Nothing beats performing in front of children, says Rachel Footer, a British dancer and performer who organises children's and corporate parties. 'If we turn up in costumes of Disney characters like Cinderella, then young children do think that it is Cinderella coming to visit them. It's very magical,' says Footer, who runs Rachael's Funhouse, where she and four other women organise parties and provide the entertainment for them. 'There was one time when I was dressed up as a mermaid. So I started off in the sea and one of the dads of the children waded out and picked me up and carried me out, and the mum then said, 'look what daddy found'.' Footer also organises corporate Christmas parties and her advice to anyone wanting to organise their own Christmas event, or to secure party organisers, is to plan early. 'We've been doing tailor-made parties for Goldman Sachs for the past few years,' she says. 'Last year, it was Superheroes and their fairy-tale friends. This year, they're going for a traditional theme. We do it to their stipulations. This is the area, this is the budget, 150 kids, 300 adults, and then I come up with an idea and theme all the activities.' Footer and her colleagues dress up as jugglers, magicians, face painters and balloon twisters. 'We're all singers, dancers, balloon twisters. I design the costumes and we have a dressmaker in Sai Kung.' Footer advises companies and private organisations to book as far in advance as possible so that, if the party is not taking place in the company's offices, there is the chance to secure a venue. There are limited venues in Hong Kong for large groups and if it's an office party, these normally take place on a Friday evening, so there will only be two or three Fridays to choose from in December. Some of Footer's regular corporate clients immediately book her company a year in advance straight after the party. 'We've organised Hollywood parties in the past, including dressing up as Madonna and my favourite, Marilyn Monroe. Sometimes clients have a very clear idea of what they want and other times we come up with the ideas.' Footer says there are plenty of ideas for clients to choose from including a pop-idol concept where staff members dress up as their favourite stars, or a murder mystery party. 'It can either be interactive or something they can watch.' If companies are not booking a year in advance, Footer says it should be around September at the latest. Sam Shei Yun-sum, of event organisers Showbiz Creative, says all events, including corporate Christmas parties, are split into three sections - pre-event, during and post-event. 'There's pre-event, where if we are working for a client we ask them what their brief and target is. What are the objectives they would like for the party and whether they have a theme. We have costumes and decorations in our warehouse. Once we know their brief and budget we can work out the venue, entertainment and providing a souvenir from the party. If we don't have sufficient costumes we source from a costume company.' Mr Shei says previous party themes have included disco, pirates, crazy horse and western. 'Basically we listen to what our clients decide. Some clients will have a lead time of more than six months, others just two to three months.' He warns that it is difficult to get sizeable venues in Hong Kong. Maureen Earls, commercial director of event organisers Serious Staging, suggests saving money for a venue and using what is already set up for Christmas - hotels. 'I think in Hong Kong it is quite straightforward. There are tonnes of venues that get into the holiday spirit,' she says. 'Hotels are often the easiest places to hold an event as they already have performers and a Christmas menu. Depending on the size of the group, say if it is more than 100 people, you can contract a production company like ourselves and decorate a venue from scratch. But why reinvent the wheel when you already have a hotel where the atmosphere is created for you?' Once a venue is booked, and the theme of the party decided, Ms Earls says finding performers is the tricky part. She feels there is a finite choice of performers in Hong Kong, Macau and southern China, so the key is to book early. If the budget is bigger - much bigger - then there is an array of accomplished performers and bands who can be flown in from Australia. 'It all comes down to budget,' she says. 'If a company is intending to bring in performers, do they have at least HK$100,000 to spend on flights, accommodation, etc?' For more elaborate events with correspondingly larger budgets, Ms Earls says Serious Staging has also brought in famous performers for millions of dollars. Within a company, there will often be a few people assigned to organise the Christmas event. Some of the fun, Ms Earls says, is in coming up with good ideas, depending on how creative the company is. 'If you've got the time and creativity there are plenty of places you can order food. For example, you can order a full Christmas dinner from Great or Oliver's, so for a group of 20 to 30 people you might decide to have it at your house.' If either staff members within a company or a person organising a private party has the time, Ms Earls says there are plenty of opportunities to find decorations in Sham Shui Po and Spotlight, the Australian chain store, in Kowloon Bay. If the numbers are high, it is probably best for companies to hire an event organiser. Ms Earls says the tricky number is if the event is for 30 to 100 people. 