Whether it’s a gala, a fundraiser, a festival or some other special event, guests show up and experience the magic – a venue transformed, delicious eats, fabulous entertainment. What they don’t see are the countless hours of strategizing, budgeting, creative development, logistical planning, talent sourcing, booking negotiations, marketing, and more that go into bringing an event to life.
Here’s our annual look at how six events pulled off their successful 2018 occasions along with the creative ideas and suppliers who helped them:
A Madcap Circus
Theme: Artists interpreted this year’s Carousel theme into all kinds of zany carnivalesque, Instagrammable moments. Wild, interactive installations and fun, boozy noshing defined the gallery’s pre-party “Big-top” vibe. Guests entered the fairground attraction via a giant clown mouth exhaling a bubble gum haze. Inside, a ringmaster egged on exploration of novel funfair rides and games. Stilt-walkers, belly dancers and other carnival talent roamed the crowds. The after-party spilled out to an outdoor stage.
Vendors of Note: Bompas & Parr, London-based multi-sensory artists, produced the pre-party spectacle. Ink & Water offered free tattoos. Among the fairway games, CXBO Chocolates invited guests to knock gorgeous chocolate eggs off a wall with baseballs. Edible Balloons Group served candy balloons. Guests also enjoyed delish eats from DaiLo, an oyster tower from RAW Catering, prosecco from FIOL, curated cocktails from Spirit of York and classic carnival treats from Kungfu Dawg. DJ Willa curated the evening’s music vibe with additional performances by Sophie Jones, Prince Innocence and Tona.
Nailed It!: Bompas & Parr’s pre-party dunk-tanked guests into an immersive, taste-centric experience. The duo re-imagined classic funfair rides and games using fantastical décor, props and powerful taste components to exoticize guest participation. Unique installations included: glow-in-the-dark jelly desserts in a black-light room (a Bompas & Parr signature), a slide from the second-floor balcony after downing a Spirit of York shooter, a hot-dog eating competition, a cross-bow stall where guests fired arrows at fruit and vegetables activating a “puff” of McCormick Spices, and an ice sculpture where guests chiseled off their own ice to chill Seedlip mocktails.
Enlightenment: Typically, event activations are kept underwraps until arrival. This year, pre-event teasers proved successful in sparking curiosity and heightening guests’ excitement.
Insight: “Keeping art top-of-mind is integral throughout the event. Our planning always starts with the artists’ projects. Their creative narrations influence everything, from the food and drinks to the entertainment and brands. We encourage our partners/sponsers to participate with activations that speak to the art installation they share a space with; to truly become part of the event’s fabric. It’s an opportunity to think out-of-the box and get creative, while simultaneously reinforcing a commitment to the arts. This is what sets us apart from other events, and is key to our ongoing success.” Emilia Ziemba, Donor Programs & Major Events Manager, The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery
Event: Held Nov. 14, 2018 at the Fort York Amoury, Imagine the Magic Gala, a biennial fundraiser for Camp Oochigeas attracted over 800 guests and raised close to $1.2-million net to help provide kids affected by childhood cancer with the chance to just be kids through Camp Ooch programming.
Theme: A cocktail reception, gourmet sit-down dinner and live auction, all staged amid beautiful camp-inspired décor that brings Ooch Muskoka, the organization’s overnight camp, to the city. Artful paddles decorated the cocktail area. The bar was a nod to the camp’s Medshed. String lights and a veritable forest of two-dimensional trees, gobo projections of leaves and stars filled the dining and staging area. Campfire centrepieces – battery-operated flames surrounded by a driftwood garland — topped every table creating a warm, welcoming glow. The band’s sing-along with actual campers on stage drew huge applause.
Vendors of Note: Gala producer McNabb Roick Events oversaw décor including the unique centrepieces. Icon designed the tree cut outs and marketing collateral. Marcom Group created beautiful wooden signage. Westbury National Show Systems lit the venue and supplied oversized video screens that shared campers’ inspiring stories and helped bring the camp to attendees. Slaight Music sponsored country recording artist Ryan Langdon.
Nailed It!: The event aligns with another important Camp Ooch fundraiser, the Paddle Project, which invites artists, celebrities and other prominent Canadians to use a canoe paddle as an art “canvas.” The eclectic “paddle art” is auctioned off both online and at the gala.
