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TIME TRAVEL DONE DIRT CHEAP: How to Throw a World-Class Theme Party, Pt. 3/3 – Green Dragon
Jul 242012

Welcome to the thrilling conclusion of  How to Throw a World-Class Theme Party! Today, I’ll wrap up the elements of a great party, and touch on how to prepare for some party pitfalls.

Parts 1 and 2 are here and here. I produce events and fundraisers professionally as well as for fun; you can check out my business site at

When last we saw our Heroic Hosts, we were in the middle of Killer Theme Party Principles. So, to continue…

KTPP 3: A Good Party is made of FADDLMAC (continued). That rhymes with “Saddleback”, and it stands for Food And Drink, Decorations, Lighting, Music, Activities and Costuming: the ingredients of a successful theme party. We covered Food And Drink, Decorations and Lighting last time—here are the rest!

  • Music. Nothing sets a mood as quickly as music. Speaking as the husband of a truly mind-bogglingly eclectic DJ, I can tell you that there are hours of perfect music for any theme you can imagine. Start out with relatively mellow, welcoming music that establishes the theme’s atmosphere or time period. Make sure conversation is possible—guests will be driven away by a loud wall of sound. Over the course of the party, transition into music with a beat, so there is a feeling of energy. If—as I recommend in most cases—you intend to have dancing, lead the way by hitting the floor first. It’s contagious.
  • Activities. Conversation, eating and drinking usually aren’t enough to make a party, particularly when you’re asking people to go to the effort to costume themselves. Our parties almost always have dancing, and often also have costume and character contests which present awards (either judged or by audience acclaim) for best male and female costumes, best theme-appropriate character, etc. Having characters tell their stories as they vie for the prize can be hilarious. If you’re doing a historical period theme, you can teach people how to do a period appropriate dance, as well.

For some parties, we include a performance showcase or floor show. These are great! They can be largely open-mike in format, but if there is a particular flavor you want in the performances, don’t just let anyone get up and perform, or you will inevitably end up suffering through quavering renditions of Grateful Dead songs at your medieval party. Arrange for some acts in advance, and have your MC hold the line on maintaining the spirit of your theme.

  • Costuming. Lead by example. What you wear makes a big difference, especially if you plan to do more theme parties going forward. It doesn’t have to be expensive; often, you can assemble fantastic outfits with thrift store and online auction scores. Don’t forget accessories; props can really tie together an ensemble. If you decide to keep doing these kinds of parties, over time you’ll find you accumulate a good collection of pieces for all kinds of eras and genres, which means that costuming gets easier over time.

When you plan your outfit, think of a character (don’t just think of yourself as “dressing Fifties”, for example). What is this person like? If you care to go so far, choose a name for the person you are being at your theme party, and play the role. Be sure to break character to engage your guests as friends now and again—it’s a party, not a theater exercise.

KTTP 4. Celebrate success! Costume parties make for great pictures. Be sure to document your incredible setting, guests’ costumes and stage performances, etc., and post those pictures where your guests can see them. You’ve gone to all the trouble to create a unique environment. Make sure you capture the memories…and let those who missed it on your guest list know how much they should try to make the next one.


And, finally, saving the bummer for last, the final Killer Theme Party Principle is:

KTPP 5.      Plan for the Worst. The smoothest events are ready for something to go wrong, so be prepared. Here are the top culprits:

  • Weather. Expect unexpected weather. We held an outdoor event on the same weekend for two consecutive years and had a thirty-degree temperature differential. What happens if it rains, and the patio you thought would be overflow from the house is no longer attractive? Do you need access to propane heaters, or to rig a shade structure?

If you plan, you can pull off surprising accomplishments. We did a tiki party in bikinis and grass skirts with sleet falling outside. We’d cranked the heat to 80 degrees and had sun-bright lighting going in the party space, so when people arrived, they stripped off their parkas, and there they were: Volcano Island.

  • Alcohol. Most parties in our culture serve alcohol. If you choose to do so, there are some considerations:
    • Minors. Having minors at a party with a self-serve bar is a problem socially and legally. If you’re having people under 21 at your party, have someone tending bar, and make sure they have a way of knowing who doesn’t get served. Don’t allow minors to attend if a parent isn’t there as well. If you catch a minor drinking, boot their parents, too.
    • The Law. There is a huge legal difference between a private, invitation-only party, and a public and/or ticketed event. Be sure to find out if you need a permit…and if you do, get one.
    • Excess. Some people just don’t know how much is too much of a good thing. You have to keep an eye on your guests and figure out whether someone needs to be cut off, provided a ride home, or made to stay until sober. Err on the side of caution. If it’s going to be a long affair, make arrangements for those who need it to have a place to crash.
  • Insufficient Personnel and Host Conscription Syndrome. Identify jobs that need doing, and make sure they’re covered. Many party concepts require some roles to be played: a bartender, a person on the door to collect the cover, maybe an MC for the cabaret floor show.  Make sure you have your jobs covered…and that you are not locked into one of them.

You’re the host. You need to float. You should not be stuck behind a bar or in some other role that keeps you from troubleshooting and helping your guests to have a good time. If you have to, hire a bartender, door person, etc., but if you’re planning on the cheap, find friends who will take on shifts.

  • Neighbors. Parties are loud. People who drink are loud. Music can be loud. You only have three choices here:
    • Notify those nearby that there is going to be a party, and get their buy-in (invite them!);
    • Develop a noise plan to bring the party indoors, close the windows and step down the bass on the music after 10 PM; or
    • Find somewhere to hold your party that’s far away from anyone else.


Follow the concepts outlined here, and you will be throwing unique and amazing events your friends will be talking about for years.

Invite me, won’t you?

At publication, the Dragon was ENTHUSIASTIC

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