Firefly – it’s more than just the enchanting insect spotted during summertime. It’s also the name of the short-lived, but beloved sci-fi western show that stole the hearts of a generation. Joss Whedon really did a number when he created the verse of Firefly, birthing an adoring fanbase that even fifteen years later, still calls for season 2. Here at Damn Good Shindig, we are proud Firefly nerds and definite fans of how well the show incorporates so many different cultures and blends them into a realistic future world. (What we would give to fly about space in Serenity, going on questionably legal adventures with Mal and Co!) And to our immense joy, at WhedonCon 2017, we had the opportunity to throw a Big Damn Firefly Shindig.
WhedonCon, a charity based organization out of LA, just had their 2nd annual convention celebrating all that is Joss Whedon. The con celebrates all the wonderful characters and universes he’s created. Firefly, an essential entry into the Whedonverse cannon, deservedly got the Friday night theme party slot. Of course DGS was on board to make it the party of the weekend. Folks gathered from all across the verse to party it up at the big Shindig. Waltzes were danced, Lootcrates were won, and lots of Browncoats had a hootenanny of a time. Allow us to share with you how we brought this Firefly shindig to life.
Firefly Shindig Inspiration
There are so many things we love about the Firefly universe that we hoped to capture with this party. We kept coming back to the Shindig featured in the show itself – which displays many of the East-meets-West visual motifs found across Firefly. In the episode titled, “Shindig,” the gang finds themselves on a central planet where outlaws Mal and Kaylee attend a fancy shindig with high society in hopes of securing their next job.
One of the most memorable thing about the gaudy shindig was the incredible dance floor. The venue for the shindig is a circular ballroom with a giant floating chandelier in the center, rimmed with big marble columns. After rewatching the episode we knew it was going to be our mission to recreate these columns for the party. (Especially because floating chandeliers were a little out of our budget) Another element we definitely wanted to include was the Chinese influence. The thought of bringing in paper lanterns to light the party – almost like fireflies – tickled our fancy from the start. We also wanted to include a little homage to Kaylee’s parasol. Not only is her parasol an iconic image from the show, but it also captures the blending of worlds so well.
Our venue for the big damn shindig was a beautiful ballroom in the Woodland Hills Marriott Hotel. The room lent itself perfectly to the look we were going for. It has rich warm colors, wall sconces, and gorgeous modern chandeliers. Now it was just a matter of adding that special Firefly touch. Our challenge would be creating immediate visual impact in such a large open space. With a humble budget and a large ballroom, we decided to limit ourselves to a few choice statement pieces that would pay homage to Firefly but still look great from across the room.
A circle of columns around the dance floor was a must for our Shindig. While on the hunt to find our perfect columns, we discovered that while they are seemingly everywhere, they are in reality really hard to find. Or rather, columns are readily available for a price, and that price is ex-pen-sive. Also, most columns are bulky, heavy, and would definitely not fit into Haley’s Prius. The more we searched, the more it felt like these columns were out of reach due to our project constraints. There were some affordable cardboard columns we found online that would have done the trick in a pinch. However, these were rather cheap and unstable looking and were only four to six feet high, which just isn’t as impressive as we wanted.
For weeks we racked our brains with ways of making our shindig column dreams come true. What material could be flexible enough to transport and set up on the day of the event? Sturdy enough to not collapse if a party-goer bumps into it? Big enough to make a visual impact? Then the idea finally hit: Corrugated roof paneling. Don’t know what the heck that is? It’s these guys. Fold two of these bad boys into a cylinder and BOOM. You’ve got yourself a column with built-in column-like dimension.
Since the corrugated plastic still needed a way to hold its cylindrical shape, we set out to find the perfect base. In true DGS fashion, we happened upon a planting ring at Home Depot that would hold the edges of the corrugated column perfectly (and luckily we got them on super sale). We got two for each column – the base and the top. They worked like a dream to keep the corrugated plastic looking columnlike. It’s said that we have very good luck when it comes to magically finding the perfect element to complete a project. So here, we bestow some of our magical luck dust on you.
With the genius discovery of corrugated plastic as material, we also discovered that our new columns looked especially beautiful when lit from the inside. We acquired wireless LED up-lights from RentMyWedding.com, and during the shindig the columns glowed with an otherworldly light. (We’d like to brag that it was appropriately epic.)
