September 19, 2012
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Bar and bat mitzvah ideas

The 10 Commandments of party planning

for The Brooklyn Paper

We care about you, dear readers. We treasure you so deeply that we decided to climb a steep and treacherous mountain made of disco balls, “Fangs or Fur?” Twilight cocktail napkins, noise makers, 3D invitations, gummy bears, and even a pin-the-hairstyle-on-Rihanna game, just for you. And what did we find at the very top of this pile of party-palooza-a’plenty? A phone. But not just any phone, a magical phone that had on speed dial the numbers of some of the best party planners in all of New York who, collectively as one mighty source, bestowed upon us the 10 Commandments of party planning! That’s right — two hands’ fingers-worth of surefire tips that will help you plan a bar or bat mitzvah celebration grand enough to separate the Red Sea, sweeten the bitter waters of Marah, or, at the very least, force a smile upon the faces of all of your party guests.

Like God at the mountain top, let the presence of your party be known

According to Maya Kalman, the Founder and CEO of SWANK Productions, a New York-based event planning company, it’s important to do “creative things with the invitation. It does send the first sense of what guests can expect from the party.” So how can you create a buzz?

“I like to send objects as invitations, like for a Mad Hatter party, we sent a little doll hat with the invitation inside of it,” she says. “In this day of e-mail, it’s fun to get something in the post. It also adds a sense of intrigue. Most people won’t want to miss a party if the invitation is interesting.”

Thou shall wow with entertainment

“Entertainment is huge, and it’s great if it’s interactive and outrageous,” claims Loretta Lester of Party Poopers, a city party planning company that specializes in children’s parties. “We recently did a party where we had an aerialist rigged up on the ceiling who came down and did a Cirque du Soleil act. And before her act, we had another aerialist serving champagne and drinks to guests upside down! It was so unusual that it really made the party pop.”

Take your guests to the party land

Be creative with your party venue. For example, try “merging themes with the Torah portion of your ceremony or an upcoming holiday,” suggests Olivia Bondarsky, the lead event planner at High Style Events.

“For instance, a party we planned took place on a yacht because the Jewish community was reading the Torah portion dealing with Noah’s Ark that weekend.”

Remember this is a holy day, and when to keep it holy

Whether or not you’re planning an over-the-top party, it’s important to embrace what this celebration is truly about. That’s why Marla Mase, Lester’s associate at Party Poopers, always recommends “that our clients do the candle lighting and to keep it simple. People have been doing this for years and it really helps everyone remember what this party is truly about. It brings everything down to a real, human level.”

Lester agrees.

“When someone’s friends and family members take the time to get up to say something lovely about them, it’s truly a beautiful element that doesn’t need much tampering,” she says.

Silverware is forbidden!

For children, at least.

“Food is definitely one of the biggest wow factors when it comes to parties across the board, and bar and bat mitzvahs are no different,” says Kalman. “Buffet stations are a great idea for kids because they’re up and active, playing games, and dancing. And make sure to fill these buffets with small bites (anything bite-size) that’s not messy and doesn’t require silverware — it’ll prevent a disaster with kids running all around.”

So what should you pack into these buffets?

“Anything miniaturized has been really popular for the past five years. So much so that mini burgers, which started out strong during the beginning of this trend, are already passé. Mini grilled chesses, mini ruebens, mini milkshakes and cupcakes, or anything on a stick are all great. Little tiny heros that look like a sub but are actually only two inches long are all very popular. And of course, sushi. Ten years ago, you’d never have a bat mitzvah girl telling you there has to be a sushi station at her party. Kids are much more sophisticated nowadays.”

Honor your guests with separate party areas

Create separate environments, and menus, for the kids and the adults. How?

“We did an Alice in Wonderland theme where kids had small bites that said Eat Me and Grow Big like in the book and movies, and an adult area was segregated by the Queen’s of Heart’s rose garden with a wall of giant roses that allowed them to relax, have a more sophisticated sit-down meal, and talk. By doing this, adults can also have a good time as well,” says Kalman.

Thou shall know when to utilize technology

Green screens, where kids can superimpose themselves into images, have become popular at mitzvah parties, but now there’s “companies that provide tables that have touchscreen tabletops where you can import an image of anything and the whole table can virtually interact with it,” claims Kalman.

And if you thought they took photo booths, another popular party-standard, as far as they can go, think again.

“There’s companies with photo booths that are hooked up to social media, so you can immediately upload your photos from the booth to Twitter and Facebook in real time.”

And thou shall realize when to utilize nostalgia

Being that green screens and photo booths are so popular nowadays, sometimes, kids and their parents get a real kick out of a simple backdrop and fun props for photo ops.

“We bring in really cool props for kids, like the 1960s clear egg chair or a vintage bicycle,” says Lester. “We even brought in a speed painter at one party to create quick and unique portraits of all the guests. It was a hit!”

Thou shall hire a DJ with experience

“If someone comes over and requests a song, a DJ can do it as long as he has a nice library. That may not always be the case with a band,” says Larry Scott, a DJ with 40 years of experience and owner of the Brooklyn-based event and sound company Havin’ a Party. “Some people will go out and buy an inexpensive sound system and boast themselves as inexpensive DJs, but if a DJ doesn’t have good equipment or experience with handling a crowd it ruins everything.”

Why?

“There’s a lot of variables when dealing with acoustics in a venue. And you have to take the diversity in guests at a bar or bat mitzvah into account. You’ve got to be familiar with everything from big band to pop music, and the older generations hate loud beats, so you need to make sure that kind of noise doesn’t bother them. And you need an MC that can run the party in an effective and fun way, in terms of the grand entrance, the toast, the candlelighting ceremony, and engaging the crowd.”

Do not take the philosophy ‘Everybody Dance Now,’ by the wise and ancient C&C Music Factory, in vain

If everyone participates in dancing, everyone at a party will have a great time.

“Hiring a company that has good dancers that are fun, energetic, and know how to be involved in orchestrating games, line dances, and follow-alongs makes a world of difference,” says Eric Bischoff, president of Sound Explosion DJ and production center in Staten Island.

And what kind of dances gets everyone on their feet?

“There’s traditional group dances like Cotton Eye Joe and Cuban Shuffle that most people know and love, but we like to create our own follow-alongs that include steps that are easy to learn, follow, and can be incorporated into a variety of music like pop, swing, Motown, oldies, and disco. There’s always going to be those people on the dance floor who need a little direction or interaction in order to really get them moving, and we have the kind of dancers who can really lead the way for them in learning these interactive dances that are easy to follow along, so everyone can be involved and have a good time.”

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