How to shake up a party mid-way through?
November 21, 2011 7:48 AM   Subscribe

Help me make this party extraordinarily memorable!

In a few weeks, Ms. Activitystory and I are throwing a party to celebrate me finally finishing my doctoral work. The crowd will be friends and some family, mostly academic types. It's a group that often attends the same parties, which are always fun, but we want this party to be something special. Apart from a nice spread of food and drinks, we were thinking that having something surprising "happen" at some point during the evening would push it into the "best party ever" realm-- ideally something that pulls the group back together after they have divided themselves up into little conversational groups, which is inevitable.

So, what should happen? I'm thinking something funny or strange, but in good taste (i.e., no stripping cops or firemen) and that won't be traumatic or scary in anyway (no prank-style stuff). I hope it'll be something that everyone can enjoy (the crowd will all be over 25 years old). Maybe food or drink related, but some sort of performance might be cool too. Nothing that forces any unwilling participation from guests, though.

We have some space to work with, as well as fireplace which will have a fire in it. Otherwise, it's a pretty typical house, and most of the party will be in the living room/kitchen/dining room areas. It will be too cold outside for staging anything in the yard.
posted by activitystory to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This would be really kinda corny, but perhaps a mock "graduation" where you give out fake "diplomas" to all present, with gag "majors" that capitalize on the group's in-jokes, quirks or foibles ("and Uncle Sid is graduating summa cum laude with a doctorate in Hanging Spoons Off His Face").

Yeah, it's BEYOND corny, but every so often you gotta let your hokey cornball flag fly.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:55 AM on November 21, 2011

A visit from Santa with gag gifts for all ?
posted by lobstah at 8:00 AM on November 21, 2011

Only serve savory snacks. Then, midway through the party, bring out a tray with everything needed to make S'mores, natch.
posted by Scram at 8:05 AM on November 21, 2011

You know, trying too hard may push it into something beyond "best party ever" territory.

How about gathering all your friends and family together for a heartfelt toast to them, for helping you get through your degree program? I'll bet they remember that far longer than anything cool or bizarre you can come up with.
posted by xingcat at 8:18 AM on November 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Make a photo booth. Add silly costume accessories (related to your field of study!), a cut out photo stand, or a backdrop to taste. If you get the mix of props right, people will really relax and laugh, and it creates opportunities for strangers to interact cheerily. If you can come up with things that are funny and related loosely to your field- they'll spark witty conversation too. You will win at life.

Setting up a photo booth is easier than you think - it can be a dedicated friend with a camera. Or if you have the budget ($60), I'd recommend a license from It is also capable of automatically uploading pictures to facebook and similar. My colleagues used it for a fairly elaborate arts conference project involving around 200 people taking pictures of themselves that were automatically saved to a dropbox folder.

There are also services with physical booths that will share the photos with guests or post them or sell them, etc.
posted by jewelledlights at 8:56 AM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hire a flair bartender (who can actually make good drinks at the same time) if you can find one; let them make drinks and entertain the crowd at the same time.

I used to do it (and shuck oysters...a good combo for any up scale party) and it was always a hit. Oysters on the half shell and a Grey Goose martini and everyone felt like they were living in television New York.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 9:30 AM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding the idea of making dessert the central activity. Make your own sundaes, decorate your own cupcake, or fondue come to mind. Even cutting a cake will accomplish this. You could get a fancy graduation cake to double as a centerpiece.
posted by yawper at 10:29 AM on November 21, 2011

The crowd will be friends and some family, mostly academic types.

I'm not saying these people can't party...but their goals here will be different from your goals.

This party is a culmination of your education, Dr...not theirs.

They might be showing up to show support, or just doing it because its their job.

They will probably not be as receptive to it as you will.

Good luck...and yeah, this isn't a memorable type of party any more than your defense will be memorable to the people questioning you.

Good luck, and congrats.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:49 AM on November 21, 2011

With my wife being an academic, I have to disagree with hal_c--academics really do know how to party. (Or maybe it depends on the field.)

My wife and I have been to more "memorable" academic parties than we can count, for many various reasons: One party had a "dress in the smallest Little Black Dress" you can find theme. Both men and women participated. Another was a hot tub party. Skinny dipping was involved, eventually. Another party was to try as many different types of wine as quickly as you could. There were about 125 different bottles available.

I could go on and on, but those are some of the more memorable ideas. And my wife and I were usually the youngest in attendance, in our mid-30s at the time.

However, nothing is more awkward than seeing your fellow stuffy academics in bikinis, drunk, topless, or telling stories about how much they hate their spouse, with their spouse a few feet keep that in mind when you plan your memorable moment.
posted by TinWhistle at 11:01 AM on November 21, 2011

have a mariachi band come and play some eighties tunes like this
posted by mrmarley at 11:40 AM on November 21, 2011

I once went to a "dress as your drink" party. Bring your drink and dress up.
This may be too forced participation but I had to put it out there.
As someone in academia, my friends thought this was cool.

Bring Red stripe beer= wear a shirt with a red stripe
I was the green absinthe fairy
Crown Royal=King costume

and the classy one
Jack+Coke= Jack on shirt in Sharpie+ dimebag of flour stapled on
posted by ibakecake at 2:16 PM on November 21, 2011

Music & Dancing: The best parties I go to are the ones with really great dance music for my age cohort. For us, that means classic Motown, Beatles, rock-n-roll, the sound track of the Big Chill, The Harder They Come, and a smattering of not quite so ancient tunes, preferably spun by a good dj. There was a party Saturday, and Aretha's Respect got everybody dancing. Your age cohort will have its own preferences. The DJ is important; they sense the group, and play tempos to speed it up, slow it down, etc.

Food & drink: Caterer. Or at least a couple of people to keep cooking, and pass platters of appetizers, pick up debris, etc. Lots of champagne, lots of decent bottled beer, and maybe a signature cocktail. Lobster, a big roast of beef, a custom grill, or any other celebratory food can really make a party, but is also spendy. A tempura station, with a caterer making fresh tempura, would be nice. Or, lots of fondue. You can get fondue pots at Goodwill, yard sales,, etc. It's fun, messy, retro and tasty. You could ask people to dress for a Mad Men Fondue Party - it's the right era. Of course, then you should serve Manhattans. and invite me.

Event/Theme; I went to a great Ides of March party, where togas, tunics and authentic-ish classic Roman or Greek dress was encouraged, there were songs and tributes in Latin and pig-Latin, and Greek food. Hire someone to come teach and lead a few Greek dances.

Google Theme Party, and you will get lots of ideas. Ask people ahead of time to write or perform a song or poem, dance, skit, etc., in keeping with the theme, with prizes for the best. The prize can be a bottle of wine, or silly stuff form the dollar store, but it should be presented in a manner consistent with the theme. Hire a(n amateur) photographer to take pictures, have a computer & printer on hand to make prints.

If the University you attended has interesting musical groups - acapella, steel band, jazz/swing, but probably not the classical string quartet, consider having a performance. Again, spendy, but fun.

Congratulations! Don't forget to post pictures.
posted by theora55 at 3:41 PM on November 21, 2011

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