Okay, we get it – it’s been over two years since you last heard from us… we can totally blame the pandemic and the complete disruption to the events industry creating a void of interesting things to talk about. We can also blame being too busy executing events with a skeletal staff and unbelievably short lead times. While we’re at it, we’ll totally point the finger at all the gremlins that decided to show up (uninvited) over the past couple of years including guilt, doubt, imposter syndrome, complacency, depression, grief, and fear of a world turned upside down – and trust, those are some ugly and very real gremlins.
Fortunately, we have no time (or desire) to sit in the blame game when we have so many incredible events and experiences that we’ve quietly worked on over these past couple of years and let fly under the radar.
Jumping back to June of 2020 (you know, when this pandemic was still only a few months old…), and after upskilling with a certificate in Virtual Event and Meeting Management, you’ll see we actively put into practice the advice given in our last blog post, ‘Virtual Events: The Pandemic Pivot.’
The Kennedy Forum Illinois
We partnered with The Kennedy Forum Illinois to help pivot their formerly in-person programming into virtual programs that covered such poignant topics including how race, the education system, the media, and politics all impact and influence a person’s mental health. These events being produced during the height of ‘lock down,’ it was interesting (and kind of exciting) to be virtually invited into the homes of politicians and national journalists, of the scientists that helped inform the Netflix film, ‘The Social Dilemma,’ the living rooms of Olympic Athletes, Movie Producers, and Television Personalities, and be a fly on the wall of conversations being had by people who are really moving the needle forward in destigmatizing mental health. (It’s also sort of fun to say that Andy Cohen was in my guest bedroom, and I was hanging out in his living room….virtually…). The Kennedy Forum is doing great things in a space that deserves much more attention – and we would be doing a disservice to many, many hours of producing if we didn’t highlight and celebrate the launch of the Suicide & Crisis hotline number 988. Much like 911, if you or someone you know is in the midst of a mental health crisis – there is now a much easier number to remember and call – 988.
ILEA Real Talk Roundtable
While actively trying to keep a pulse on what is happening in the industry, provide resources to industry peers, and hone our newly developing skills as well; we stayed very active within the International Live Events Association (ILEA) Chicago Chapter providing both Virtual and Hybrid programming for its members and the overall Events Industry Community. Cory facilitated 19 Real Talk Roundtable virtual sessions over 21 months; where he led real conversations with industry professionals focusing on the current state of the industry, as well as how to best prepare for sustaining and ultimately rebounding from the effects of the pandemic.
ILEA Day of Education 2021: Strategies for a Successful Rebound
In partnership with other principal industry professionals and members of ILEA, Cory helped design and produce the Esprit Award winning virtual Day of Education 2021: Strategies for a Successful Rebound. In the interest of showcasing how to produce quality hybrid events, they also developed an in-person/virtual hybrid event called, “Hybrid Events: Behind The Scenes” where they returned to the studio used for the Day of Ed program to shed light on the technology and design elements required for successful hybrid events. As the VP of Programs and Education for ILEA Chicago throughout much of the pandemic, there were a few more virtual events and a few in-person events added to the list of experiences designed and executed with ILEA.
Noble Prom: Under the Chicago Sky
Early in 2021, we were presented the opportunity to create one of the city’s first large-scale in-person events at Soldier Field. The Esprit Award nominated Noble Prom: Under the Chicago Sky brought together 3,000 High School Seniors from 13 different public high schools, to experience something they feared this pandemic would also take from them, their High School Prom. This experience may have looked a bit different from the high school gymnasium they would have anticipated, as this was a promenade through Soldier Field, filled with all of the elements you would want from your Prom: the dresses and tuxes, red carpets, great DJs, incredible balloon decorations, the quintessential prom photo, and most importantly, time to be social amongst your friends! This is one of the most rewarding events Next Level has had the opportunity to design and produce, particularly considering the global times we were in!
Noble Charter Schools Graduation 2021
Due to the success of the prom experience, Next Level was challenged once again by the Noble Charter Schools team to help execute their drive-thru graduation ceremonies (which a week before the event pivoted to in-person indoor ceremonies with capacities limited to less than 200 people… as they do). Nearly 1,000 graduating seniors from twelve different schools were able to walk the stage and receive their diplomas in front of their family and friends. These two long days of ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ (repeated every 50 minutes for 8 hours each day…..) were incredibly rewarding as you witnessed the pride and excitement shared between the students, faculty, staff, and family members who got to share in this incredible life moment, together, and in-person!
Corporate Partners Offsite Retreat
Last fall, we had an opportunity to produce an event in the newly opened Penthouse on the rooftop of The Old Post Office. We turned this raw space into a socially-distance hybrid-focused plenary meeting space for a Corporate Partners Retreat. We were also able to provide attendees COVID Compliant experiences including a private cruise on the Lake Michigan aboard the Anita Dee, as well as a private dinner and concert at Untitled Supper Club.
Annual Partners Meeting in Arizona
They say Phoenix is lovely in the Spring! (…and by “they” we mean “we!”) The Next Level team packed our bags and flew out to Phoenix, AZ this past spring to help another corporate client with their Annual Partners Meeting. We had the opportunity to bring life back into live events by creating an engaging globally-inspired Welcome Event, a couple of late night event options including a casino room and dueling pianos lounge following their awards dinner, and hosting an incredible closing night party outside on the ballroom lawn with a private concert featuring Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo.
Alumni Weekend at University of Chicago
After a two year (COVID-driven) hiatus, we returned to The Quad at The University of Chicago to once again help bring Alumni Weekend back to life. We’re not sure if it’s nostalgia and we’re trying to relive our college days, or just because it’s one of the first outdoor events of the summer for us – we love spending this week on The Quad every year with an incredible team of event professionals. This year felt particularly great because there was just a bit more appreciation for coming back together again, not just for these Alumni, but for everyone involved in the event.
This summer also had us creating a revival of Chicagopalooza in Lake Geneva, WI. This 2-day corporate retreat included more than 50 activities for over 700 attendees in under 48 hours… and that doesn’t include the novelty of shutting down the airport runway for an 8-hour festival including multiple bands and live entertainment, an awards ceremony, food trucks, games, bouncy houses and more – all to be enjoyed by employees and their families. It’s no surprise this event has now become legendary enough for revival status!
New to the Team!
Throughout this journey of epic events, we’ve picked up a few new team members along the way! We’re excited to bring Sarah Winkelmann and Madison Morris’s talents into the mix on the production team, and Samantha Luce’s skills to the marketing side of things (you can thank her for getting me to sit down and write a blog again!) These ladies bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the team, as well as a lot of laughter, dedication, and embody what it means to be ‘next level.’ We’re very excited to see them grow, develop, and execute some incredible work with us!
Suffice it to say, during this time of ‘radio silence’ as the pandemic and its gremlins disrupted things a bit more than any of us would have liked; we were fortunate to be able to create some pretty incredible moments, experiences, and memories for people at a time when they arguably may have needed it the most. #NextLevelOnTheScene