What’s wrong with Toronto event planning?

I’ve recently attended a few professionally organized events in the city, ranging from the Virgin Music Fest to the Canadian Opera Company’sOperanation” gala last Friday, and in each case, for various reasons, the event planning was just… off.

They ran out of beer at the Virgin Music Fest and the rainy Saturday didn’t even draw a sold out crowd, which is just inconceivable in Canada, home of people drinking suds. But even worse was the planning surrounding the Operanation event at the brand-spanking new Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a fabulous time, but the event itself, and the ambiance of the FSC left a lot to be desired. The truly tragic part was that with a little forsight it could have been a smashing success. Which leads me to the question – what’s wrong with Toronto event planning?

For starters, although beautiful and modern with fantastic views, the venue itself on a fall evening feels cold and cavernous. Walking into the event I was struck immediately that although the building was built to house our two world-class performing arts companies, the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada, there was nothing that felt like art. No history, no pictures of past performances or costumes anywhere in the lobby. Just metal, marble, glass, and wood. Nothing warm and inviting and dripping in culture. But there was a Land Rover. ;)

Which leads me to the event itself. The concept was fantastic – the food and drinks were themed around different opera’s, from bratwurst and beer for the Ring Cycle, to sushi and lychee martini for Madame Butterfly. Each station was housed in a different location, encompassing 3 floors of the lobby. Except… they were in horrible locations for foot traffic flow and ease of access. The sushi bar was at the top of the main staircase right next to the champagne reception area, and a small walkway that led to the tapas and sangria bar. To say the least it was difficult to navigate, and by the end of the evening, after the alcohol was flowing freely, it was difficult to navigate without getting spilled on. Did no one do a dry run with the number of people who would be expected at the event? Or a computer model of natural gathering places and walk space?

Last, but most certainly not least, was the acoustics. Part of the appeal of attending the event was to hear the DJ mixing arias and beats, as well as the three live performances of arias by up and coming opera stars. Well, good luck hearing anything much in that space. The positioning of both the live performance and the speakers was horrible. For the first opera performance we were standing directly above the performers (who were tucked away off to the side in a corner of the lobby) on the walkway of the second floor. We could barely hear them and there was no announcement that the performance was about to begin, or where they were located for the people who didn’t happen to be chatting above them. For the second performance we made it to directly in front of them, one row of people ahead of us. We couldn’t hear them at all. The crowd noise, the terrible acoustics at that location, it was awful. And frustrating. Again, where was the dry run with crowd noise and the noise of food and beverages being served? Why were they in a corner?

What’s wrong with Toronto event planning? Where is the pursuit of excellence that is so evident in events held in other world-class cities around the world? And who’s idea was it to have so few wait staff? Waiting 20 mins for a lychee martini only to have a manager come over and make them eventually didn’t feel “Opera Chic” to me.

Update: I almost forgot that my food options as a vegetarian were limited to bread or pastry at the French Bistro or an eggplant tapa at the Spanish Bar.

[photo credit: Bamcat on Flickr]

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