Long gone are the days, celebrated in most every Jane Austen novel, when a dinner party filled with sparkling conversation and good food and wine seamlessly flowed into the next room for entertainment.
And whether the festivities there included card-playing or perhaps a bit of pianoforte and Regency-era dance, there always seemed to be an air of excitement.
Today’s hosts and hostesses have plenty of resources when it comes to reviving that salon culture. A party, after all, is about the guests and their enjoyment. Celebrations can be expanded to feature a dancer or magician, a soprano or an artist. And that addition of live entertainment can transform just another Saturday night get-together with friends into something special.
Sometimes it’s completely over the top, says Brett Galley, the director of special events for Hollywood Pop Gallery/Le Pop Nouveau.
The event planning and production company, with offices in Greenwich, Manhattan and London, can do everything from recreating a scene that transports the guests to an elegant jazz club to bringing in such entertainers as Tony Bennett and Katie Perry.
The company’s in-house design and decor departments work with clients to create custom events that suit their every need. No matter the reason – or level of detail – a few things are common.
“People like to celebrate,” Galley says. “They like to celebrate great occasions.”
And whether it’s an elaborate 50th anniversary party or a smaller gathering of friends, it’s all about making a memory.
“You’re capturing such a special moment in time,” she adds.
Here is just a sampling of entertainers you might consider for your next gathering.
How’d he do that?
David “Magicdave” Ferst, magician
It’s hard not to be captivated by Magicdave. Sit across from the energetic David Ferst and be dazzled as he changes dollar bills into hundreds, identifies the playing card you pick from the deck and has you – yes, you –bend a quarter. If that isn’t enough, you will also likely gasp as he seemingly reads your mind.
The 35-year-old Valhalla man combines sleight of hand, magic and mind reading with nonstop talk peppered with a heavy dose of humor for a delivery reminiscent of entertainers of old.
“I get people involved, because everyone’s a kid at heart,” Ferst says. “Magic is just the vehicle. It’s the entertainment, the connection … the look on people’s faces is why I do it.”
Self-taught (and doing tricks since age 6), Ferst left law school for a career in magic – and hasn’t looked back. Today, he’ll do several shows a day and even teaches.
But don’t expect Ferst to be standing on a stage in a top hat and cape with a magic wand: The “FERST Name In Magic, Memory and Mind Reading” notes he’s just as likely to spend a party mingling among the guests, performing one-on-one tricks.
Ferst’s corporate clients have ranged from ABC’s World News to Lamborghini, National Geographic to Chase Bank. He’s been hired to work charity events, country clubs and restaurants such as Le Cirque while performing everywhere from Peekskill to Las Vegas. Along the way, he’s worked with David Blaine and David Copperfield and even performed for Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe.
“Whenever I do magic, it’s also about changing the way people think,” Ferst says.
Let your logical mind take a break. Magic, he says, isn’t “a challenge. It’s entertainment. It’s not a puzzle. Don’t try to figure it out.”
Ferst says he gives “110 percent every time. I don’t half-heart anything. I go full force.”
And that includes interacting with every guest. With a photographic memory, he’s even able to remember the name and details of every person he meets.
“People say, ‘Dave, the magic’s great. The mind reading’s great. But at the end of an event, you remember every person’s name and where they’re from.’”
And what guest wouldn’t feel flattered by that?
Contact: Magicdave.net or (914) 649-4246.
From sandwich meats to serenades
Joe Fratto, keyboardist, guitarist and singer
The DeCicco Family Markets are known as a tight-knit company where employees are like family.
So it was no surprise that when the Cross River store recently opened, longtime DeCicco deli supervisor Joe Fratto was playing the keyboard as part of the festivities.
Fratto, a Bronx man who’s been part of the DeCicco family since the early 1980s, was happy for another chance to perform.
After all, many of his weekends and evenings are spent singing and playing the keyboard for solo performances – or on guitar when he takes the stage as part of the six-piece Italian-themed band Melodia.
A band member for some 20 years, Fratto says his music overall is “a little Italian, a little American.” And plenty of Elvis Presley. “Elvis is like my number one.”
The remainder of the repertoire might date from the 1940s and ’50s and run through today’s popular songs. It’s a broad mix that most always also includes Frank Sinatra.
Fratto talks about playing Friday nights on Arthur Avenue or weekends at weddings and other private parties throughout the region.
It’s a musical schedule he’s kept since he began playing in his early teens.
Fratto says the rise of the party DJ has cut into the territory, but live entertainment still offers something unique.
“People do look for us. It’s like a specialty. They don’t want to put a record on.”
And that’s just fine with Fratto. “When people are happy, it makes me happy. I love it.”
Contact: (347) 495-1741.
Creating an artistic experience
Marcy B. Freedman, performance artist
Marcy B. Freedman is an artist who lives in Croton-on-Hudson and has a studio in Peekskill.
She’s long worked with painting, drawing, collage, sculpture and photography, devoting the last few years to video and performance art. The venues have ranged from museum galleries to coffee shops to street corners, but she’s also brought the creative work to a number of parties.
“I’m not known for doing the ordinary,” Freedman says.
