Throwing a Story-Based Party

partyBack when my kids were little, my wife and I threw story-based parties for friends. The food and the decorations perfectly fit the period and we even invited our guests to come in costume based on the party’s storyline.

Our World War II party took place in what looked like a bunker. The Star Trek party appeared to be on another world with very colorful foods. And, our western party included a shootout with a cowboy stunt team – and yes, one guy was shot off of the roof.

This weekend my son is organizing a “room escape” party – the latest in entertainment events. Not only will it have a theme, but it will also be story-based. The goal of those “locked” in the room is to search and find clues, decipher the codes and follow them to the conclusion that reveals the key to get out.

All of the best parties that I’ve attended were story-based. Story events take a great deal of effort for the host to prepare, but everyone will remember the event for decades to come. I still bump into people who rave about my Christmas party from twenty-five years ago when Santa showed up with his real sleigh.

Here are the steps necessary to create a story-based party:

  1. Decide what story you want to tell. This is simply a way of determining the guest experience you want to create. The creation of a story or journey of sorts generates a form of movement within the party that keeps things alive and entertaining.
  2. Determine what the guests will do. By creating an plan, the guests will be physically and emotionally moved through a series of actions that generate surprise, awe and memorable ah-ha moments.
  3. Select where they will do it. The physical place or setting is always paramount to a good story. It sets the atmosphere and peaks the interest of all guests in attendance.
  4. Pick when the story will take place. The time period plays an important role in the setting. The period can be modern day, the future, or somewhere back in history. Creating designs that reflect the specific period you choose creates richness to the party that is not soon forgotten.
  5. Choose what the guests will say tomorrow. All story-based parties generate a buzz of conversation. Friends tell other friends all about their experience the day after the party. In fact, the better the party, the longer people talk about their experience. Therefore, determining the result or the emotional takeaway you’d like to instill in your guests is critical to the party’s follow up conversations.

After you’ve made a list of the above items, you can organize the event in an order that works best for the story. The flow of activities is essential for creating a seamless environment that engulfs your guests in a great experience.

By thinking through all aspects of the event and scripting out the throughline or the flow of the story, you can create a party worthy of a theme park. Then make a list of all the details that are significant to the storyline. I like to use a visual board that I can attach magazine clips, photos and note cards.

The next step is easy. Look through all the brainstorming work you’ve collected and pull it all together. I’ve always found that the visual collection of the ideas seems to always imply an obvious storyline that will flow naturally and be a great success.

I threw a Mother’s Day party that was a nostalgic look at the 1940’s during the summer. It included an award winning barbershop quartet, dancers recreating the charm of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and a delightful meal common for the period. There was also a lot of beautiful lace table clothes and freshly cut flowers throughout the room.

Story-based parties are significantly more spectacular than store bought themes. They have a movement and richness that can’t be purchased in a box. It requires the host to be creative and think carefully about how to entertain each guest. It might even be the ultimate in hospitality because of the tremendous care taken on behalf of the guests.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers


When I met Prince

PrinceYesterday, when I heard about Prince having passed away, I reflected back on the day we met. It was at a party in La Crosse, WI. He came down from Minneapolis with a couple of his buddies to have the “college experience.” La Crosse was a college town with three universities and a mile long strip of bars.

Drinking started on Tuesdays with 99¢ beers. Wednesday nights were ladies nights. Thursdays were weekend pre-parties. And, Friday and Saturday were full blown party nights. Since Old Style Brewery was in town with the largest six-pack in the world (32,000 gallons per can), all bars served the same beer.

But on this night, there was a dorm party at Coate Hall at the University of Wisconsin. I had recently come off of a film shoot for CBS. I was hired as a cinematographer to shoot all location footage for a documentary titled The Chileda Institute. I was reviewing my up coming production schedule for The Wisconsin Television Network when a group of guys barged into my room.

The student had brought his new “friends” in to introduce me to Prince. He said we had to meet since we were both in entertainment. But, before the guy finished his introduction, the self-proclaimed head of Prince’s entourage introduced Prince as an up coming star that was putting an album together (For You) and it was destined to be a hit.

Prince was embarrassed by the over the top introduction. We shook hands, sat down and chatted. The other guys took off to find some “babes” to build excitement into the party.

It didn’t take long for our conversation to focus on art. Prince was a true artist and not much into the party scene in those days. Neither one of us had a drink in our hands, but we probably had more fun talking about art than anyone else did chugging the brew. A spontaneous conversation about art is far more appealing for artists than the overture any brew can make towards fun.

Our conversation was interrupted when his entourage returned with lots of women. One woman shoved a beer into his hand and pulled him toward the door. He told me that I should be a part of the music circuit during my production down time and he’d help make it happen. Then he disappeared into the crowd of women and that was the last time we’d meet.

Prince was true to his word. During that next week I received a call from the new venue in town and by the weekend I was a concert roadie. My tenure in the music industry was short lived, as I worked six days a week in television. But I did have the opportunity to work the John Denver World Tour and the Beach Boys Tour.

The experience opened my eyes to an entire world that I didn’t know existed. Some day I’ll take the time to share about it, but for now I’ll just say, “Thanks Prince, for our great chat and my intro into the music industry.”

Copyright 2016 by CJ Powers