5 Tips for Planning a Great Opening Night Party
Whenever I scan a production budget for a new show, and see that hefty figure allocated to the opening night party, the scrooge in me always takes over and wonders, “What if we didn’t have a party? We could put all that money into media to sell more tickets. Or just return it to the investors!”
But I soften up pretty quickly after that, remembering that getting a Broadway show up on its feet could be one of the hardest businesses to start . . . and it’s because of the blood, sweat, and contributions (both fiscal and otherwise) of a whole ton of people, and those actors, designers, producers, PAs, ad agents, etc. deserve to have one night to celebrate in the grandest style you can afford . . . especially since the daily grind starts the day after that.
And, don’t forget (and I say this to remind myself), that opening night parties are a form of media themselves, with celebrity photos getting posted everywhere. They are also a great place to do business because so many of Broadway’s players are there (which is one of the reasons I recommend anyone interested in the theater start investing if they can, just to get in that room).
I don’t pretend to be any kind of great party planner. In fact it’s not even something I enjoy doing. But I have learned a few tips and tricks from the many parties I’ve planned and gone to over the years, so here they are:
1. Location, Location, Location.
Whenever possible, have your party as close to your theater as you can. An incredible amount of excitement is created at your opening night performance, and you want that momentum to spill right over into the party. It’s hard to keep the energy up when you have to take three trains and a biplane to your party location. And remember, since you’re already paying for the party, you want people to go. And there’s more of a chance that people will slip away if your party is too far away (especially in the colder months).
2. Food fast, and food plenty.
I don’t care what time it is, and if you think your guests would have just eaten before they saw your show, you better have something for them to eat as soon as they walk in the door. You don’t have to serve a full buffet (that’s where things get super expensive). But you want something that people can nibble on right when they walk through the doors. I’m a huge fan of lots of passed hors d’oerves at my parties.
And obviously the same is true for le beverages de alcohol. Nothing clears a party faster than when it’s too hard to get something to drink or something to eat.
3. Save the speeches.
Remember what I said about keeping that celebratory energy going? Well, nothing shuts down a party than the clinking of a glass and a speech that half the people can’t hear. I’ve always thought that great parties are like spinning a top. You give it that big spin, and let it spin out on its own. Don’t stop it halfway through, because it might be hard to get it going again.
4. Just because it’s fancy, doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.
It is a party. No, scratch that. It’s a paaaaaartay. People have worked super hard. Investors have dug deep. Let them get down! Just because people have nice dresses and maybe a tux or two (I can’t remember the last time I went to a black tie opening), doesn’t mean your party can’t be a heck of a good time. Think about the best wedding receptions you’ve been to. They probably involved the bride doing the electric slide in her Vera Wang, right? I’m not recommending you get the room to do the Macarena, but do create an environment that allows people to let their wigs down, laugh and be loud. And if some of your guests don’t like it, well, they can go to an opening night party for an opera.
5. To gift bag or not to gift bag.
When I first started going to opening night parties, I always got a little gift bag on the way out. They’re less in favor now. And frankly when I have gotten them recently, they’ve always been tres lame, with just a few sample products of shampoo or lipstick or something that makes no sense with the theme of the show. A takeaway is a great idea, but it’s the last thing that your guests are going to remember so make sure you make it cool . . . or just skip it and make sure they take home great memories instead. Because you know what they say . . . a memory can last . . . until the next opening night party.
Have you been to a great opening night party? A bad one? Comment below with your favorite or least favorite memories from opening night parties so we can all learn what to do and what not to do.
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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.