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New Years in Wonderland
New Years in Wonderland

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The Forum New Years: The Alice in Wonderland Party

The Forum in Wonderland:
The End All of the Alice in Wonderland Theme

Design Dialogue by Jack Kelly of Eye Dialogue
Photography by Kathy Hendricks, & Devyn Norman
December 31, 2006 | The Forum | Charlotte NC

Chinese_Lanterns LargeSpade H2O in Wonderland I'm_Mad

24 Color Kinetics Sauce Lighttro & Paper Lanterns
13 American DJ H2O 250
40 Stock Apollo Gobos
2 Elation UV Blast

4 American DJ MR RGB E27 LEDs
63 Oversized Flowers, Fish, and Bugs from SuperiorStudio
14 Oversized Clocks from Hobby Lobby
300+ Silk Roses from A & B Florist
250+ 6' Artificial Vines from Garden Ridge

When Kevin Mitchell gave Eye Dialogue a $5,000 design budget for the Forum’s New Years party, my heart skipped. The Forum has been increasing my budget on nearly every party since I started designing the sets and lighting for their events. With the success of the Halloween party advancing me and my largest budget yet, I aggressively started brain storming with Kevin over possible themes.

When I presented the idea of an Alice in Wonderland New Years Party, I was met with skepticism. One cannot use a common party theme without being compared to previous parties. It’s risky. If it doesn’t exceed all previous parties, it will be labeled cheesy and lame. A new or grand element must be introduced, because there is no greater suicide in entertainment than being compared to last year’s themes and parties.

My idea was to hypothetically create the party that Lewis Carol attended which inspired the writing of Alice in Wonderland. I wanted to avoid the Disney-childlike interpretations and make the event dramatic, suggestive, and contemporary. My first inclination was to focus on the objects and scenery not the characters. By eliminating the personalities, the crowd becomes the focus. Make the crowd feel like they have snuck into Wonderland unbeknown to its inhabitants in order to throw the biggest party ever.


On a side note, the purpose of night life is a social one, the entertainment factor is only for momentary distraction to create conversation. If the décor and entertainment become two interesting then the crowd ceases to talk. The drinkers will wait to order another until their attention is broken, a fatal blow to any nightclub. On the other hand if the club is uninteresting, those that are flying solo or feel uncomfortable will not be distracted long enough to meet anyone, checking their watches and wondering what is happening next store. In essence, the successful of a night club is dependent on its ability to create conversation and interaction.

When I pick a theme for a design, I look up every word association on Google images to explore what has been done. Alice in Wonderland brought up myriads of images mostly relating to Disney. Skipping the children’s section, I searched for more abstract and contemporary references. Downloading every rousing photograph and visual association, I discovered many treasures on Flickr.com and some Theatrical sites. Most of my inspiration came from the illustrations in the different versions of Carol’s story. When perusing pictures of theme parties, most were either lame or were nothing more than elaborate stage sets which didn’t even compare the pictures of the theatrical stages of Eastern Europe. Luckily, I didn’t find any documentation of an environmental setup that placed the crowd in wonderland. I now found my angle in creating the Forum’s Alice in Wonderland party.

The key themes of the book deal with our perception of size and time. I wanted to create the feeling that you were growing or shrinking and experiencing multiple times of day simultaneously. So I had to create zones that suggested these ideas. The three zones taken from the book were underwater after Alice flooded her self, the rose forest of the queen, and the flowerbed when Alice meets the flowers. The fourth zone was more geometric and abstract with loose affiliations. The outside was based on the psychedelic design of the flyer.

