The Big Splurge Some Ideas for Making an Event Splash

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Franklin Institute allows couples to get married in its Fels Planetarium

By Peter Key

Outdoor weddings can be beautiful. But they also can be at the mercy of the weather.

If you’re willing to shell out a few shekels, however, you can get married under the stars and still be inside. In fact, you can choose the stars you get married under.

That’s because the Franklin Institute allows couples to get married in its Fels Planetarium, which is the second-oldest planetarium in the country.

The Philadelphia-based science museum hosts about 40 weddings a year, and Gina DeGiovanni, its event manager, said many are in the planetarium.

“You get to have your own star fields … projected on the dome overhead,” she said.

Renting a venue like the Franklin Institute is just one thing you can do if you’re ready, willing and able to splurge on an event.

Of course, “splurge” is a relative term. When the now-defunct Advanta was flying high last decade, its Fort Washington-based CEO, Dennis Alter, hired Elton John to perform at his birthday party.   

You’re probably not going to do that. But if you have a big budget, there are many ways to make an event unforgettable, regardless of whether it’s a wedding, birthday or mitzvah.

One way is to give your event a theme.

For example, Conshohocken-based Exceptional Events did an event with a Philadelphia theme that featured the treats you might expect — soft pretzels, Tastykakes, Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews — and Wawa coffee to wash them down.

Thanks to a healthy budget, however, the company was able to add some larger features that were also Philly-related.

“We had an Eagles tailgating truck as guests arrived, had professional athletes on-site to sign autographs and, of course, the Mummers are always fun, and they came and did a little number,” said Exceptional Events’ owner Stacey Kesselman.

Jennifer Lawn, the proprietor of Perkiomenville-based JL Original Designs, said her company provided Middle Earth decor for a Tolkien-inspired wedding.

“It was probably my craziest wedding,” she said.

The bride, groom and guests all came dressed as characters from The Lord of the Rings books and movies, Lawn said.

“It was cute to see the official up there not in [Middle Earth] garb,” she said.

For a Valentine’s Day wedding featuring a bride whose favorite movie was Beauty and the Beast, JL Original Designs held the event in a black theater turned into a rose garden lit in red. The company used special lighting plates to project images of roses on the walls, Lawn said.

Another interesting JL Original Designs wedding had a bride and groom who were Goths. The bride wore black, in keeping with the subculture, but her and the groom’s favorite color was orange, leading the company to come up with an unusual idea for centerpieces.

“In the middle of [each] table was an aquarium full of goldfish,” Lawn said. “The guests had to take them home at night in a bag.”

Bar Mitzvahs typically have more mainstream themes, but even those can result in lavish events.

For example, Adam Weitz said his Southampton-based events company, A Sharp Production, recently did a Bar Mitzvah with a Super Bowl theme. That, he said, is a theme that’s easy to spend money on, depending on how authentic the people paying for it want to get.

One place to start is with centerpieces. When a client gives the go-ahead, Weitz said, A Sharp Productions will use real National Football League helmets for their bases.

To give the event an additional air of authenticity, he said, each guest can be given an actual NFL jersey and someone can be hired to press the guest’s name and the number of his choice on it.

One recent A Sharp Production Super Bowl-themed Bar Mitzvah had a 30-by-50-foot image of the inside of a football stadium.

One recent Super Bowl-themed Bar Mitzvah, Weitz said, had a 30-by-50-foot image of the inside of a football stadium, “so every time we took pictures, it looked like they were in a stadium.”

Other nice touches can include staffers dressed as referees; goalposts with footballs suspended in the air above; a ticket booth will a “will-call” sign where guests can pick up “tickets” resembling Super Bowl tickets; an echo effect, so when guests are asked to pick up “tickets,” it sounds like their names are being read by a public-address announcer in an NFL stadium; an entrance lined with women in realistic cheerleaders’ outfits or actual NFL cheerleaders who cheer each guest’s entrance; and carbon dioxide cannons that blast fog when the Bar Mitzvah boy walks in.

“If it’s offseason, or it’s during a day that doesn’t require a ballplayer to be in training, you can have an NFL player signing autographs during the cocktail hour,” Weitz said.

If making a venue look like an NFL stadium isn’t enough for you, you can hold your event in an actual NFL stadium.

Lincoln Financial Field offers a variety of spaces and features, as does Citizens Bank Park, where you can get tours of the dugout and clubhouse areas, walk the bases during baseball season and have your party crashed (possibly a little too literally) by the Phillie Phanatic.

For the more culturally minded, the Philadelphia Museum of Art handles a wide range of events, offers catering by restaurateur Stephen Starr’s STARR Events and provides tours of whatever exhibitions it’s hosting at the time of the event.

Jose Garces’ catering company handles events at the Philadelphia Orchestra’s current home, the Kimmel Center, which offers seven venues, including the rooftop atrium Hamilton Garden; the Lounge, with its outdoor balcony overlooking Broad Street; and the Academy of Music Ballroom.

And, of course, there’s the Franklin Institute, which hosts Mitzvahs as well as weddings. DeGiovanni said one family that held a Bar Mitzvah there had visited Israel and went with an Israeli marketplace theme for the event’s cocktail hour.

“Instead of projecting stars, we projected imagery from Israel [on the planetarium’s ceiling] to really give people the impression that they were in a different place and time,” she said.

The institute also can put images, including videos, on the four 16-by-9-foot screens in the corners of its Franklin Hall.

For one Bar Mitzvah, DeGiovanni said, the family had a video made to look like a Nike commercial that featured the Bar Mitzvah boy playing tennis with his dog.

“It looked like a legitimate Nike commercial that had the dog wearing the glasses and the special effects,” she said.

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