Picture this: a cold, dark night. Downtown St. John’s, December, 2009. Shoppers scurry from store to store, huddled into their coats. The windows of pubs and restaurants glow, beckoning. Christmas lights are all a-twinkle.
Suddenly, crazily-clad characters start to appear. Women dressed as men, men dressed as women, all adorned with ill-fitting odds and sods from the wrinkled corners of forgotten closets. Faces are covered with old sheets, underwear has become outerwear. There’s rubber boots, all-in-one long johns (with an ample trapdoor), an ugly stick and plenty of laughter.
The bosses: Target's President Noel O'Dea with creative director Tom Murphy. Photo: Nicholas Langor.
The garish gang files into the Crow’s Nest, a cozy pub in the heart of the city. As individuals start to make the first guesses about who’s behind the oversized bra or tucked behind the lace curtains, local personality Chris Pickard (he’s the city’s Town Crier, among other things) starts a story telling session, beginning with an explanation of the history and traditions of mummering. Good thing, too – there are come-from-aways in the group and a few are uncertain about what exactly is going on.
So began Target Marketing and Communications’ 2009 staff Christmas party. Throwing himself into the spirit of the occasion was the advertising and brand architecture firm’s founder and president, Noel O’Dea. Proudly sporting a 44DD bra stuffed with balloon breasts over a butterfly-print dress,O’ Dea lived up to the philosophy he espouses in his business life: “It’s the opposite of beige,” he said recently, reflecting on the event. “We try to avoid the Salon As in the bottom of a hotel,” O’Dea continues. “It’s nice to so something that’s creative and unexpected … and when you throw in a bit of cross-dressing, you know it’s going to be a good time.”
Mummering, for those who are unfamiliar with it, is a longtime Christmas tradition, particularly vibrant in the smaller communities around Newfoundland and Labrador through the 1800s and early 1900s. People would dress up, always disguising their faces, and venture from house to house. Once the mummers were identified, there would be rum, hot drinks, stories, singing and dancing.
“I love the story telling tradition,” O’Dea says. “It gives you licence to do an awful lot of things. It’s very involving; you can’t be dressed up without engaging, it gives you a change to be someone new. Just like advertising.”
Ryan Cleary, Ingo Eckoldt, Terri Roberts, and Geri O'Dea. Photo: Nicholas Langor.
On this particular night, the 60-plus group of Target staff, spouses and significant others travelled from pub to pub, entertained at one stop by local group The Fiddling Mummers, and by an accordionist playing traditional Christmas tunes at another. From those I’ve talked to 10 months later, the staff heartily embraced the night. While donning a 44DD bra or Nan’s old hair curlers may not be in every boss’ best interest, I tend to think that every office could take some cues from Target’s party planning team.
There is no doubt that seeing the boss relax and be downright silly is one of the best icebreakers possible. Having a bit of an adventure together – whether it be exploring a new venue, trying new foods, acting out a murder mystery or putting together a holiday fundraiser – can be a real boost to office morale.
“It’s absolutely critically important,” O’Dea says about planning creative parties. “If work is not fun, then it’s just work. To be stimulated … to put people into different situations, let them enjoy themselves, it builds a team.”
O’Dea’s favourite moment from Christmas ruckus 2009? “Oh, it was all great,” he says. “Though there was something about hiding an open beer from the police on George Street while wearing a woman’s dress …”
Like I said – not for everyone, but try to find something that is. ‘Tis the season for fun and frivolity.
Do you have a great party or event story to share? I’d love to hear it! Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.