Bet Tzedek’s popular Justice Ball benefit came in from the heat Saturday evening, moving from a movie studio parking lot tricked out as a nightclub into an actual nightclub—the Palladium in Hollywood.
The switch back to the event's former venue came at the suggestion of the legal aid group’s new event production company, Toast, which whipped up an Alice in Wonderland theme with Bet Tzedek’s development director, Matt Szelca.
“We said the Lot seemed like a vast space, and we lost a lot of people [last year],” said Toast's Kimberly Krouse, who pulled together the event with partner Todd Cooper. “Parties should be contained so people understand where everything is.”
Toast also left its imprint on the 13th annual event with its trippy theme, which struck the 2,700 guests as soon as they entered through a colorful turning barrel leading to a doorway flecked with bubbles from an overhead machine. Clumps of giant cartoony mushrooms and funhouse mirrors dotted the venue, and a pair of stilt-walkers, one dressed as the Mad Hatter, circulated among the guests. Two women in colorful tights and butterfly wings, enclosed in giant bubbles, moved about the stage and onto a runway extension, beneath a somersaulting aerialist dressed as Alice. ELS's color-changing lights added visual drama.
Organizers also carved out smaller spaces in the vast venue, including a Tweedledee and Tweedledum-theme karaoke lounge on a balcony, and the intimate “Through the Looking Glass Lounge” with tall, mirrored cocktail tables off the V.I.P. balcony. Outside, the “Crazy Caterpillar Hookah Garden,” decorated with oversize mushrooms and flowers, offered smokers three hookahs to puff on.
In past years, the event has climaxed with a performance by bands including the Psychedelic Furs, the Violent Femmes, and the Go-Gos, but organizers dispensed with a live concert this year in favor of an appearance by DJ AM, who reduced his fee for the charity.
“The bands they’ve chosen of late skew on the older side, and it’s quite a young crowd—a lot of people are in their 20s and 30s,” said Krouse. “We wanted to make it a cool, hip place to be, sex it up a little bit. And we all know [DJ] Adam [Goldstein] can bring down the house.”
Organizers also invited JDate to host a speed-dating room, since the event has evolved into a reputable relationship hunting ground. The room was soon packed. “We realized this place is a hookup area for affluent, educated people looking for a date,” said Krouse. “But we didn’t know it was going to go off like a house on fire. There was a waiting list all night long.”