Stay tuned for a complete DIY on how we customized our Firefly shindig columns!
Paper Lantern Installments
With a large ballroom to transform, we decided to accent the room with a few statement Firefly-inspired installations. When working with large spaces, lighting is key: it can make or break the flow of the event space. Using lit paper lanterns as a space divider would help create visual impact while mood lighting the shindig at the same time.
Jayne’s iconic hat and the colors in it are so evocative of the show, we knew our lanterns should reflect them. It was easy to source yellow, orange and red paper lanterns to achieve the sunset colors.
Your nearest metropolitan Chinatown is the place to be to get your paper lanterns, and our LA iteration didn’t let us down. Just about every shop sells them (don’t forget to haggle!), and they offer a plethora of colors and shapes. We ended up supplementing with some additional lanterns from the dollar store and also from paperlanternstore.com since they offered affordable lanterns in all different shapes and sizes.
We created two of these lantern installations, and they were incredibly successful. Each lived in the center-sides of the ballroom, offering a transparent but colorful division between the dancing space and table set ups. These installments became beautiful backdrops for the goings-on of the evening.
Fun fact: Haley’s first cosplay was actually Kaylee from Firefly, complete with her hand-painted swirl parasol! Of course, we wanted to pay tribute to this parasol for our last installation. Pinterest kept showing us these beautiful photo booth backdrops made with vintage parasols. We knew we just had to create a Firefly one!
Our first thought was to have a bunch of Kaylee parasols for a statement wall. The idea sounds fun but in the end, a bit repetitive. Firefly’s set design has so many layers and textures that come together cohesively, we wanted to be more true to that essence.
Using Kaylee’s parasol as a starting point, we sourced other parasols in the same colors that show up in hers – red, green and yellow. Haley actually already owned a handful of white parasols that we painted with our choice colors. Because one can never have enough parasols for these things, we found a few more in Chinatown and at paperlanternstore.com to supplement our supplies. The end result was this stunning backdrop which we lit with battery-operated twinkle lights. This parasol installation became our photo backdrop for the evening, and featured in the hallway of WhedonCon for the remainder of the convention.
Our tablescapes for the Big Damn Shindig were a combination of a ton of fun elements from the show. We covered the tables with beautiful golden-rod tablecloths, and mix and matched the following: hexagonal red Chinese paper lanterns, [empty] bottles of Blue Sun label alcohol, birds of paradise floral arrangements, and Lootcrate Cargo Crate boxes, along with playing cards, poker chips and dice in case the guests wanted to try their hand against Mal. And how could we forget toy dinosaurs for the inner Wash in us all?
To pay tribute to the true setting of Firefly – SPACE – we definitely wanted to give our guests the feeling that they were out there in the Verse. To accomplish this, we lit the ceiling above dance floor with a star field projector from RentMyWedding.com. The star projector is this awesome tiny machine that fills any room with stars and blue atmosphere that really make you think you are in a different galaxy.
WhedonCon was sponsored by Lootcrate’s Cargo Crate, and they were incredibly generous and gave us several Firefly Cargo Crates to give away as prizes at the Big Damn Shindig. We came up with a few fun activities to promote these giveaways.
Our evening began with a waltz workshop taught by the wonderful Ethan McDaniel. (Follow him on instagram here.) There guests learned the basic waltz steps and were spinning around in no time. Later they were able to showcase their new-found skills during the dance contest. By and large, the waltzing was the favorite part of the evening!
With so many folks getting all dressed up and living their best life in the verse, we set out to recognize the most enthusiastic. We had an Instagram photo contest throughout the evening where the most creative photo won. Captain Mal Reynolds awarded our last Lootcrate to the pure Shiniest attendee.
We spent the evening with our most wonderful MC, Captain Mal himself. He graciously took time from evading the alliance to party with us for the night. Mal, also known as Captain K Cosplay helped many ladies and lads hit up the dance floor in style. You should definitely hit him up if you aim to misbehave in this galaxy.
We can comfortably say that this was indeed the best party in the verse, but hey we might be a bit biased. What do you guys think? What would you love to see at our next Firefly shindig? Till next time, y’all – stay Shiny!