Theme Dreams

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When it comes to milestone parties, there are themes — cars, ballet, candy. And then there are themes.

Ryan Orlov’s neon baseball reception at Citizens Bank Park surely falls in the latter category. Following his December 2016 Bar Mitzvah at Main Line Reform Temple, the Bala Cynwyd teen was feted with neon cocktails served in neon glasses, and lemonade that flowed out of a neon ice sculpture shaped like Ryan’s name.

Men in neon green neckties sat at tables lit by glow-in-the-dark neon baseballs, as neon mazel tovs blazed on the Jumbotron.

“Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are generally very theme-oriented,” observed Valori Zaslow, a party planning veteran whose Bala Cynwyd-based firm, ReEvent, handled the Orlov reception. While the neon was novel, Zaslow said sports-oriented receptions are a perennial favorite.

This year, unsurprisingly, event planners expect a surge in Eagles parties — not only B’nai Mitvahs, but also weddings and milestone birthdays.

“We’ve definitely seen a few Eagles cakes already,” said Stephanie Fitzpatrick of Philadelphia-based EBE Events & Entertainment.

Riding a wave of Philly pride, Philadelphia’s mummers are also expected to be ubiquitous, said Fitzpatrick. She credits Eagles center Jason Kelce’s memorable Super Bowl parade speech, in full mummers regalia, for jump-starting the vogue.

“Mummers groups are boning up on the Rocky and Eagles fight songs,” noted Fitzpatrick, who coordinates entertainers as EBE’s talent director. “They’re being asked for that so much right now.”

Philadelphia itself — a city that inspires outsized pride and passion — is a more popular theme than ever, especially following a spate of high-profile events (the Pope’s visit, the Democratic National Convention, the Eagles win). “Anytime anyone gets married in Philly, it’s nice to do something that’s inherent to the city,” Zaslow said.

Party favors and out-of-town guest bags have long included local flavors like Tastykakes and Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews. Recently, Zaslow had a copy of the city’s iconic “LOVE” sign made for a wedding at the Radnor Valley Country Club, where it was tacked to a tree for the outdoor ceremony.

That wedding, recalled Zaslow, fit into another big trend planners are seeing: organic-tinged nuptials, inspired by farmers markets and all things natural and artisanal. “We’re even doing green and woodsy for a Bar Mitzvah cocktail hour,” Zaslow said. “It’s carrying through to a lot of events.”

The dress code may still be formal, but today’s reception decor is likely to feature burlap, branches, succulents and river rocks, said Stacey Kesselman, the president and owner of Conshohocken-based Exceptional Events. Especially at weddings, guests in silk and pearls are routinely following hand-carved wooden signs to rough-hewn tables and chairs.

Green, it seems, is everywhere — in the floral arrangements, as a color scheme, and even as a concept. One popular twist is for couples to recycle their wedding bouquets and floral arrangements by donating them to local hospitals. Fitzpatrick arranges to have the blooms picked up overnight so patients wake up to them.

In keeping with the social consciousness, couples are also making charitable donations in lieu of traditional party favors to cut down on waste. “I’m also seeing a lot more potted plants as opposed to cut flowers, even just for the aisle,” Fitzpatrick observed.

For the younger set, Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties tend to celebrate the individual. Kesselman sees a lot of receptions in the colors of a favorite summer camp, with tables named for “dance, drama, the dome — whatever’s specific to the camp,” she said.

Technology is behind some of the newest themes. In the era of Instagram poses and YouTube contouring videos, fashion is having a moment — with Gucci logos in the photo booth, “paparazzi” chasing the Bat Mitzvah girl, and red carpets leading into the reception.

Video game schemes are more of a hit with boys, planners said. Zaslow has designed tables with app screen centerpieces and table cards shaped like iPhones (with personalized “text messages” indicating where to sit).

“Something I’m seeing more and more for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs is a theme that’s a play on the kid’s name or initial — a pun that ties the night together and is unique to their child,” Fitzpatrick said.

That’s how Ava Schrier of Blue Bell ended up celebrating her February Bat Mitzvah with “One ExtrAVAgant Night,” incorporating her first name as a theme designed by Fitzpatrick.

What does One extrAVAgant Night look like? At the Bluestone Country Club, it meant a room bathed in Caribbean blue, with what Ava’s mother Kim Schrier called “jaw-dropping centerpieces,” glittering jewels and sparkly blue stones everywhere. “Afterward, everyone said it truly was an extravagant night,” she recalled.

Names are popular because they make natural logos, and B’nai Mitzvah logos are suddenly de rigeur. It may sound weird to anyone over 35, but teens today cap off their rite of passage with a custom-designed stamp, imprinted on everything from water bottles and cocktail napkins to kippot and tote bags.

“You have to think about how your logo will fit on a sweatshirt, how many colors it should be,” recalled Kim Schrier of the hours she and Ava spent combing Pinterest for inspiration. “Every color is a cost, and if you do a girlier logo, what do you put on the boys’ shirts?”

Against a backdrop of social media “likes,” such pressure to be unique can be overwhelming, Zaslow said. And not everyone plays an instrument, is crazy about shopping or cheers for a sports team. For those clients, Zaslow gently steers the conversation toward favorite colors or initials.

“Trying to define what you’re going to be for the rest of your life — that’s a lot of pressure for a 13-year-old, and even for a bride,” the planner noted. “It’s fine just to make it simple, understated and beautiful.” ❤

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