning chamber just a few minutes before.
For those of us who have gone through a year of planning for one of these extravaganzas please offer forgiveness if we display just a little pride in having endured the gala trenches without having a complete nervous breakdown. Our smugness is due to having survived unplanned fixable hiccups and uncontrollable disasters. We are tour de forces armed with experience, knowledge and advice – so we think – until the next time.
My own experiences over the years as an event planner for luncheons and galas have earned me many “congratulations you made it through another one” kudos. Imagine my surprise when shortly before a well-coiffed group of VIP guests were due to arrive for an annual fundraising luncheon to find that the silent auction tables in our reception area had been moved and now were occupied by dental displays including false teeth, by a gathering of dentists in the small ballroom across the foyer from our ballroom. By the time the first luncheon guest signed in at registration the false teeth and the dentists had vanished.
Lisa Karr, a seasoned event planner, knows all too well about unexpected surprises before an event takes place. “We contracted with a florist to design special theme centerpieces for a large gala,” said Karr. “I arrived early for set up when my partner came running out of the ballroom promising that it’s not as bad as it looks – only her face wasn’t conveying that as I walked in to find centerpieces that looked like a five-year-old child had designed them. An SOS went out to another florist to send over whatever flowers were available with only an hour to spare. When all was said and done, the unknowing guests raved about the stunning tables.”
Then there are those situations when no matter what you try to do to fix a problem, there just isn’t enough time. Like when Patty Newman, who has been actively involved behind the scene of fund-raisers for years in the desert, arrived before an event where she was to be feted as the Rancho Mirage Citizen of the Year by the Chamber, to find out too late that bad weather had forced an outside party to be moved inside cutting down the sitting space for her event. “The tables were over crowed,” said Newman, “but worst of all, the move was done without any concern about the table numbers that had been carefully placed by the event committee. It was very embarrassing.”
The crème de le crème of party planning woes happened to Palm Springs Women in Film and Television board member and co-chair of the Broken Glass Awards, Elaine Church, during a red carpet/black-tie event honoring high-profile well-known women in the entertainment industry and philanthropy. The venue was filled with luminaries expecting to see a good production.
“Everything was dazzlingly that evening,” said Church. “I was over the moon with our efforts to create such a professional, elegant event. The evening was going smoothly until it was time for the awards presentation. Local celebrity, the late Gloria Greer, was to receive the Desert Diva Award introduced by her friend, actress Ruta Lee. It was during this introduction when we realized that our beautiful glass awards were missing. The panic behind the scenes was off the chart. The breathless, spinning on spot, with lips pressed to cell phones gala committee went into full gear to finally find the awards in an office. We fell to our knees, ripped open the boxes with our bare hands – and like a relay team - the awards were discretely pass to the stage just in time. My hair was disheveled, and darn it all, there was a run in my stockings; however, in spite of it all, the show went on as scheduled. Most guests did not know what happened.”
There are a million more similar stories to be told about the unpredictable world of event planning and perhaps Lisa Karr sums it up best, “when these things happen, most of us who are pros and used to glitches, just take care of business, not thinking anything of it.”