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  • Writer's pictureJaime Hilton

7 Important Tips to Remember When You Throw Your Kids a Party

What do you do with a B.A. in Theatre?

Throw your 13 year old a magical Harry Potter birthday party, of course!

If you're guessing she's a Hufflepuff, you're right!

One of my greatest joys as a mother is planning awesome birthday parties for my kiddos. They are such a fun way to commemorate who they are, how they have grown, and what’s coming in the next year. But they are also easily my biggest headache!

Birthday season runs from March to July in our house and I have to enforce rules like we can’t plan your party until we get through your brother’s” just to keep the constant flow of ideas at bay. I was ready to throw in the towel on birthday parties all together when my sister convinced me that thirteen is really special and worth celebrating. Plus she agreed to host it as her gift to the birthday girl.

The whole thing turned out to be a wonderful experience for everyone involved and helped me realize I still have a few party tricks up my sleeve. The following are my most useful takeaways.

1. Lower your expectations.

Remember you’re not building the next Universal theme park. It’s a birthday party. In theatre we say that the audience, in this case, your guests, come with a willing suspension of disbelief. This means that they know the candles are not actually floating, but they’re willing to ignore that for the sake of living in the magic of the moment. So take your expectations down a notch. Aim for creating an atmosphere, like Disney Bounding. You want to highlight the idea of the character, not copy them exactly.

Atmosphere is the magic word!

2. Plan, plan, plan. Then Prioritize.

Pinterest is your best friend and worst enemy when it comes to party planning. We went pin-crazy, collecting every Harry Potter party idea on the internet. Obviously we couldn’t do them all. So after pinning to our hearts content we went through and realistically considered a) what we truly wanted and b) what we were honestly capable of pulling off.

Even with that list in hand, as time for the party drew near we knew which projects were most important and which could slide if/when crunch time came.

We knew from the beginning we wanted to buy the banners and make the letters fly from the fireplace.

3. Use Theatre Magic

Theatre moms know that amazing things can be done to create the illusion if only you have the right tools. Duct tape, painters tape, a stack of construction paper, and fishing work wonders, but when the chips were down our real friend turned out to be command strips. Different sizes can handle different weights, hooks came in handy for banners and ropes, and they stick in strange places, like ceilings, far better than standard tape. Plus, they come off cleanly without pulling paint or leaving holes.

Command Strips for the win!

4. Compare the TRUE cost of DIY.

I’m a big fan of doing it yourself when it’s something you’re great at or love doing. But sometimes the emotional, mental, and physical cost of crafting outweighs the savings. Sure we could have saved a few bucks and painted our own brick wall. But buying it allowed us the time we needed to figure out how to make envelopes look like they were flying out of the fireplace. It’s worth it to think about the time that goes into cutting individual snitch wings and consider purchasing what you need instead.

We also ended up buying the candles and Hogwarts banners because we knew they were beyond our artistic skill and really were not that expensive. Besides, I’m sure this will not be the last Harry Potter party we throw, so we can use them again and really get our money’s worth.

Buying this brick wall left us free to create this...

5. The delight is in the details but keep your audience in mind.

It was clear from the start that most of the guests at our Harry Potter Party had not read the books. A few had seen one or two of the movies. But for the most part, the detail we put into naming menu items and turning each party area into a specific location from the book was lost on our pre-teen guests. At the end of the day it didn’t matter because we had fun with it and they enjoyed the overall atmosphere we created, even if they didn’t get all the references.

But if that’s not your cup of tea, don’t mess with the stress! Focus on the things that will make your person feel celebrated. (My son’s 8th birthday was a mish mash of all the things he loved – Harry Potter, Star Wars, Legos, and Dinosaurs. It lacked the unifying theme, but was just as enjoyed and appreciated!)

6. Play to your strengths and cast great supporting players

My sister planned this party as her gift to my daughter. She loves cooking so she planned a sit down dinner party with a four course meal. I can cook when I have to, but it’s not my forte so I would have planned more of a buffet style. Both options are great, especially if you, the host, are happy with the results. The more relaxed and engaged you are, the better the party will turn out.

As for supporting players, my sister did most of the planning, but she enlisted my mom and I . Like a great show we each contributed what we could to create a memorable experience.

Aunt Jenna's Hogwart's Banquet. Delicious, Elegant, and Engaging!

7. Practice as much as you can.

In theatre we call it a dry tech. The stage manager, lighting director, sound person, and anyone else responsible for a backstage area get together and go through the script, cue by cue to visualize how it’s going to go and what they are each going to do. Think through the evening. What will happen when the guests arrive? Who will greet them? What will they do while you wait for other guests to arrive? Where will they be directed? What activities will begin? Will music be playing? Where? How? What? If you’re cooking, what is the timeframe for each dish? What order will they be presented in? Have some back up plans and time fillers ready to go in case you underestimate how long something will take.

By the end of the night, my new teenager was over the moon at everything that had been done to celebrate her. The party was a roaring success. The impossible turned out to be very possible because we, the host team, figured out when to say yes, when to say no, and how to say, “what about this?”. In moments of stress leading up to the day we reminded ourselves to relax because theatre magic always happens in the eleventh hour and that is what makes the show worth watching.

Harry Potter and Dobby at the Photo Booth

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