Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Why Performers Perform

Loosely interpreting the pioneering work of Turner (1988) and later of Schechner (2002), performance in complex societies is a three-phase process consisting of a rehearsal period (proto-performance, from Schechner), a performance period, and a cooling-down or post-performance period (aftermath, from Schechner). These periods form the core of performers’ existences, and although they move occasionally outside the phases, they inhabit them most of the time if performing is their chosen profession. It is a lonely place to be, especially during the rehearsal period, a place where the only feedback may be a mirror, a director’s or choreographer’s comments, the playing back of a taped song, or a spouse’s friendly encouragement. Validation comes with group rehearsals and eventually from a real audience. Why, then, would anyone choose such an existence? There are several reasons.

·      To enter flow. Czikszentmihalyi (1974), and later Turner (1988) are credited with bringing the term flow into the lexicon of psychology. Flow refers to “an interior state which can be described as the merging of action and awareness, the holistic sensation present when we act with total involvement, a state in which action follows action according to an internal logic, with no apparent need for conscious intervention on our part.” Most performers at some point in their careers will experience this. If they are highly trained, it will undoubtedly occur on a regular basis. For the performer, it is a very desirable mental state, somewhat metaphysical and even transcendental. For them, it is a feeling of wanting to remain “in the moment.” It happens particularly with group performances and only when members are completely “in synch” and performing together, each “sensing” what the others are doing as if they were a single, totally blended unit. It does not happen for every performance and it does not necessarily happen for an entire performance. When it does, however, it is magical for the performer.

·      To connect with the audience. Connecting with an audience is the ultimate validation for their existence that performers seek. It means that first, the audience has indeed “received the message,” and second, the art form and method of delivery are appreciated. Most of the time, this will be either sensed by or obvious to, the performers (e.g. through the audience’s rapt attention or applause/laughter at appropriate times). Of course, negative connection is also possible and if it is obvious to them, the performer must make immediate changes to try to re-establish a positive connection.

·      To receive recognition. What better job satisfaction can there be than the instantaneous gratification obtained by sustained applause or a standing ovation? For performers, this beats the endless pushing of paper in an office, the constant struggle to climb the corporate ladder, and the frustrations of company personality clashes. The occasional accolade letter or annual corporate personnel reviews do not come close to the ecstatic screams of an adoring audience. Why else would the Rolling Stones still be performing after 40 years? They certainly do not need the money!

·      To receive remuneration. Unfortunately, performers have to live and, unlike the Rolling Stones, most of those who work in special events are not highly paid, contrary to the opinion of some uninformed clients and the general public. While the psychology of performing may be their main reason for choosing this career path, they do need to be compensated for doing it.

  • Schechner, Richard. (2002). Performance Studies: An Introduction. London: Routledge.
  • Turner, Victor. (1988). The Anthropology of Performance. New York: PAJ Publications.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Annual Venetian Masked Ball: Il Ballo del Doge

Thanks go to my industry colleague, Sharon Bonner, of Bright Ideas Events here in Vancouver for this post. Sharon has landed a deal to promote Canadian attendance at the 2013 edition of the Il Ballo del Doge. I took a look at her web site and the video below of last year's event and realized the outstanding creativity and thought that went into it. I felt it would be a great idea to share it with readers as it is truly a magnificent event, so here it is, described below. For more information about attendance, go to the Bright Ideas web site at

A palace lit by the flames of a thousand candles. A visual feast of performers and décor. A stunning parade of culinary masterpieces, assembled with a historic palette. And amidst it all, masked guests adorned in sumptuous costumes, playing their own part in an extravagant illusion, conjuring history, and bringing magic to a modern age.
This is the unforgettable real-life experience of Il Ballo del Doge. One of the most renowned events of the annual Carnival of Venice in Italy, Il Ballo del Doge is a masked ball without equal. The brainchild of Italian designer/producer Antonia Sautter, Il Ballo del Doge is held every year in the opulent Palazzo Pisani Moretta – a perfect setting for this amazing evening. This year’s event is called It’s All About Amore – with Eros, Romance, and Passion each taking over a floor of the famed Venetian palace.
Created to entertain and delight the most discerning of guests, Il Ballo del Doge even surpasses the lofty expectations of those accustomed to a world of beauty and luxury. No surprise that it’s a favorite stop on the social calendar for members of the global A-list and Vanity Fair called it “the most sumptuous, refined and exclusive ball in the world.”
Whether you are looking for an unforgettable way to celebrate the masquerade tradition of the Carnival of Venice, seeking a chance to anonymously rub shoulders with the rich and famous, or simply want to experience one of the world’s most memorable parties, the 2013 Il Ballo del Doge should be on your bucket list.
What better way to experience the unforgettable Il Ballo del Doge than by opening and closing the Venetian carnival with one of Antonia Sautter’s signature events? This year it’s finally possible. For 2012, Sautter has expanded her vision even further, bringing back her showcase 'best of' event for a second year with Frames of a Dream, to be held Saturday, February 2, 2013, at the start of the festival, and providing a suite of event packages for discerning travellers wishing to a enjoy a complete Carnival of Venice experience. As the exclusive Canadian representative for Il Ballo del Doge, Bright Ideas Events can arrange for your tickets to this truly unforgettable experience.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Five Predictions: What’s Next in Event Management Technology and What It Means

