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  • Writer's pictureKatie

Planning my 1st Event for Play Factore

When I'm not jumping in and out of boxes with an illusionist I perform and create entertainment at Play Factore in Manchester. I joined the team earlier this year and perform magic in the waiting area during the weekends. I was then asked to join the events team and to create a special one-off after hours party.

This was a huge project for me and not knowing the restrictions of budget and other aspects made it extra challenging. Previous events at the venue had been halloween parties which had always sold out- but halloween pretty much sells itself- a PF halloween party was a great way for families to have a fun night in costume without being outdoors trick or treating and knowing how much everything will cost- and making sure the kids are safe. This new event would be far more challenging- why would people want to spend their summer evening in a huge indoor play centre? This event had to be unmissable!

The concept of the mad hatter's tea party came as it was an endless visual playground with easily recognised characters, plenty of fun and make believe and it worked for the summer season. Planning the pitch to the company's directors took a week- I had a date but no budget so I had to suggest entertainment options, food and menu offerings, decorations, activities and anything else to the board with absolutely no concept of what they wanted to spend. They really liked the idea and we put the wheels in motion.

The first thing I wanted to confirm was the characters- these seemed essential to create energy and strength behind the theme. I booked a bouncing white rabbit and tall Alice stilt walker to begin with then my entertainment budget was already filled! I worked with the in-house dancers to create a number of choreographed routines that they would showcase in 'the snug'. The snug was a central area at play Factore which on a weekend would be the open space where every hour the dancers would play 'lets dance' with the kids, and was planned to be the space to create the tea party. A prop designer was consulted to work on some commission pieces rather than hire in oversized props.

This event also allowed for the creation of props and features which could be used at future events, I designed a giant chair photo opportunity which our incredible fabricator brought to life (see photos) and this was situated along the tea party table. The idea became that the snug would be a base for the performers- the dance troupe would perform routines and the characters would alternate within the tea party and mixing with guests. Each guest would be given the opportunity to enter the snug- sit on the giant chair and have a professional photo taken with whatever characters were in there- the photos would be available to collect as they left the event.

We also sketched up and built large oversized flats- these were much cheaper to build than 3D objects and we chose giant mushrooms and teapot stacks.

The Play Factore kitchen was well known for its incredible food- the menu was designed by an incredible female chef who developed a healthy but fun children's menu and a fantastic adults menu- they also had an extremely popular stone baked pizza oven. Working with the kitchen manager we budgeted for each ticket to include a free slice of pizza, a free fruit shoot and in a fun collaboration with Krispy Kreme donuts we offered each child a free original glazed ring donut. The kitchen would be open for guests to purchase any other food and drink they needed. The only problem the food tokens created was the expectation of queues at the food counter. To prevent this we built some very cool, colourful food stalls, one for each item we were giving away. The good news was that these could be re-used at future events- the bad news was they took the event over budget. They did however solve what would have been an issue on the night and made it clear and obvious to everyone where they could get their freebies.

Using my experience in the confectionery industry I suggested we made cool Play Factore sweet cones for the event. One for each child to take away. I used my wholesale account to order the sweets in bulk and myself and the waiting staff spent an evening measuring all the sweets into the cones, tying them with ribbon and sticking them with our branded stickers. The challenge for this was that many of our customers were muslim or jewish meaning sweets had to be Halal and kosher friendly. Working with various suppliers we managed to source suitable sweets and the cones were a huge hit.

In terms of decorations I spent hours stringing giant playing cards into bunting, and collecting teacups from charity shops to decorate the table. I originally wanted to cover the metal framework of the snug with fake green hedgerow- topiary style so we could attach painted roses but the snug was too big and this would have over extended the budget. Our director was friends with a gent who she believed would be a perfect Mad hatter so with the main characters covered and regular all staff being themed to suit (our car race 'mechanics' were twins- so they had to be transformed into tweedle dee and tweedle dum!)

The posters and adverts were made showing off an exciting event at a fantastic price. Tickets began selling fast!

It's showtime! In the run up to the event we had supported the Trafford Housing Trust in their fundraising projects, we decided to further strengthen our efforts with this worthy cause and gave them free tickets to bring all the children within the trust to the event. We also decided to hire a professional film crew to create a new showreel advertising the Playfactore - whilst we didn't particularly want the video to focus on the event it was a perfect opportunity to showcase the amazing experience on offer at play Factore!

The venue closed an hour earlier than usual to allow us to build the wonderland experience and prepare for the evening event. Krispy Kreme delivered a huge donut cake which sat centrally and the giant chair was delivered and set up to create the best photo opportunity. Our performers arrived and began setting up, then came the almost disaster...our mad hatter couldn't make it! Unfortunately our mad hatter said he couldn't attend our event but amazingly he sent us two aerial acrobats! They rigged their aerial hoops to the trussing in the snug and became an amazing addition to the event. Our issue now was- can you have a mad hatter's tea party without a mad hatter?! Luckily some quick thinking allowed me to restyle our head dancer Josh as the mad hatter- not in the conventional sense of course- this is play Factore and we are too edgy for normal! but it paid off and he looked great! Everything was set and guests began flooding in.

The event was a ticket only event and had completely sold out, guests arrived some in costume too and marvelled at our white rabbit who remarked that they were all late for tea! The acrobats began a performance in the snug and the party was soon in full swing. The food stands were a huge success in allowing a smooth running to that aspect of the evening and the entertainment and photos flowed all evening in the central area.

After the event we received an enormous amount of positive feedback. Guests were happily posting photos of their kids enjoying the evening, munching their party bag sweet cones and stating what amazing value it had been. From our aspect the event was a great success, it may have tipped over budget slightly but the new play Factore showreel was amazing, the new props could be used in future events and productions, we'd created a lovely opportunity for under-privileged children and we'd proved to ourselves that private events would work at anytime of year- not just coinciding with a national holiday.

A huge thanks to all my team and my boss for trusting me- I've learned a lot at this event and can't wait to create another!

K x

Update 2017: Looking back at this event I was lucky to have incredibly flexible staff and professional performers on board. I am still proud of what was achieved, a great partnership was built with the housing trust and it gave a lot of kids who had never been to a place like Play Factore a fantastic evening. It also achieved great feedback for the company without a single negative review (which in this day and age is virtually unheard of!) My older self would love to recreate this event with the knowledge and experience I have gained since, starting at the original pitch. When creating an event like this it is vital to have an insight into a client's budget. I wasted a lot of time at this stage contacting performers for quotes and trying to put together possible options to show the board ending in a madness of figures and ideas. Since creating this event I've learned to always ask for budgets when possible in order to create the best event for the client- there's nothing more disappointing than suggesting something they can't afford and them having to settle for less. I also think being a performer myself the board expected an interactive pitch of my event-which now I think about it- I could have achieved easily- hindsight is wonderful and knowledge comes from experience. Creating this event for Play Factore was a huge learning curve for me and I am extremely grateful for the experience and trust that was given to me.

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