Bindis and saris and auctions, oh my.

So, yeah. I haven’t blogged in a while these last few months, and when I did, it was brief, and I blamed my absence on our gala. My first gala, in fact, since I started last year in the week leading up to the gala, and Cal Shakes excused me from having to work the event in favor of delivering bouquets to the ladies on the planning committee.

Little did I know how lucky I was. For not only was I spared the months leading up to the gala (my first week I learned PowerPoint and built a presentation for the live auction–that was the entirety of my contribution) but, also, whilst my new coworkers were working from dawn till dawn prepping, staffing, and tearing down the event, I was driving around the Berkeley and Orinda hills on the first sunny Saturday in months, delivering flowers.

Little did I know.
We arrived at 9 a.m. at the Oakland’s historic Rotunda building this past Saturday (March 8), for the set-up for our 13th annual fund-raising gala, Gateway to India. I’d been to the Rotunda before, in my former life as a journalist, so I knew how stunning an edifice it is. And then we set about making it even more stunning: We rolled out carpets, set up elaborate awnings, affixed decorative umbrellas to ten-pound decorative umbrella stands, ran lights, arranged auction items on tables swathed in exotic fabric, and otherwise made this:

 

Then we went home for an hour and a half, and came back around 4:30. Most staffers were already dressed to the nines, but I needed some help.
I met up with Emily to be dressed in saris, beautiful, silken things from South India, spun with real gold (bling!) and on loan from Tara’s mother, Shaila. We retreated to a conference room for Shaila to dress us–to wind the dozen-plus yards of fabric around us in carefully constructed pleats. (As predicted by her daughter, she pulled my petticoat drawstring so tight that I gasped.)
When all was done, I felt sort of like a bed. Crossed with a monk. Crossed with a princess.

 


 Emily and I were selling wine bin cards–playing cards that acted as a raffle ticket toward winning nearly $1700 worth of wine. We were the “glamour,” someone had said the day before, but that was hardly the case, as the guests went to town on the Indian theme–the women in saris and salwar kameez, the men in Jodphuri suits and Indian pyjamas. They all looked wonderful, which thrilled me twofold–for one thing, the crowd was as fun to look at as the candy-colored decorations; for another, when I told them they looked great I wasn’t lying, which is plenty handy when you’re trying to sell something!

The wine bin cards–two decks for two bins–were all sold by the time folks were all settled in for their Grace Street catered dinner, which gave Emily and me a minute to eat dinner ourselves, and help out at check-in. The front hallway was trussed up and lit to look like a Mumbai bazaar…

Here’s Marilyn and Paul at check-in.

And here’s Derek at check-in.

And here’s Jean-Paul, Emily and I taking advantage of the down time to do a little posing … now that Jean-Paul had finally put his suit on, after being 1/3 of the gala’s superhero production team.

Doesn’t that hallway look great?! I’d written a “gala travel guide” email to all of our invitees a month or so ago, giving them some hints on dressing (and parking); in the intro text I’d said something about how the Rotunda would be transformed to a faraway place… and the looks on patrons’ faces when they arrived proved that I hadn’t been lying. (Once again, I really like not lying!)

After dinner was the live auction, headed up by auctioneer Steve Haworth, who brought a trio of Cal Football players with him as auction spotters, and who made many references to his career as a car salesman as he auctioned off everything from rounds of golf to Italian villas, a dinner party at the Gettys, a tour of Pixar, and much more.

To the right is a blurry shot of the bleary-eyed staff, watching the auction from above.

And to the left is gala goddess Beth–who held down two jobs here at Cal Shakes during the months running up the gala, including planning the gala with the committee–offering up a little bit of cheesecake from her spot on the live auction floor.

After the live auction, Steve gave away the wine bins, and Livewire took the stage to play 80s hits. I helped out a bit at check-out, and then hid in the green room for a little while, rubbing my aching feet. And before long, it was time to strike the event … the hall was cleared at around midnight, and we set about undoing all the exotic glory we’d done–this strike time, which unfurled into the wee hours of Sunday (made even wee-er by daylight savings) were spent coiling up extension cords, folding up yards of silk and linen, and stacking tables.


There was some goofing off to be done by Jean-Paul and Ian (with Marilyn’s auction prize) while waiting for the loading dock to be free.

There was Susie trying to find her peaceful place with some help from Ganesh.

And, of course, there were rose petals to clean up.

We were exhausted, both physically and emotionally, but we were PROUD! More than 300 people came, dined, bid, danced, and generally partied most heartily. And WE MADE OUR GOAL, so we will continue to bring arts education to Bay Area schools and campers, adaptations of classic works to disparate communities, and fresh reinventions of the classics, to our beautiful home in the hills … for years to come.

Sign up for our newsletter for a more official wrap-up of Gateway to India. And hit up my Flickr for all the candid photos I took–professional ones coming soon!

The dressing room was a fun place to be, with the Bindi girls dressed to match the invitations, the entertainers from Velocity Circus applying make-up to their bodies, and all the rest of the women trying to figure out their saris.

Then she set about dressing Emily.

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