It appears that our fast-changing event world is increasingly dependent on technology, particularly mobile technology. Not a specialist in that area, I am calling on a guest for this week's post. He is Justin Ungerboeck, the Product Marketing Manager at Ungerboeck Software International. In this post, he takes a look at the future.

In an industry that evolves as quickly as event management technology, figuring out what comes next can be nearly impossible. However, there are some trends rising that could indicate some big changes for developers, organizers, and venues alike. Here are some of the “next big things” on the horizon for our industry, and what they could mean.

#1: Free or Low-Cost Apps

As more people come to expect mobile apps as part of an event, organizers will need a way to provide this perk without busting their budget. In-app advertising will offer a way to offset the costs of an application, and ever-decreasing lead times for development will also contribute this price drop.

#2: HTML5

StrategyAnalytics predicts that sales of HTML5-compatible smartphones will grow to 1 billion in 2013, up from just 336 million in 2011. This language will become the standard for event management applications because it allows for easier compatibility between devices. 

#3: DIY Mobile Event Apps

Mobile apps have traditionally been the realm of larger, established organizations, since the cost was simply too high for smaller players to get involved. DIY mobile event apps will provide an affordable alternative for those with smaller budgets. However, these apps will be limited in their uses and designs, leaving space for custom and semi-custom apps to remain. A parallel can be drawn between this and website development: Standard templates can be used to create a cheap and easy website. You simply fill in the blanks with your information and upload it. However, this template may not accommodate all your needs and also may not reflect the company perfectly. A custom website is more expensive, but it also provides flexibility and a better representation of your brand. In the same way, DIY apps will offer a fast and cheap solution, but custom and semi-custom ones are here to stay. 

#4: Multi-Platform Integration

Right now there is a heavy focus on smart phones, but development is moving more into tablets and desktops, as well as toward the integration of these three platforms. As hardware progresses and these devices become more powerful, they will become mobile equivalents of the laptop/desktop software, offering everything that the main system can do in a more portable package. All information will be available and synced instantly between devices. 

#5: Social Media

The role of social media will increase in mobile apps and be integrated into the software itself. This will allow attendees, organizers, sponsors, and other involved parties to network and communicate better, and lend a more community-like feel to the event.

These are just five of the possible developments that could occur in event management software over the next few years. Whether these changes actually come to pass is anyone’s guess, but in any case, it’s plain to see that mobile event management software, and the people who use it, are in for a major transformation.

Friday, 26 October 2012

A Last Look at Reasons for Entertainment

Creating Ambience

Particularly in theme events, establishing the right ambience for the event is one of the first considerations producers have. The ambience can be so much more than static décor or lighting, even if the lighting is automated. Adding other sensory input in the form of live entertainment helps to set a “living” mood. This can be done for any number of reasons, such as providing an atmosphere for easy discussion, for conducting business, or for relaxing. The proper choice of music can accomplish this with perhaps a jazz trio that enables unstrained conversation. As a side note, the importance of establishing and maintaining this relatively “quiet” ambience should not be passed over lightly. At far too many special events, the background noise level is excessively high, caused by poor room acoustics but exacerbated by music that is supposed to be background but is too loud. Producers tend to believe that volume equates to having a good time which in turn equates to a successful event and they could not be farther from the truth. In the majority of corporate events, guests attend because they want to dialogue with long-lost colleagues, and in many such events, to consummate business deals. This cannot be done if talking is uncomfortable. At the other extreme, atmosphere can be high energy. For example, a group of “paparazzi” greeting guests at the event entrance sets a lively ambience (Figure 1). One prime example from my own experience was adding to a beach party ambience by having a surf band enter the party in an authentic “Woodie” complete with honking horn, surfboards, and girls in bikinis.

