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Time Travel & costume events – Page 2 – Green Dragon
Jul 232012

Last time, we talked about clarifying the initial concept for your theme event, and communicating it to your invitees. I provided examples of the kinds of party themes my wife and I have produced over the years—this isn’t all of them, mind you, just a selection I threw up onto a links page.

Producing events is also something I do professionally. You can find out more about my services at my business website,

So, where were we..?

Now you have a theme, venue, and budget. Onward to Killer Theme Party Principles!

Here’s the meat of putting on the party, Get this stuff right, and you’re all set.

KTPP 1.      Everything matters. When you’re trying to create an atmosphere—even if it’s tongue-in-cheek and lighthearted—the more care you can put into having everything at your party consistent with the theme, the more your guests will immerse into it. So take some time with your invitation, your own costuming choices, decoration and music selection. Attention to detail is the difference between an event guests will always remember and just another party.

KTPP 2.      Before the Party, Make Sure Guests Get It. You might think your theme idea is obvious, but assume your invitees don’t understand it. Communicate as much as you can about your theme in advance, so they get the concept of the world you want to create. Help them not to panic about what to wear by providing costuming examples.

The most important way to do this is in your Invitation. I use a free online service called Socializr which lets you design and email attractive invitations, manage lists and track RSVPs. It’s better than Evite, in my opinion.

[UPDATE: Since I wrote this, Socializr has died and Facebook has taken over the world. I use Facebook Events, now, making sure that my friends who aren’t on FB get an email invitation]

By itself, though, an invitation is not enough. To really get across the flavor I’m trying to convey, I design a simple website invitation with the party theme and details, and link to it in the invitation I send through Socializr. [or Facebook]

Be sure to let invitees know if uncostumed guests are welcome. I generally reassure my friends that I want to see them more than I care about what they wear. If you have them, you can also provide some stock costume pieces for guests to borrow during the party.

KTPP 3.      A Good Party is made of FADDLMAC. It rhymes with “Saddleback”, and it stands for Food And Drink, Decorations, Lighting, Music, Activities and Costuming. Those are the ingredients of a successful theme party. Get those right, and your guests are having a great time.

  • Food And Drink. Unless your party specifically demands it, stick to finger food. There is far less cleanup, and you don’t have to provide a place for every guest to sit so they can use cutlery. If using a caterer, make sure your offerings are self-contained and do not include goopy, staining dipping sauces.

A theme potluck can be a lot of fun, and can actually be a theme itself (“Lamentable Food of the Fifties”). Be sure to prime the pump, providing some kind of thematic cocktail or libation, a non-alcoholic alternative, and some food so early guests have something to sample besides their own offerings. If you’re doing potluck, remember to provide enough table or counter space for food and drink offerings.

  • Decoration.  Create as much of an immersive environment as you can with props, wall-mounted images, and set pieces if you have access to them. Everywhere a guest stands, s/he should be able to see something relating to the theme, even if it’s only a picture on the wall.

Your budget is obviously a limiting factor, but with a little creativity, you can do a lot. When we threw our Space Escapade party, we covered all of the furniture in the party space with mylar space blankets, turning the room metallic and futuristic. Add some red and green colored lights, a borrowed futuristic art piece we hung from the ceiling, and a cheap fog machine from a party store, and we were partying at Moonbase Alpha! On the other hand, our annual Pre-Rafaelite Picnic is held at a mid-19th century rural cemetery, and the only “decoration” is keeping the china and food containers period-appropriate, such as baskets and Mason jars, and hiding everything modern under Victorian-style tablecloths. Easy.

There are affordable, wall-scale background images printed on thin vinyl called “Scene Setters” available from party stores. Mounted on a wall (Blu-Tac again), they can make a big difference in creating your theme world. Some of them are kind of cheesy, but if you’re selective, they can be helpful. We used something called “Freddy Krueger’s Boiler Room” at our steampunk party—it was perfect. Again, don’t be wasteful: save ‘em and use ‘em again.

The color laser printer is your friend. Printed historical or public domain images from the Internet that illustrate the theme are a great, cheap way to decorate. Use sticky putty so you don’t damage walls or paint when you take them down; if you have a bigger budget, you can invest in a bunch of cheap frames of standard sizes and reuse them over and over. Poster-sized printing is available at most digital printing shops.

Avoid jarring visuals. Do what you can to keep the spell from breaking. There are very few themes for which those red or blue plastic party cups are a good visual fit. Get a bunch of reusable clear acrylic wine glasses, and use those instead. When it comes to china, glassware, etc., be responsible: minimize waste, and use washable and reusable items as much as possible. You can, by the way, wash and reuse those plastic cups after your Seventies Frathouse smoker.

  • Lighting. For indoor events, keep the lighting low and indirect rather than from overhead. People feel more anonymous and less observed in lower light conditions—they’re less likely to dance and be playful if the lighting implies they are being interrogated. You can start brighter early on and dim when the party is really going, or have brighter areas near the entrance, food and drink, and a dance space with dimmer light. All the usual dance club tricks apply: where appropriate. colored lights, mirror balls and so forth can add to the festive feeling.

