CHICAGO Not even a month after the Steppenwolf Theatre gala, the organization held its annual Red or White Ball at the Illuminating Company last Friday. Hosted by the theater's auxiliary council—150 professionals who typically range in age from 25 to 45—the event serves as a fund-raiser for the Steppenwolf for Young Adults arts education program.
Steppenwolf director of individual and major gifts Brooke Walters spent a year planning this year's ball along with Lori Davidson, the theater's director of event management. Of the nearly 600 guests whom she expected on Friday, Walters said, “The Steppenwolf brand is a bit edgy, and our attendee base is reflective of this. [This event typically draws] the hipsters and the tastemakers.”
The crowd is also made up of young professionals who use the event to network—each year, local companies, including several law firms, purchase 10-ticket packages called “virtual tables” for their younger clients and associates (“virtual” because the ball is a cocktail party, so there are no proper dinner tables).
According to Walters, the event's progressive guest list presents an ideal target demographic for an eclectic group of sponsors. A diverse auxiliary board, she said, also helps in securing support from a range of industries. “Our auxiliary board is made up of people who work in everything from law to banking, and this is reflected in our sponsor grid,” she said. ''This year, a lot of support came from within the corporate and vendor communities.”
One of the event's leading sponsors was Infiniti, which is rolling out its new 2009 Infiniti FX in June. “The demo for this party is the perfect match for Infiniti because it reflects the audience they're marketing their vehicle to,” Walters said. Along with an on-site display of the new car just outside the entrance to the Illuminating Company, Infiniti created a presence at the event by hosting a special V.I.P. lounge, which occupied the venue's upstairs loft. Filled with sleek leather furniture that the car company had brought in for the occasion, the lounge featured a prominent Infiniti gobo and a separate Grey Goose-sponsored bar that served specialty pomegranate and white Cosmo martinis (a nod to the evening's “red or white” theme). “The lounge showcased Infiniti and provided added value for our guests,” Walters said. “It gave the V.I.P. guests [who had purchased exclusive $500 ticket packages] a sense of glamour and special treatment for the evening.”
Downstairs, videographers from Fig Media (another sponsor) shot live footage of the event. In the upstairs loft, a film editor worked on live video mixing, splicing the footage with sponsors' logos and projecting the video onto an oversize screen that hung above a bar on the venue's lower level.
Blue Plate offered further support from the vendor community, providing catering as an in-kind donation. During the V.I.P. reception, servers circulated with hors d'oeuvres like tuna and watermelon sashimi; later in the evening, food stations offered mini cheeseburgers and chicken-and-olive empanadas for a buffet-style dinner, which guests ate at lowboy tables draped in red.