'You're not quite big enough to hire a production company, but there are freelance event people around, who you can hire, who are more cost-effective.' Francis Cheng Shiu-hong, business development director, of Occasions PR and Marketing, says organising a venue well in advance is crucial, particularly this year which has been popular for weddings. 'You have to decide ahead of time what sort of function you want it to be - lunch, dinner or an evening function.' While other party organisers say they have yet to feel the effects of the economic downturn, and that people are still going for extravagant parties, Mr Cheng believes the financial crisis is beginning to bite. 'We have to keep an eye on costs as companies are very conscious about the budget. You have to spend the right amount and not have too much luxury.' While people might be cutting back on fireworks and other extras, Mr Cheng points out that Christmas is a season to celebrate, and people can still have a good party at a reduced cost. He suggests booking performers early. Closer to events such as Christmas, he says performers and the band are likely to charge double, but less likely to do this if they can secure the booking months in advance. Occasions often subcontracts out parties to other production houses. Many of the party props are made in China, he says, which helps to keep costs down. For champagne, if you are ordering large amounts, it is worth going directly to the company. 'For example, we deal directly with Moet, Hennessy and Dom Perignon.' Ultimately, Mr Cheng says, the event is about the people. 'If you have the right crowd then it's going to be noisy and fun.' To make your Christmas event different, says Greg Durham, who heads party organiser House of Siren Productions, it is important to be creative. He recalls creating a Cinematic Christmas where the themes were Hollywood, Bollywood and Hong Kong films. 'We created the venue like a back lot studio and it was the guests who became the stars,' he says. Mr Durham says, in addition to checking the budget, it is important to establish whether corporations want to promote their company or products within the party theme. 'What type of venue you choose obviously depends on the scope of the party and how many people are coming. So are you looking for low-end or high-end, indoor or outdoor facilities?' Siren makes its own costumes, Mr Durham says. 'We're more famous for styling than other production houses. People are currently into retro-Abba themes following the success of the Mamma Mia musical and film. Eighties themes are also very popular and early '90s. Two years ago James Bond was very much a theme.' While planning early is best to give organisers months to put an event together, it can also be troublesome, Mr Durham says. 'People have time to change their minds, someone in the heavens might have a good idea. So, sometimes last-minute events mean you don't have the time to change your mind, it's straight into action.' Mr Durham designs costumes and has them made in Central. While many people go to tailors in Shenzhen, where perhaps the costs are less, it involves a lot of time and 'there's too many things that can go wrong'. Lindsey McAlister, OBE, who founded the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation in 1993, enjoys organising Christmas parties at home. She has a dressmaker in Shenzhen, who gets some challenging costume designs from Ms McAlister. 'She's amazing. You just show her a drawing and she is able to interpret it and make up the costume.' Previous themes by Ms McAlister have included the movie The Matrix and also characters from the television series The X-Files, with some coming as David Duchovny's character, FBI agent Fox Mulder, and others dressing up as aliens. Shenzhen also provides wig shops, Ms McAlister says. 'We had a 'Merry Little Motown' party, based on the Motown music, and we ordered beehive wigs for the girls, like the hairstyles of the '50s and '60s. There's a variety of styles in the wig shops in Shenzhen, from long blonde locks, to dreadlocks, to long Elizabethan wigs.' The shops are also willing to take orders for more complicated wigs that might not be available off the shelf. Ms McAlister suggests allowing the shop at least a month to create the wig. 'Shenzhen is very well set up for having whacky ideas. If you're going to go as Marie Antoinette ... then the wig will be more ornate and elaborate. But none of it is particularly expensive. I've found that for a wig off the shelf you're normally paying between HK$80 and HK$100. For a specially made wig it's HK$300 to HK$400. For a costume, including the making and the fabric, and also depending on how complicated it is, expect to pay HK$300 to HK$500.' Off Wyndham Street and Lyndhurst terrace in Central there are also costume shops, where companies or private individuals can source costumes and wigs. 'Once I needed some green Rastafarian wigs,' Ms McAlister says. 'These were made within two weeks to one month. You have to be fairly organised and plan in advance.'