Enlightenment: The venue had a dramatic ceiling, but no rigging so string lights and gobo projections were used to recreate the outdoors inside.
Planning Insight: “The most basic premise of event planning is that success is in the details, and there is no more important detail than the venue. Venues influence your design and determination of the event’s flow, however, floor plans and CAD drawings don’t always reflect minor adjustments and renovations. Ensure your plans measure up accurately to the actual bricks and mortar space.” Jeffry Roick, Director, McNabb Roick Events
Theme: Borrowing from block-party traditions, and leveraging the carnival action happening simultaneously at The Ex, its neighbour, the free all-day event perfectly showcased the purpose and design of the unique public space “under the Gardiner.” An ever-changing roster of all-ages entertainment fueled the noon-to-10 p.m. event. Roaming activities, like a parade led by designer Rob Shostak and the Fort York guard, and a scavenger hunt encouraged end-to-end exploration of the area. A giant glittery gold giraffe piñata, a huge Instagram hit, was a clever alternative to a formal ribbon cutting – one pull at the height of the activities released candies for all!
Vendors of Note: Street-dance collective Funky Facilitators led public workshops prior to staging impressive dance battles. Hand Eye Society hosted a games area with giant pick-up sticks, chalk drawing and a foam sword battle. Designer Rob Shostak created iconic costumes depicting The Bentway for a choreographed “human” parade cum selfie-photo station. Gensler, an architect of the urban space, designed the giraffe piñata. Local musicians inaugurated the Strachan Gate amphitheatre, including the Monowhales and The Darcys.
Nailed It!: A careful curation of activities, entertainment and interactive installations created a welcoming environment and encouraged hands-on participation for all age groups. Fun, participatory activities attracted families during the day while the older evening crowd enjoyed musical performances.
Enlightenment: As an outdoor event, the weather was a challenge. Being underneath the Gardiner provided protection from the rain, but it was a valuable exercise in learning to set staging within the sheltered areas.
Planning Insight: “The Bentway was designed with flexibility in mind, from multiple lounge and staging areas to mobile furniture and ample rigging points. The new Strachan area is an ideal space to host a variety of events, performances and activations.” Ilana Altman, Director of Programming, The Bentway
TIFF Layers On The Glitz
Event: This year’s Toronto International Film Festival’s festivities included the TIFF Tribute Gala honouring women in film, with 600 guests raising over $1-million for Share Her Journey campaign. Held Sept. 7, 2018 at the Fairmont Royal York, the event was also a tribute to Piers Handling, TIFF’s outgoing CEO.
Theme: Celebrating women in the film industry while also showcasing highlights of Handling’s festival legacy prompted an overarching “female empowerment” tone with a masculine touch woven in to honour the outgoing CEO. Plush décor, curated entertainment and 120 feet of screen space filled with content and imagery brought TIFF’s brand and the theme to life. The show was built in segments, each one with a unique look and feel with different screen content and corresponding entertainment/speeches.
Vendors of Note: The event was produced by e=mc2 events. Draping from Curtain Call transformed the ballroom and foyer area, concealing the screens and stage for constant reveals. Kelly Brothers was in charge of content, integrating branding, images and videos with live entertainment to narrate the night’s stories. The multiple screens, specialty lighting and surround sound were from Bespoke AV and FM Systems. Fuze Entertainment Solutions and screen composer Steph Copeland worked with the e=mc2 events team on the entertainment, which included a hand-picked 20-person all-female orchestra, 35 dancers from Jades Hip Hop Academy and two principal dancers, along with vocalists Sarah Slean, Stacey Kay, Jeff Madden and The Tenors.
Nailed It!: The show’s opener. No screen or stage was visible as guests sat down for dinner. Suddenly, the room went dark; spotlights flashed on three female musicians atop three of the dining tables. Then, as if appearing out of thin air, a singer was in the room along with 35 colourfully costumed dancers. A kabuki dropped, revealing the large stage and the all-female orchestra led by Copeland. The next two kabukis fell, unveiling screens that enveloped the audience with content from TIFF films, highlights and iconic dance scenes from the movie La La Land, as the dancers simultaneously filled the room with their incredible energy.
Enlightenment: In a time in the film industry where the #MeToo movement has a strong voice, it was tricky to balance the event’s messaging of honouring a powerful and well-deserving male with the message of raising money to help empower women in the film industry.