The most dramatic scene in the club was from the dance floor and mezzanine. High open ceilings traveling from the first floor to the second naturally make people feel small. So I used over 50 large paper flowers ranging from 12” to 40” in diameter and 12” to 24” butterflies aligning the mezzanine in 4 clusters to create the flowerbed, implying that the dance floor was the dirt with the flowers towering above. Each flower group was arranged to create a specific look. Bold red roses and deep yellow sunflowers were carefully arranged with balance and symmetry to show a feeling of grandeur and power. A cluster of multi color roses and hyacinth were randomly gathered in a corner of the mezzanine to look like they were gossiping about the other flowers in the garden. The summer flowers: daisies, gloriosas, and glory lilies were bunched together eagerly watching the crowd. On the other corner pansies played like children with the bright colorful butterflies. The flowers were grouped together with large spaces in between to allow voyeurs to view those dancing below. Also the gaps prevented damage from eager patrons bending and tearing the props trying to see their friends.


Above the flowers on the mezzanine, 24 20” Chinese lanterns traveled the spectrum of color with Sauce Lighttro Led light bulbs. The floating and colorful Chinese lanterns suggest the underlying eastern exotic themes throughout the book and the movies. In the middle of the dance floor, I hung 5 clocks from 24” to 36” in diameter in a round cluster. The old English, and French decorative wall clocks gave an antique feel, however they were lit with 4 American DJ MR16 Led fixtures. The old style combined the color changing fixtures created a trippy-fantastic look. I love center pieces. Having this focal point provides completion in the mind of viewers bringing the element of time into the flowerbed.

The biggest impact a designer can make on a night club is to remove or reinvent the preexisting system. This is easily done by changing out the gobos in the moving lights. At less than 10 dollars each, thousands of stock gobos can be purchased from several companies. I ordered 5 different sets: a group of 8 snowflakes, 8 butterflies, 8 hearts, 8 playing cards, and 8 flowers. Utilizing the professional lighting system in most night clubs is often overlooked as a resource for establishing the theme of an event. Directed with vision, I effectively completed the scene on the dance floor removing all major remnants of the usual dance floor. Changing the gobos was the least expensive and most dynamic effect in the room not for only for the images spinning around the room but also for removing the old familiar ones.


My favorite area was the Rose Forest which was a large area at the far end of the dance floor raised about 16 inches. I wanted to create the feeling of being deep in a forest. I used large half circles (5’ Diameter) with a bright white light in the center of the circle. The light bursting through the rose foliage looked like the sun was breaking through the trees. This break up was suggestive of morning and/or evening bringing the element of time into the rose forest. The final touch was adding the playing cards. I placed four 3.5’x 6’ cards with just a large picture of the primary card symbols (? ? ? ?) above the railing to separate the forest from the garden. I wanted an antique metallic feel of armor. My artistic director, Anna Gallagher, and I decided to use crackle paint over a silver metallic base coat for the black cards and a copper metallic base for the red cards. The white background with the colored symbol crackled perfectly creating a metallic undertone. We then matched a red and black card and wove them together with ½” rope. The effect was perfect: massive banners heralding the emblems and traditions.

Gobo_CardsThe hard part was making the trees which I designed and Anna arranged. I had to figure out how to make 5’ round tree tops that could hold the weight of 40 to 50 roses and 60 to 90 branches and vines without being too heavy. The solution was to use ½ inch PVC and make relief cuts every 6” to 10” on the inside of the circle. The relief cut was half the width of the pipe making the pipes easy to bend. Each half-circle shell for the trees used eight 4’ PVC pipes, 4 t-connectors, and one cross connector. Before using the relief cuts, the pressure kept causing the joints and pipes to snap resulting in cut up faces and hands. After the 6 frames were built, we wrapped the circumference of each frame in chicken wire creating an imperfect half ball shape and a very natural frame for a tree. The brutal tediousness of arranging every rose, branch, and vine took roughly 80 hours and 3000 zip ties bringing the total cost to around $500 dollars for each tree. Although ultimately the rose forest was taken down after New Years, talk of keeping the rose trees paid a great compliment to the quality and design.

