Entertainment is all about the experience, and increasingly guests want that experience to be a personal one. “Groups don’t necessarily want to sit in their seats and watch a performance; they want to be part of the entertainment,” says Renee J. Lewis, CMP, president and partner of Infinity Management Group in Brighton.
Interactive entertainment can be a great way to energize a crowd and foster networking and team-building. Just choose entertainment that appeals to the broader group, says Taryn Miracle, director of sales and catering at Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City. “If you have attendees who aren’t willing to participate, then it falls apart,” she says.
Traci Bahlman, sales manager for Holiday Catering, agrees. Get guests on board means ensuring they’re prepared. “No one’s going to be comfortable if they’re not physically comfortable,” Bahlman says. Offer hints for what guests should wear and expect.
Looking for distinctive entertainment options to get your guests talking? Let’s get the party started.
Nothing beats contortionists, stilt walkers and jugglers interacting with guests—except perhaps the jaw-dropping skills of acrobats, aerialists and fire-breathers. That’s the wowpower of Detroit Circus, a cirque-style troupe that excels in making impossible things seem simple, says performer Veronica Callan.
The popular group performs at product launches to holiday parties, for companies from General Motors to Comcast, and at festivals like the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair. Shows can be themed and designed to support brand messaging. “We want to make [your event] spectacular,” Callan says, and the troupe knows what will catch an audience’s eye. Just contact the company well in advance; safety is a priority and all venues require site visits.
For hands-on lessons in the circus arts (and team-building), groups can head over to the Detroit Flyhouse, the Eastern Market studio where performers hone their skills.
Making the transition from watching circus moves to doing some yourself is a lot of fun, says Callan, who also instructs. Groups often learn hula-hooping and partner acrobatics, which involve balancing, yoga moves and some trickery. Before they know it, “the team is doing some minor adrenalin work and really bonding,” she says.
ELYSIUM EXPERIENCE, CLINTON TOWNSHIP
The “artist DJs” at Elysium Experience know how to engage crowds with the right mix of music and dynamic lighting, but it’s when they pull out instruments and play along that audiences are really blown away. It’s a carefully choreographed musical mash-up proven to turn heads, though it does require a voice in the planning process for maximum impact, says Nicholas Hardy, Elysium’s executive producer.
Consider Hardy’s idea for the launch of Sauvage, a new Christian Dior fragrance, at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center last August: While audience members previewed the scent’s TV commercial, featuring an edgy Johnny Depp playing bluesy rock guitar, an artist DJ dressed like Depp, playing a similar track, emerged as though he had walked out of the commercial. The surprise created a lot of buzz among the sales associates and retail managers in attendance, says Serena Skalinder, who planned and executed the event.
Hardy’s two artist DJs, who have music education degrees, sing, play multiple instruments and lead groups in easy-to-learn dances, in addition to their more traditional duties. Combining all these skills at the right time can have a profound effect, he says.
THE MURDER MYSTERY COMPANY, GRAND RAPIDS
Meals at events are common; serve them up with a side of good, old-fashioned murder and people pay attention.
With the Murder Mystery Co., guests are immersed in a different world as they get to know characters like the bumbling detective and strong femme fatale, and learn clues to the victim’s (comedic) murder, says Sarah Stark, an actor in the company. Guests play suspects, too—and actors are skilled at discerning which audience members would enjoy participating, so that no one feels uncomfortable (or left out). “It’s like you’re playing a game of Clue come to life, which is really fun,” Stark says.
And it’s a great team-building activity, Miracle says. A group recently hired the company to host their dinner at the lodge, where each table worked together to solve the crime. “There is no stop-and-go with this type of activity,” Miracle says. Teams interact more and get to know each other better as a result.
Planners can choose from eight easy-tocustomize themed shows that feature up to eight actors. Troupes perform throughout Michigan, the United States and beyond. The only requirements: some open floor space roughly the size of a pool table and a side room or door so actors can step in and out.
THE DETROIT PARTY MARCHING BAND
Whether crashing an event to surprise guests with a few rousing songs, or marching them from one trendy establishment to another, a la Pied Piper, this band’s mission is to bring “music and unexpected joy to under-used spaces and community places in Detroit,” says band member Thomas Gilchrist.
The 25 members of the street brass band play a mix of Balkan, hip-hop, blues, jazz, metal and original songs. “Our approach is definitely loud and fast and fun,” Gilchrist says. “We want it to be exciting for everybody.”
Attendees of the American Society of Association Executives 2015 Annual Meeting and Exposition, held in Detroit last August, experienced this firsthand when the band led them to bars in the neighborhood after an event at the Fox Theatre, walking and dancing among the guests as they processed.
“It was a fun way of getting [attendees] from point A to point B,” says Lewis, who oversaw local organizing committee activities. “It’s kind of chaotic when they’re performing. They’re just so much fun.”
FACE READING BY LIN, ST. CLAIR SHORES
Your guests have probably never heard of face reading; once tried, they’ll likely never stop talking about it.
Bahlman of Holiday Catering first saw it performed at a formal dinner party she catered. Lin Klaassen, the Midwest’s only professional face reader, moved around the table explaining character traits behind prominent chins, eyebrow shapes, forehead slopes and the like while guests examined themselves in hand mirrors that had the menu printed on the back. “People absolutely loved it,” Bahlman says.
Guests are amazed their personalities can be read from the features of their face, Klaassen says. Consider the forward-protruding chin: It indicates a person who is very determined and can bounce back from setbacks fairly quickly.
While having fun, attendees learn something about themselves and their co-workers and how to become better communicators, says Klaassen, who’s often hired to address diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
From trade shows to private functions, she works closely with planners on how to best integrate her skills in the time allowed and to ensure guests have a positive experience.
EMPTY CANVAS, MIDLAND
Brothers Mike and Scott McMath enthrall audiences with live music and live-action painting. Watching an empty canvas become a beautiful piece of art over an hour or two is an experience that creates a lasting impression, says Amber Caldwell, a special events manager who’s hired the duo for events at Red Ginger restaurant in Traverse City.
When artist Mike brings up guests to add a few brush strokes of their own, everyone feels they’re a part of the finished product, says Kristi Krafft-Bellsky, a senior manager at Saginaw-based Yeo & Yeo, P.C. She’s booked the McMaths for the Frankenmuth Community Foundation’s annual Legacy Ball fundraiser for the past five years, and has them scheduled for this year, too. The result is an original piece of art that a lucky attendee can win by raffle or purchase as part of a fundraising auction. “Having Empty Canvas as our entertainment has literally paid for itself,” Krafft-Bellsky says.
Mike is not a splash artist; instead, he works with planners to identify the painting’s subject matter. He and guitarist Scott perform at events big and small (including for the last two years at MIM+E’s Best of Michigan readers’ choice awards party) and play music by acts from Sinatra to Led Zeppelin.
STAR TRAX EVENTS, FERNDALE
This social entertainment company brings out the kid in event guests with DJs, emcees and dancers who get them out of their seats to arcade games like bubble hockey, Pop-a-Shot and foosball (a 16-foot-long version).
Richard Simtob, president of Zoup! The Fresh Soup Company in Southfield, used Star Trax the last three years to create a highenergy scene for his annual franchise convention at the Westin Hotel at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The company also helped him plan his awards ceremony, including scripts, musical entertainment and lighting, down to the minute. Such attention to detail created a memorable experience for guests, Simtob says.
Star Trax has a full-service event advisory team, which can be “a game changer” for companies without planners on staff, says Becca Schlussel, a company executive. It also offers valet service and access to private event space at Local Kitchen & Bar in Ferndale for groups up to 225.