By Tali Rosenblatt-Cohen
Sarah Merians, who owns one of the top event photography studios in New York, knows a thing or two about parties. And when it came to her own daughter’s bat mitzvah, Sarah had a good idea about the party she was hoping to plan. Because of Sarah’s high profile in the events and entertainment community, her blog (found at sarahmerians.com) has attracted a wide following for its insider perspective and practical approach to planning a meaningful, festive, and personal day for any child. Which, of course, is exactly what she tried to do for her daughter, Emily.
Tell us about Emily’s bat mitzvah.
We had a daytime luncheon and kids’ party right after the service. After digging through a lot of pictures and finding so many baking shots, the theme evolved into Sweet Emily. The logo was a cupcake and, because her name is Emily Rose, the icing was a rose, and we had pictures everywhere of Emily baking.
How far in advance did you start planning for the party?
Not as long as I would have liked! I started aggressively about 5-6 months before. I knew I could pull it off and I started with location.
Can you tell us about the look and feel of the space?
Everyone arrived to a cocktail party on an outdoor terrace, and then we went to the reception room. It was a nightclub feel—dark with lots of colored lighting, very purple and pink. We had lit up tables and cupcake centerpieces for the kids and for the adults. I had beautiful flower arrangements in cylinders.
What kind of entertainment was there?
I worked with E Three Productions’ Evan Tyler, who was the DJ. We also had a photo booth, a Lid’s hat-making booth, and a basketball and knock hockey game for the kids.
What role did your daughter play in the decision making?
I narrowed down a lot of things and gave her choices. I also spoke to vendors in advance and gave them my price point so that when we got there, she wasn’t disappointed about what she couldn’t have. And Emily gave me her feedback on everything.
What about the day was most important to her?
She wanted her friends to have a good time, so she was focused on the music and the games. She also really cared about dessert! She really wanted the chocolate fountain and she was all about the candy table.
How many people did you have?
It was small: 90 adults, 60 kids.
How did you choose who from your own company would photograph the party?
I went with who was available, but within that I looked at their particular strengths and had four people each doing three- or four-hour windows instead of the whole day. One is a little funkier; she did room shots and outdoor portraits. Another did indoor portraits. Another did the photo booth—he’s newer and was great with the kids—and one, who has been with me forever, did the rest.
What were the invitations like?
They were lavender and purple, very soft and very pretty. We put some thin artwork rose petals on it to go along with the theme. It was a fold-over with a beautiful ribbon, and in the pocket was all the [information] like transportation and parking and a card about the service before and the party afterward.
What part of party were you particularly proud of?
Because I’m a photographer, I have 100,000 pictures—no exaggeration—of my daughter. I was able to narrow it down to 403 pictures and created a 20-minute montage. Talking about my daughter and how proud I am of her and then introducing the montage was my favorite moment.
Was there a scene that will stay with you?
When I thanked everyone for being there, I looked around the room. I lost my parents rather young. My father died when I was 23 and my mom passed away three years ago. So for me, looking around at all the people in that room, they fill that void. I also do parties for a living so to be at my own instead of everyone else’s, I think that really was awesome.
What advice do you have for parents planning mitzvahs?
Really simple: It’s all about organization. Put together a big list and then look at timelines, dates, priorities, and specifics instead of looking at everything, which is completely overwhelming. First, figure out who you’re going to invite and send out a save the date—that’s the most important thing. You want to have people there who you love, so regardless of how late you are with everything else, at least people get it on their calendars. I also strongly advise that parents be a very united front about what you want and what you can afford before you present anything to your children. Children shouldn’t make the decisions; they should make choices.
Any final thoughts?
Pick a photographer and a videographer who are excellent. After all your planning, you want to make sure you have great pictures so you can relive it over and over again. I’d say that even if I wasn’t a photographer! And enjoy the planning because the party is only four hours and you’re done. So it’s the ride, like anything in life, not just the day of. I was incredibly proud of my daughter through the whole process. At the end of the day, she’s standing up in front of all her family and friends and it’s a big deal.
