December 9, 2011 -- Another year has come and gone, and so has another Charles Dickens Dinner, or as Dean Cutietta accidentally called it, The 25th Annual Charles "Chickens" Dinner. And in about six months the cycle will begin all over again. Another six months of planning, two hour long production meetings, last minute changes, and yet another chance to grow as an event planner, gaining new experiences and skills with each challenge.
This year we honored Richard Carpenter of the GRAMMY®-award winning duo, The Carpenters, with the USC Thornton Legacy Award and the GRAMMY Foundation® with the John C. Argue Dickens Medal of Honor. Randy and Gretchen Newman served as our dinner chairs and their playful interaction on stage (completely off-script) had everyone laughing, myself included, creating a warm and comfortable environment.
The evening was highlighted by featured performances from our choral, opera, popular music, classical guitar, and early music departments, giving guests a broad sampling of the talent that exists at the Thornton School of Music. Rod Gilfry, baritone opera star and USC Faculty member narrated the evening with snippets of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
It's interesting to look back and reflect on where I was last year when this event happened. It was a huge milestone in my career and the success of the event was such an encouragement and affirmation that I'm right where I'm supposed to be. This year was a huge test of my patience as I waited for all the loose ends to come together, many of which I had no control over. There are always last minute seating changes, personnel changes, conflict in scheduling and the production flow, and it's in those moments where the ability to make decisions and act quickly are key factors when managing an event. I know the only reason I felt so calm the entire week leading up to the event was because my peace was not from myself, but from God. I feel truly blessed to get to spread that peace and in doing so create an atmosphere where others around me -- people on the production team, the hotel staff, the guests -- are able to experience that same sense of ease. What I was reminded of at Dickens is how much my attitude and demeanor affect everyone involved in the process. If I am stressed out, my team feels that anxiety and so do the guests (that last people I want feeling stressed out).
Some of my favorite moments were the times I stepped aside from the event itself and invested in the people around me: an encouraging phone call with a friend, a short chat with the security guard while waiting for the linens to be placed, conversations with the crew from Classic Party Rentals, escorting lost guests to the VIP reception, greeting donors and guests at their tables, laughing at the awkward moments from the stage, joking around with my co-workers -- together they all made this Dickens Dinner so enjoyable despite working 18 hours, my day beginning at 5:45am and ending at about midnight the same day. It's what allows me to smile at the end of the day.
I couldn't be happier at how Dickens came together, awkward moments and all. I'm thankful that the autograph auction turned out better than I expected. I'm thankful that all the decor came together to create my winter wonderland theme. I'm thankful that I got the chance to eat lunch AND dinner. I'm thankful for my amazing team of vendors and production crew. I'm thankful for all the encouraging texts from my friends. I'm thankful that my family came to support me. And lastly, I'm thankful for the opportunity to plan and oversee an event of this magnitude at this point in my life.
I hope you enjoy the pictures and Merry Christmas!
Venue, Catering, & Valet: Millennium Biltmore Hotel, Valerie Lehman
Linens: Elegant Design Specialty Linens
Florals: Dellarobbia Design Studio & Flower Market
Lighting, Production, Sound: Thinkwell Design & Production
Rentals: Classic Party Rentals
Sound: PRG Audio