Planning Insight: “Don’t be afraid to take bold risks, engage new partners, put them all in a room together, shake them up, try something new and trust yourself along the way.” Jocelyn Flanagan, President & CEO, e=mc2 events
A Culinary Showstopper
Theme: As one of the city’s first food events, Toronto Taste is a highly anticipated culinary showcase presenting the city’s most respected chefs and beverage purveyors. The entertainment and décor conveyed the event’s casual elegance and leveraged the lakeside location. Aqua blue hues and a summer sunset added to the ambience of the outdoor setting and stunning glass atrium interior. Floral arrangements donated by local florists accented chef stations and lounge areas, and lively music filled the event spaces. A recipe book filled with must-try dishes submitted by participating restaurants is a coveted annual takeaway gift.
Vendors of Note: Corus Quay was a spectacular venue with its production-staff volunteers ensuring the event’s Chef Challenge and live auction were broadcast-quality. Décor & More provided furnishings, Evolved Entertainment supplied the music and The Butler Did It helped staff the event. Quest AV looked after the audio-visual equipment and installation, while Varsity Tent & Event Rentals provided tenting.
Nailed It!: The participation of over 70 top restaurants and chefs and 30 beverage purveyors ensures the incredible culinary value of this important fundraiser. Three auctions – a wine auction with beautiful vintages, a large silent auction and an energetic live one – helped boost dollars raised. An army of over 400 volunteers makes the event happen!
Enlightenment: Attendee feedback highlighted a request for more activities – most likely to give little breaks between stations to digest! Planning for the 2019 event, which is moving to the Evergreen Brick Works, will include an experiential theme with additional activities.
Planning Insight: “Never lose sight of an event’s cause – the outcome of funds raised – by ensuring guests walk away more knowledgeable about what their giving will do and that they feel good that their contribution is making a difference. We’re always grateful for our sponsors and participants, but also celebrate the staff and volunteer effort that is crucial to making everything a success.” Jennifer Verschraegen, Vice-president of Philanthropy, Second Harvest
Party In The Stacks
Event: The 6th annual Hush Hush event Oct. 20, 2018 at the Bloor/Gladstone Library was a sell-out with 450 guests raising over $77,000 for the Toronto Public Library Foundation’s digital initiatives, including free access to technology, skills training and cutting-edge programs.
Theme: A “Dewey Decimal to Digital” theme translated into a fusion of aesthetic nostalgia and advanced technology set against the Bloor/Gladstone Library’s classical architecture. Design inspiration came from retro writing, neon signage, 3D printing and modern circuit boards. Unique activations took guests on a then-and-now interactive digital journey, including a station where they could select vinyl records for the DJ to spin, a virtual reality area, a place to sign up/renew your library card, and an immersive VJ experience. Along with a candy bar from Squish Candies and catered eats, Canadian foodie, author, and media personality Lauren Toyota served gourmet vegan comfort food from her recent cookbook. Amsterdam Brewery created a custom “library” brew, Periodical Pale Ale, which also sold for a limited time in its brew pubs where $1 from every pint was donated to TPL.
Vendors of Note: Bare Brand brought the theme to life through graphic design with Jackie-O conceptualizing and implementing the décor. So Pro Studios created an amazing set and backdrop for their cutting-edge 3D GIF photo station, and Array of Stars developed an interactive, immersive experience. Caterers included the Food Dudes, Thoroughbred, 10tation and Nadège Patisserie. ESP Inc. pulled details together to ensure the event ran smoothly, including securing in-kind sponsorships.
Nailed It!: Array of Stars’ interactive VJ musical performance spotlighting the synth beats of DJ Barbi. Melding together design, technology and storytelling, the creative agency immersed guests into the ultimate photo-friendly music-meets-art experience.
Enlightenment: To stretch a limited budget, the planning team reached out to an electronic waste company for a donation of old electronics. They also worked with students in Seneca College’s event management program to assist with décor and on-site installation.
Planning Insight: “There are so many parties and great causes to support, so it’s crucial to connect guests to the cause and demonstrate how their support makes a difference. We don’t like to interrupt the buzz for speaking remarks so we find subtle ways to relay our message. This included having the library’s Digital Innovation Team run interactive experiences such as virtual reality using TPL technology so guests could experience first-hand some of the equipment library users can access – for free!” Kirsten Melville-Gray, Event Specialist, Toronto Public Library Foundation