Vendors For Emily’s Party
Jessi Olarsch Celebrates At Providence
By Eric Messinger
Darren Olarsch has been running his own entertainment company, On The Move, since 1993, and started in the business a few years before that. He prides himself on creating a company that offers his style of entertaining, with an emphasis on classiness and fun. Not surprisingly, he organized just that kind of party for his daughter and was very happy to look back on the occasion with us.
Is it easier to plan a bat mitzvah if you happen to be in the industry?
Let me put it this way: Where most people would have started much earlier, I waited and waited because I knew I could pull it together pretty quickly, given all my friends in the industry. But actually there is a lesson here for everyone. I tell my friends and clients the same thing: You don’t have to sweat it if you haven’t planned far in advance. The days of calling every vendor two years prior to the party are over, unless you want to be really neurotic about it. The only issue is if there’s specific talent you want, [in which case] book early, because the best get booked up. But generally speaking, you don’t have to book everything very early on to put together a great party.
How long did you wait?
I waited a day or two before I had to mail the invitations—that was between two and three months out. And, later, we decided to switch venues about two weeks before the party!
The Metronome Group owns several properties, and we originally booked one of their other properties. But our list of people kept on growing—plus, we were planning to do the service on site—so I asked if their larger space [Providence] was still available, and we ended up switching. It ended up being about 120 kids and 45 adults.
Was there a theme or overarching look or feel to the party?
The way we designed the party, it felt just like a night club. We were commuting in from northern Jersey, so it was a treat for most of these kids to come into the city, and we really didn’t want it to feel like a country club or a hotel bar. And because of where we had it, we didn’t need to do much, which was a key reason we chose [the venue]. We own a lot of lighting ourselves, so we enhanced that a bit to make things more festive. But in terms of the décor, we didn’t even hire a florist or designer. My daughter and wife actually did some tall centerpieces themselves.
What were the centerpieces?
There was a camp theme. It wasn’t a heavily themed party, but it was Camp Jessi. They made little baskets with lanterns and camp supplies. It was very cute.
Were you and your family satisfied with how it all worked?
In every respect. It was casual, not over-the-top. Everyone loved it. The only thing that made me nervous were the buses. I’ve been to too many parties where I’ve seen buses get lost or be late. You have 100-something kids who are the bulk of the party, and they’re late. That’s torture. When our buses showed up on time, it was a big sigh of relief.
We assume On The Move provided the entertainment?
Of course I used my own crew, so I had all the confidence in the world in them, and they seemed liked they were extra happy to be doing my daughter’s party, which I really appreciated.
How many dancers? Any live instruments?
Six dancers. And I had my saxophonist there.
A sax? That’s sounds cool.
Yeah, the kids enjoy the musicians, but for most of them it’s more important to hear the music straight from the DJ. The adults, however, love when there’s some live talent.
Were there other forms of entertainment?
A couple sports tables for the boys; two photo booths, one where they’d take your photo, the other like a Coney Island-style booth where you get in and have fun; an illusionist, who was amazing; and a body artist. We wanted an event with a casual, fun vibe, so I tried not to go nuts on this stuff. I think I did it tastefully.
To what degree was your daughter involved in the planning?
She had a hand in a number of things, especially with the décor and the cake. She designed the cake and she wanted to bake it too, but we convinced her to leave that to the baker. She’s also pretty easygoing—in terms of the music, she was like, ‘Dad, just do it.’
What was your favorite moment?
When I gave my speech to my daughter, we connected and laughed throughout it. I told her how special she was and what a great future she was going to have and how she was turning out just like her mom, who looked gorgeous!
Any advice for parents planning a bar/bat mitzvah?
Always focus on the music! I would just say to keep in mind that the party is, first and foremost, about your child. And if you have any questions or doubts about anything, ask her what she thinks.
Vendors For Jessi’s Party