Figure 1: Example of “Paparazzi” Greeters Helping to Set Ambience (Courtesy Alan Gough,, and Pacific Show Productions, – Copyright 2006)

Rewarding Performance and for Image Purposes      

Frequently, producers are called upon by clients to “just give me something really good”. This would seem to yield the conclusion that not all entertainment needs to have a deep reason. Realistically, there usually is one if the event producer or client is asked the right questions. For example, an incentive client may make just that statement, although the real reason for the entertainment is as a “reward” for top sales people (i.e. meaning motivational content). Likewise, a client may not state a reason but in reality wants to impress his or her clients by providing great entertainment. If budget presents a problem, producers may have to find performers or perhaps a single act, who can deliver an “all-round package” at a reasonable price. Such performers tend to exhibit three key characteristics. First, they are absolutely perfect at their craft (entertainment form) whether it is music, comedy, dance, athletics, or any combination. Second, they incorporate a component of comedy into their act and make it seem natural and spontaneous, not forced. Typically, though, it has been rehearsed, proven, and refined over the course of time. Third, they incorporate a component of audience participation into their act, again making it seem unrehearsed and spontaneous, and again it will have been proven to work over the course of dozens or hundreds of performances. Such acts, in my experience, regularly receive standing ovations and make producers and clients alike look good.

Celebrity performers can also be ideal as “rewards” or as image enhancers. Dianne McGarey, a producer with considerable experience in this area states, “Of all the things I do on a regular basis, celebrity events are my favorites. Over the span of 23 years, I have produced Smoky Robinson, Natalie Cole, Jim Belushi, The Four Tops, The Temptations, The Steve Miller Band, The Doobie Brothers, and Kenny Loggins . . . to name just a few. In almost every case, the client who chose these acts did so for the express purpose of creating a company image. They wanted to impress as well as entertain those in attendance whether they were employees, their own key clients, or potential customers.” For clients with good budgets, this is undeniably the best way to gain prestige. Figure 2 shows a celebrity (Jim Belushi) at a private corporate special event.

Figure 2: Celebrity Headliner at a Private Corporate Special Event (Courtesy Axtell Productions International, )

That's it for the reasons for entertainment. In future posts, I'll look at different types of entertainment and how to work with performers.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Another Set of Reasons for Using Entertainment in Special Events


A novel and frequent use of entertainment in events is as decoration. The performer(s) take on the persona of decorations that can be either stationary or moving, interactive or inactive. Costumed living statues, interactive entertainers (e.g. stilt walkers, mimes, dancers, and others in themed costumes who move amongst guests anywhere but on a stage), and look-alikes are typical of decorative entertainment. Figures 1 and 2 are representative of extremely novel interactive, but decorative, performers.

My company produced many events using this form of entertainment. At some, we placed dancers in spotlighted statuesque poses amongst tables as guests entered an event space. Once all were seated, the dancers then gradually came out of their poses and began an introductory dance routine. At another beach party event, we actually hired bodybuilders to pose and lift weights as if on “Muscle Beach.”

Figure 1: Example of Dancers as Decoration (Photo by Photo Tech, courtesy of Event Solutions)

Figure 2: Example of a Performer as Decoration (Courtesy Designs by Sean,

Announcing, Introducing, or Advertising

For this use, performers may announce, introduce, and advertise people, products, services, and activities. These reasons are lumped together because the concept for each is similar. Some examples best illustrate this concept:

  • Celebrities as masters of ceremonies
  • Herald trumpets to sound a call to dinner, to introduce another segment in an event, or to draw attention to a speaker (Figure 3)
  • A personalized video greeting from a celebrity or from an automated talking head as part of a product introduction
  • Strolling “robots” used at a trade show to draw attention to a particular booth or product
  • A magical “reveal” created by a magician for introducing a product or person
  • Fireworks at midnight used to “introduce” the New Year.

Perhaps the best results occur when producers get creative with “off-the-wall” concepts. Here are some examples from my own personal experience. 
  • We once introduced a new Vancouver to Boston airline service by photographing a Paul Revere character riding a horse in front of a taxiing 747 while holding a huge banner announcing the service.
  • One of our clients (a gas company) made the front page of the local newspaper when we dressed up two actors as a new baby and Father Time and had them lighting a giant 15ft tall gas torch like an Olympic flame (it was an Olympic year), just before New Year’s.
  • For the introduction of a version of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator computer program near Christmas one year, we provided about a dozen Santa Clauses all playing the game at a bank of computers, an advertising gimmick that successfully drew a lot of attention and garnered press coverage.
  • A new dollar coin was introduced using an 18ft diameter flying helium “space ship” inside a convention center ballroom that made a surprise entry flying over the heads of assembled guests and dropping a giant replica of the coin onstage to a VIP speaker who proceeded to make a speech about the occasion.

Figure 3: Example of Trumpets and Horns Used to Announce or Introduce (Courtesy Calgary Exhibition and Stampede,

I'll cover the last reasons for entertainment in the next post.