The simplest room was the water room. I wanted everyone to feel like they were under water referencing Alice’s flood of tears. The side bar known as Pravda is traditionally associated with a red hue. Replacing the red with blue dynamically changed the feel and understanding of the room. Nine H2O effects flooded the room with a blue water effect that made everyone look like they were submersed. Even when empty, the room shimmered like a gentle pool of water covering the room. Just in case the idea was missed 3 jelly fish were glowing under a black light above the DJ Booth.


The roof top garden was classy and abstract. Covered in a large canvas tent, twenty two black and white fabric scrims hung from the ceiling in geometric formations. These 2’x 2’ squares were adorned with greenery and roses, creating a chess-like sanctuary. Using the accent color of red, I used 4 H2O’s for a red shimmering effect to shine on the ceiling. Maybe I went too far but a leave-less tree sat in a large pot in the middle of the roof. I took the H2O’s and brought them down so both the ceiling and the tree were covered. No one picked up the reference till I introduced the image as the burning bush.

For the outdoor design, I used the flyer for inspiration. The poster was suggestive of the psychedelic art of the late 70’s. Staying true to the style of the poster, I created a black light responsive sign using 4 panels of plywood that were 4’ x 2’. The sign read “Im mad / ur mad / we all / mad here.” We explored several approaches to the lettering and decided to purchase 9” bubble letters from Hobby Lobby and all four colors of luminescent spray paint from Home Depot (Pink, Orange, Yellow, and Green). The backer board was painted dark brown and prepped with three 5/8” holes on top and bottom. The lettering was randomly colored with the luminescent paint and attached to both sides of the board. The boards were attached with ½” rope, stacked on top of each other, and hung from a large I-beam extending from the front of the building. Ten paper machete 18” Gerbera Flowers decorated the sign. A large luminescent Cheshire cat sat on top of the beam smiling down on the crowd below. Three Elation UV blast made every letter explode with color. The photographer for the event commented that she could see the sign from the parking lot (about 300 yards away) letting her know she was at the right place.

Keeping the party goers in the line until they can get through the door is crucial, particularly with nearly 20 bars within 2 blocks of the Forum. Knowing the lines would be long we hired two actors to entertain the crowd. One in a Mad Hatter’s costume handing out party favors. The other was a costume of a 9’ Queen of hearts followed by her Jester. The comically fun element went over swimmingly, creating a natural buzz outside the club.

Unfortunately I went way over budget which came out of my pocket. Although painful, the Forum is one of my best clients. I felt it was a worthy sacrifice to be apart of what became their most successful New Years party ever. In spite of the rain, the Forum was sold out and packed an hour after the doors opened. The best compliment I received was from the owners and managers at the forum. They gave me a bonus after the party which seldom happens in the night club industry. Also, several clients of mine who only knew about my lighting expertise confronted me about designing a party for their venue or event. I have been trying to expand my client base from lights and sound to event décor. Knowing every new venture requires sacrifice, I willingly lost several thousand dollars and a couple hundred hours of labor. I have continued my reputation for excellence both expanding my horizons and increasing the visibility of Eye Dialogue.

RoseTreesLarge Flowers
Designer and Project Manager: Jack Kelly
Art Director: Anna Gallagher
Staff: Chris Hawkins, Devyn Norman, Brian Barker, Stephen James, Alison Parker
Actors: Hardin Minor (Mad Hatter), Tera Schultz (Jester to the Queen), Damon (Queen of Hearts)
Flyer Design: Mary Lawing
Volunteers: Christine Navarro, Tommi Swinson, Kate, Alison Mollifairy, Stacy Stamburgh, Eric Playner, Kevin Mitchell, Josh Frazier, Matt Bollick, Austin, Jen Misenheimer

Actors: www.hardinminor.com
Large Flowers and Bugs: www.superiorstudio.com
Artificial Flowers and Greenery: A & B Florist, Garden Ridge
Large Decorative Clocks: Hobby Lobby
Lighting: Color Kinetics, Elation, and American DJ
Fabric: Mary Jo’s
Materials: Home Depot

Rose forestAlice in Wonderland