[NEXT and FINAL: The Rest of FADDLMAC, and some cautionary tales]

At publication, the Dragon was ENTHUSIASTIC

Jul 212012

So…you want to throw a theme party. Good for you! Theme parties provide a chance for guests to play dress-up, and for you to indulge your creative imagination. When successful, they’re unforgettable.

I’ve been producing events for more than 20 years, both professionally and personally. They have ranged from intimate dinner parties to fundraising dinners for 500 (I can produce yours! More information at

Among our friends, my wife and I are (in)famous for throwing memorable costume parties. We’ve done dozens of them. We love to imagine other worlds to visit, create them, and invite our friends along. You can find examples here.

Along the way, you learn stuff. So over the next few days, in 3 parts, I’ll be passing along what I have learned about producing a memorable themed event.

First: what’s the concept? Make some decisions.

  1. What kind of event is it? Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, a barbecue, a picnic, or a sit-down dinner? Each of these has its own considerations. For example, it’s harder to decorate the outdoors, so to communicate a theme, costuming, food and music choices become more important.
  1. What’s the theme? Pick something intriguing. If you want to do a 1920s theme, instead of a generic “Roaring Twenties” party, throw in a twist. Ours was “New Years Eve 1928 Aboard the Graf Zeppelin (held in May!) Choose something YOU think is cool: a moment from history, a film, book, TV series…or a genre, like “the future they imagined in the 1950s.” Make it unique, but not so obscure that no one else will be interested.
  1. What’s the venue? Choose your venue carefully, and be realistic about likely attendance. Be aware of the concept of critical mass—if you don’t have enough people to fill your space, your event can’t possibly succeed. A 50-person party can feel like a smash success or like three mosquitoes flying around the Grand Canyon, depending on how large the space is. Without critical mass, guests will feel awkward and bored, and your party will be a flop.
  1. What’s the budget? Throwing a great party doesn’t have to break the bank. Most of our parties have had a budget of under $250. Some cost us nothing!

If you have money to work with, I recommend you invest most in atmosphere. If the event is catered, don’t go overboard on swanky food and drink unless it’s a sit-down dinner. The draw is the party, not the food. You can provide attractive, tasty food that fits with your theme without spending a fortune…and your guests will remember the WOW effect of decorations that transport them to another world far more than they would those grilled chipotle-quail-stuffed mushroom caps.

If you don’t have a budget, go potluck. You would be surprised at the effort your guests will put into bringing nice food and drink that fits the theme. Our standard request is “a bottle of something to share, and a plate of theme-appropriate finger food,” and it’s been working for ten years.

That said, expenses can get away from you—set a limit and stick to it. If you know you’re going to need to recoup your costs, set a cover charge and let your guests know in advance you’ll be asking for it. If your parties are amazing, you can ask people to bring a bottle and a plate of hors d’oeuvres to share AND pay a door fee, and they’ll clamor to come to the next one.

If costs are higher than you’re willing to spend and/or space is limited, you can go the whole way and make it a ticketed event. In my experience, the best free online ticket sales service is Brown Paper Tickets.

[NEXT: Elements of a Successful Theme Party]

At publication, the Dragon was ENTHUSIASTIC

Jul 152012

Next weekend, Petaluma will hold the annual Rivertown Revival, a celebration of Petaluma as a river city and a fundraiser for the David Yearsley River Heritage Center. This is a very cool event with a sort of family-friendly Burning Man ambiance—meaning, you’ll see people in lots of wild outfits, and amazingly decorated floating art boats, musical acts, etc.

But I have a very particular memory of the magnificently preserved antique downtown and riverfront of Petaluma, which is the glow of the short-lived paddlewheeler Petaluma Queen moored at the turning basin at dusk, her lights and bright stacks reflecting in the still water.

It was a moment from another time. Listening to the water lap at the hull, you’d swear that if you just stepped on board, she’d take you not on a dinner cruise, but down to New Orleans, and adventure.

To me, the attraction of the Rivertown Revival remains the original concept of the event–something along the lines of the dear departed Handcar Regatta, a somewhat whimsical, tongue-in-cheek but historically evocative journey back to when rivers and rails were our primary means of transport.

Though Petaluma wasn’t established yet, what that most brings to mind is the world of Mark Twain’s marvelous Life on the Mississippi. If you haven’t read it, do: it’s hilarious, and filled with the atmosphere of an era which—even when Twain wrote it—had already passed away.

So when I think of heading down to Petaluma next week, it’s not in Burning Man neons and faux fur or whatever all that is. It’s more along the lines of what you see here: working men toting bales on the levee in straw hats, sparks and coal smoke streaming into the sky from the bright columns of the the great steamboats’ stacks.

Think I’ll put on that yoked, blousy cotton shirt, and find me a broad-brimmed straw hat. Maybe stuff a burlap bag, hoist it onto my shoulder, and tote that bale for a day, down by the river side.

About “Time Travel”

 Posted by at 12:00 pm  Time Travel
Jul 102012

This category of posts relates to costumed events, living history, historical sites, archaeology, interesting bits from history, and moments that feel like Somewhen or Somewhere Else.

Can’t help it. I like to dress up funny. And my thumb is always out for a ride to an unexplored world.