And when she hears of a host or hostess wanting to mix things up? “They should think that way.”
Performance art, she says, can really work in a party setting, helping spark conversation, interaction and thought.
“Performance art is not theater. It’s not dance. It’s not music… You’re making art, but it doesn’t result in a fine-art project.”
Her work can include scripted or unscripted vignettes, with pieces ranging from five minutes to eight hours. No matter the format, she thinks the heart of the work is key, especially in today’s digital world.
“I just get more and more convinced that human interaction is more important.”
Freedman offers examples of some recent projects, which all complement her work as an art historian with an active lecture schedule.
“IDENTITY” was an interactive performance during a benefit for the Lagond Music School in Elmsford. Wearing a mask, Freedman mingled with guests to discuss the honoree. The piece, Freedman explains, masked her own identity while exploring the identities of others.
In addition to solo work, Freedman is also part of a painting performance group called EYE. In June, the group was at the Katonah Museum of Art for “Wear EYE or Nothing at All.” The evening featured “improvisational painting on clothing,” with participants wearing (or bringing) garments the group would embellish into wearable art.
“I thought, ‘How many people are actually going to do this?’ We had a waiting list.”
And she’s sure people in attendance won’t forget the experience.
“Because people have watched it evolve, they get very connected to the process.”
Freedman can just as easily create art in a living room as in a studio.
“I love the idea of a challenge, so if people said, ‘We’re doing a party on this theme, what would you do?’ … It’s a challenge.”
And one she seems more than ready – and able – to embrace.
“I like to put myself out there.”
Contact: (914) 271-5891 or email@example.com.
The write stuff
Carol Lowbeer, handwriting detective
Even today, when some might say the art of penmanship is being lost, the way you put words on paper still says a lot about you.
And Carol Lowbeer, known as “The Handwriting Detective,” will tell you just what that is.
Lowbeer is a master graphologist, who has analyzed thousands of people’s handwriting over the past 20 years. Now based in the Farmington area, she’s shared her talents at venues ranging from the Rainbow Room to the QE2 for a client list that has featured Glamour magazine, Lord & Taylor and Waterman Pens. She even talks about the swirls and slants, spacing and pressure — the elements she examines — during lectures and courses at area community colleges.
It’s a busy schedule but one that still manages to include private parties and special events.
“It’s a real icebreaker,” she says. “Everyone’s done the tarot readings and the caricaturists. They’re looking for something different.”
Lowbeer’s script sleuthing was sparked at the start of her teenage years.
“My father was a Viennese doctor, and this was pretty big in Europe.”
She’d eventually study at The New School in Manhattan and with several leaders in the field to perfect her skills.
“Basically handwriting is a form of body language,” she says.
These days, she asks someone to write something, either free form or by copying sentences she provides. Content isn’t important.
“I don’t read what they wrote. It has to be more than just a signature. It has to be two or three lines to get a good reading.”
The reading, she adds, is a synopsis of someone’s talents and strengths. She jots down the observations to leave each participant with a souvenir of sorts.
Sometimes, Lowbeer says, people greet her with trepidation.
“Men tend to be very skeptical. They ask a lot of questions: How do I know this? How do I know that? They really put me through my paces.”
But she’s more than prepared to offer a memorable moment to anyone.
“I put everything in a very positive light, so it’s very entertaining.”
Robin Lynch, aerialist
Robin Lynch’s tagline is “Reaching New Heights,” and that’s just what this Harrison aerialist is doing.
The longtime athlete performs high above the party floor, twisting and twirling over guests at festivals, corporate events, weddings and private parties around the world.
And if your surroundings are right – think height requirements, rigging capabilities and the like – she can bring the show to your own home or property.
Lynch started training in 2004, working with a teacher at a trapeze school. From there, she advanced and studied with other experts in the field and began performing. She says she then gave it up for a time, devoting herself to her autistic son. But last summer, she was back in action after taking a class. She began her own business this year, relying on her marketing background to get things going.
Lynch says she likes the way aerial work combines athletics and art. The onetime field hockey and softball player, who’s run for more than 20 years, says the aerial work is her latest physical outlet.
“It’s something I always wanted to do,” she says. “Anyone can.”
Make that anyone who follows a regime like hers – strength training, eating healthy, staying active and avoiding alcohol. She trains as well at The Cliffs at Valhalla, an indoor climbing and fitness center.
It all pays off during the performance, which is set to music of any kind.
“Whatever you feel, you just move to the music.”
Her performances generally last about 30 minutes. Some events see her performing several times.
“You have to kind of read the crowd.”
And often, she says, the crowd watches in awe as it’s not often you get to see someone high above, doing acrobatic moves seemingly intertwined with long stretches of silk.
“People have heard about it, but they’ve never seen it. It’s unique … I think it’s considered a form of dance, an acrobatic dance.”
And one, she says, she hopes will spark people to pursue their own dreams.
“I think it’s something that’s very ethereal. It’s something very inspirational.”
Together in song
Mary Mancini, soprano, and Mario Tacca, accordionist
The musical connection between the husband-and-wife team of Mary Mancini and Mario Tacca is evident, even to someone who’s just met them.