Our understanding of the history of an event, the pressing issues of the event, and the vision are essential in connecting with clients. Context is the most valuable tool for event designers. Creating creative yet relevant effects satisfies both the conservative and the progressive, assuring individual success.

For the Carolina Breast Friends (CBF) Annual Oysters on the Lawn event last year, we were allotted an open park in front of Charlotte’s Mint Museum. This year, however, the event was at the Quail Hollow Country Club, and we had to plan for rain. Raising hundreds of thousands of dollars, the event is the primary annual fundraiser for Project Pink House, built to be a refuge for breast cancer survivors.

In order to create the best possible event, the CBF put the project out to several event planning organizations. With experience lighting the project the previous year, we at Eye Dialogue were called on by Rogers & Gala for an idea-generating session. We discussed problems with the year before and concepts that would enhance the coming event.

The ominously dark yard was the main issue with the previous year. Originally, lamp posts were going to be scattered around the yard, but the posts were cut from the budget. Unfortunately, we were told that the tables were not our responsibility, and the lighting fell through the cracks. The job was patched with several hundred candles, which didn’t do much. Candles are only efficient with either supportive ambient light or white ceilings to reflect the light back onto the floor, exponentially increasing the brightness. This year, we decided to use light strings with 750 G50 globe lamps throughout the 10,000sq-ft. tent. The canopy of 2" lamps gave the tent a southern flair. An even and familiar glow created a feeling of intimacy and comfort in an otherwise overwhelming tent.

The secondary complaint of the previous year was the dark stage. Unfortunately, very few cover bands have professional lighting directors. The simple PAR system the band brought probably works fine indoors, but without a backdrop, the band members would momentarily disappear into the darkness. The mysterious, spooky effect wasn’t pleasant or consistent with the southern theme. CBF didn’t help the already dark stage by using half the lights on stage to light the dark dance floor. To solve the previous year’s lighting famine, we framed the stage with color-changing truss. The truss framed the stage, giving the space a necessary significance to beg everyone’s attention. The stage was well lit with Elation Professional Opti RGB LED PARs. Although we still didn’t have a backdrop, the tent ceiling assisted in bringing more interest and light to the stage. In addition to the stationary PARs, four Chauvet Q-Spot 300s were used for band specials as well as dance lights. Now when CBF wanted to entice the guests to dance, we could sweep lighting effects through the dance floor and ceiling.

The final complaint concerned the missed auction items. Previously, the auctioneer had creatively clamped can lights onto trees, tables, and tents, shining both onto the objects and into people’s faces. The outdoor auction was without a lighting design, and this oversight went unnoticed until after the event started. Some items were too dark, and some were too bright. Unfortunately, some items were lost in the shuffle. Opportunely for us this year, Quail Hollow Country Club has a beautiful room and foyer, so the items were housed indoors. And all the recessed cans had medium-based lamp sockets. With the help of 32 Swiveliers, we dropped each light 6" to 8". Replacing the lamps with narrow spots, we focused the lights on the display tables. Each item glowed with purpose, attracting the guests as they mingled with friends.

Similar to last year, we used Elation Opti 30s gelled with CTO to light the Oyster Shacks. The golden glow from the shacks suggested a warm home in a time when lighting only glowed amber. Instead of lighting the giant trees as we did at the Mint Museum, we lit the columns of the country club with Chauvet Colorado 3s and used Colorado 1s to light the small trees around the courtyard. Additional Elation Opti RGBs were added into the back room, suggesting the lighting style from the previous year.

With all the issues addressed from the previous year, we needed an edge to assure that our presentation would be embraced. Submersing my thoughts in the future and creating a theme for the next ten years, I settled on a legacy piece. The idea was to create a fantastic pink house and add new elements every year. For the windows, we would fabricate video screens for films about the current year’s vision and accomplishments. Each year, we would add a new window with a new video displaying that year’s message and mission. With each passing year, guests would see the vision of previous years, recalling how much the organization has accomplished. The pink house would be both a physical monument to the project as well as a historical record.

The idea of the house and the video were cool, but the concept alone wouldn’t be enough. The pink house needed the “wow” factor. We decided to use a combination of pink light and paint, both the additive (RGB via light) and subtractive (CMY via paint) forms of pink. The house was made up of 19 independent sections. Each section was hollow in the center, framed with 1"-thick wood. On each board, openings were cut into two opposing sides. White Plexiglas was used to cover the openings on the inside of the hollow frame. The wood was then painted the color pink specified by CBF. The 12'-tall house had six support beams and three rafters. The exposed structure of the house symbolized the status of the real pink house, young and growing.

With the structural design completed, the lighting provided that extra punch. Elation makes an RGB tape—FlexLED Tape—that is nearly flat and was loosely attached into each wood section. We painted the inside of the beams white to maximize the luminosity. Sixteen strips of tape completely covered the interior of the framework. The LED color-changing lighting exploded out of the white Plexiglas, creating the impact we needed. The house was not only pink, but everything that neared its structure reflected pink. The house represented the soft and feminine essence of pink, yet contained an undeniable boldness that affected everything around it.

We had to be certain that the symbol was indisputable without confusion. If we had used classic grills in the window, the visual would have been obvious, yet the video wouldn’t have been intelligible. Simple enough to fix, we added a pink door. Now anyone would immediately recognize the form.

For the first time, we decided to use a collage of words and photos for the video sequence. We believed this would impact the guests the most. As everyone entered that night, they stopped to watch the video. The impact was clear; the pink house was a success, but we didn’t stop there. Actors dressed in pink mimed construction in both still and slow motion. Pink paint cans, step ladders, and fabrics were strategically placed about the house. The actors looked at pink plans together, hammered with pink hammers, and painted with pink brushes. The interactive effect completed the pink house concept with a double wow.

Over 1,000 lights, giant color-changing columns, houses inside of houses, a 10,000sq-ft. tent, and a powerful stage were not enough. We added a bonus: two massive ice sculptures with four Colorado 3 fixtures each. The oyster shrines were both stylish and fun. The glowing beacons called the guests to the bars. Refracting a cool blue glow, the ice washed everyone around with light. Mimicking the effect of the inner glow of the pink house, which suggested CBF’s vision welling up from within, the oyster ice sculpture had a reflective, inspirational glow.

Learning from the previous years, we addressed known concerns, assuring our client that we both understood the issues and could provide solutions. By integrating the successful effects of the previous year, we demonstrated context. Adapting their ideas and décor, an alliance was forged. We felt the pride of our work and the joy of helping an organization with great vision.

675' Light Strings with G50 Globe Lamps
12 Chauvet Colorado 3
16 Chauvet Colorado 1
4 Chauvet Q-Spot 300
18 Elation Opti RGB
46 Elation Opti 30
18 Elation FlexLED Tape
32 Swivelier
Global Truss 12" Goalie System
Elation Wireless DMX System
Martin Light Jockey
Rosco CTO Color Filter
BenQ 4,000-Lumen Projector
Damar P30 Narrow Spot
Damar P30 Narrow Flood

Jack Kelly is an audio/lighting designer and president of Eye Dialogue based in Charlotte, NC. For more information, visit www.eyedialogue.com.