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
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.
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
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.
| Designer and Project Manager: Jack Kelly
Art Director: Anna Gallagher
Staff: Chris Hawkins, Devyn Norman, Brian Barker, Stephen James, Alison
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
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