This is the second post on the fund-raising event that AOO Events produced for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center for its cancer institute. The theme was Celebrate a Future Without Cancer.
Each year entertainment is a huge part of this event. This year the event's chairperson was dead-set on having Sheryl Crow. I agree that she is a great performer but as the producer of the event, it's my job to look at the elements not only separately, but as a whole. Not only did Sheryl not fit within the budget, but she wouldn't fit with the demographics of the audience -- an older audience -- or the format of the event.
Challenge: Present an alternative that worked on all levels.
I saw Gladys Knight as being the perfect fit, yet before I went down that road I had to at least see if Sheryl Crow was a possibility. One never knows with entertainment. There is always a chance that an entertainer's price might be lower if she was already in town. But it turned out that she wasn't available at all and this opened the door for me to suggest other entertainment ideas, Gladys being top of the list.
Once we had settled on the entertainment, the next challenge was the final number. The client really wanted an anthem-like number for a "we-are-the-world" type of finale; one where all the medical center and university VIPs would come on stage, lock arms and sing with Gladys.
Logistically, this was not an easy thing to accomplish. First of all, they'd all have to be called in early for rehearsals, then leave their tables during dinner to get backstage early for the song. Not the type of thing you want to put your big donors through! Plus, Gladys' people weren't really keen on it. But the client had said "David, I know you will make it happen." So, regardless of my objections, I was going to have to make this work. Or ... find another way to make something special happen.
While all this was going on, I was watching a Tyler Perry movie one night. At the end, during the rolling of the credits, I heard Gladys singing a song entitled “I Hope You Dance.” Originally written and performed by LeeAnn Womack, this song is absolutely anthem-like, and the meaning of the song is to dance, to celebrate life, versus sitting on the sidelines.
I jumped up from my couch and said, "That's it!" We contacted Gladys' management a few days later when we made the offer and put in our request that she perform that number for the finale. Sure enough it was a fit! I talked with Gladys after the event, and told her that I had heard that song in the movie and said I knew it was perfect for this event. She thanked me for asking it to be a part of this event, as she LOVED that song and really never got to perform it outside that recorded music track! That alone was gratifying, hearing that from such a superstar.And to create that we-are-the-world moment? By working with the video company, we created a montage of all those important people and Gladys agreed to be scripted to introduce it. It played during the finale.
BUILDING EMOTION UPON EMOTION
The goal with an event like this builds a series of emotions to that one final moment that we achieved with Gladys.
Ade Obayomi and Melissa Sandvig
One of those moments was a beautiful dance routine performed by Melissa Sandvig and Ade Obayomi. I had seen them perform this routine on “So You Think You Can Dance” years ago. It was created by celebrity choreographer Tyce Diorio and was actually titled the Breast Cancer Dance. It was moving to the point of having most everyone in tears. I remember thinking to myself, "One day I am going to get that on stage." This client. . . this year. . . . this theme. . . it was perfect.
Melissa and Ade in the final pose of the Breast Cancer Dance.
Dance is a celebratory expression of life, and while the breast cancer dance was a poignant moment, the two other solos that Melissa and Ade each performed were completely celebratory and light at heart. A perfect injection into a gala for what normally would be heavy handed subject matter.
I am constantly getting teased by my friends for watching these reality shows with younger subject matter. But the reality is, it keeps me on the pulse of what is new, young, hip and happening. If I didn’t expose myself to these programs, then I would just be putting out more mature, ok, older, subject matter. And our job as designers and producers is to stay up on what is cutting edge. Melissa and Ade helped me make this gala more celebratory, young and edgy!
Plus adding in the dancing also helped reinforce the "Celebrate" title AND tied Gladys' finale song into it.
The Nick Dialoiso Band played during dinner break and for all the walk offs. They were revealed behind the scrim when they played during dinner breaks, a clever way to conceal a live band and then reveal them.
The direction I gave to our script writer, Ruth Moyte of Red Dandelion Creative, was to allow the seriousness to remain when there was business to be done (this program includes many different speakers from the university and community), but keep it celebratory and light the remainder of the time. Which she did with the speeches and the introductions as well material for the emcee. In this case it was David Conrad, an actor and a native of Pittsburgh, who tied the entire program together beautifully.
Thanks to everyone for an amazing event!
Design, floral, production: AOO Events; Rentals: All Occasions Party Rentals; Linen: Mosaic Linens, Pittsburgh; Audio/Visual/Tech Support: Vision Tech; Lighting: Images by Lighting; Catering: University of Pittsburgh Medical Center