The Academy Awards Governors Ball is such a must-attend Oscar party, the winners even get their trophies engraved onsite. And for 28 years, the woman at the eye of the storm has been Cheryl Cecchetto, the after-party’s hostess.
“I think somebody’s lying,” the Sudbury native says, shrugging off the passage of time with a laugh.
The years may be slippery, but Cecchetto has accounted for every minute. Our interview on Valentine’s Day is cut off at 3 o’clock sharp so that staff at her event-planning company Sequoia Productions can toast a glass of rosé.
“The girl will crack open a bottle of wine!” she says referring, of course, to herself.
Not even Hollywood royalty bumps Cecchetto off-schedule. Hosting an event this year called G’Day USA, which celebrates Australian talent, she lit a fire under Nicole Kidman.
“Did I have to grab Nicole and Keith (Urban) to take them to their seats from backstage after she was reviewing her speech on the teleprompter so I could start? Yes,” she says. “I’m looking at, how do I move on?”
Her team of 15 have been actively preparing for this Sunday night’s 1,500-guest Governors Ball since July, loosely inspired by the theme “magical transformation.” That idea of metamorphosis will be rendered through an entranceway that is all-red everything — including carpet, drapes and furnishings — with hints of gold and white.
Flipping the colour scheme, the main space will be a monochromatic white ballroom with gold and red accents. “The ceiling treatment consists of these gold mesh clouds that are covered with 5,000-square-foot chandeliers that are very powerful, very whimsical,” she says.
In her 2014 bookPassion To Create: Your Invitation To Celebrate, Cecchetto credits growing up in a large Italian family in Sudbury with her early training in event planning. The family thought nothing of throwing an impromptu get-together for 40.
“If you put my sisters and I in the kitchen, give us a day to get the groceries, we’ll start cooking,” she says. “We aren’t intimidated by a large troupe at all.”
Her ambitions to be an actor brought her to New York City in the ’80s, where she balanced auditions with catering gigs to pay the bills. The Academy’s comptroller recognized her party-planning prowess and appointed her boss of the ball.
“In those days it was all about tablecloths and flowers,” she recalls. “And now it’s mass production and rigging.”
The Governors Ball has been Oscar’s official after-party since 1958, cancelled just once, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. The party celebrates the Academy’s governors, a 54-member steering committee composed of elected representatives from the Academy’s individual branches, such as the Actors Branch (Annette Bening, Laura Dern and Tom Hanks) or the Directors Branch (Michael Mann, Steven Spielberg, and Edward Zwick). It’s a traditional first stop on the Oscar night party circuit.
The evening allows for some only-at-the-Oscars interactions, such as the 2013 ball that found Adele in deep diva discussion with Barbra Streisand or the 2012 ball where Octavia Spencer asked Meryl Streep about the breathability of her gold lamé Lanvin gown as they both waited for their Oscars to be engraved.
Yet Cecchetto says the ball feels like a reunion for Tinseltown’s top tier. “It’s got so much oomph, so much pizzazz to the outside world, but it’s very intimate,” she says.
Cecchetto herself won’t watch the Oscars until the following Thursday at a private screening hosted by the Academy.
“I would go insane sitting in the Oscars,” she says. “I want to walk around non-stop to do last-minute checking.”
Like Cinderella, the spell ends at midnight, when Cecchetto’s staff gathers for the kind of family-style dinner that Cecchetto and her sisters mastered in Sudbury.
“We sit on one end and eat and have a great glass of wine and champagne and we watch the room getting broken down,” she says.
“If it went well, it feels good! I would say about 90 percent of the time (it goes well).
“I’m such a ridiculous perfectionist. I’m always finding something that I would love to do different and better.” Consider it motivation for the next 28 years.
How to throw an Oscar ball in your living room
Cheryl Cecchetto, the event planner behind the Oscar’s official after-party, shares her step-by-step guide to sparking Governors Ball glamour at your own Oscar party.
1. Best Dressed
Slippers are sufficient for when you’re screening the films, but hijack some Hollywood glamour for the actual awards. “The one thing, the one thing, that Trump said that was true is that you’re never too overdressed,” Cecchetto says. “You can dress up like the characters, whether it’s Hacksaw Ridge or ’60s chic from Jackie. Have some fun with it!”
2. Be the Pre-Show
The Oscars are a three-hour-plus sit-and-stare marathon. Cecchetto suggests inviting guests over a few hours before showtime to satisfy some pre-show mingling.
3. Your People’s Choice
Why should the Academy have all the fun? Greet guests with an Oscar ballot so they can predict the winners. Hold prizes on hand to reward the most prescient Oscar watcher. Cecchetto suggests yanking inspiration from the Governors Ball’s wine list, which includes Francis Ford Coppola wine and Piper-Heidsieck champagne.
4. Best Playlist
Study up on the music-related categories by mixing the Oscar-nominated songs and scores in a playlist. The nominated scores from La La Land and Moonlight are especially atmospheric while Justin Timberlake’s inescapable “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” nominated for Trolls, is already a proven party-starter.
5. Go for the (red and) gold
The colour betstr scheme at the Governors Ball will be red, white and gold. Cecchetto suggests recreating the look at home with red flowers and gold candles. “Even if you find a scrap piece of red carpet and put it right inside the door,” she suggests. “The whole evening will come alive.”
6. Namedrop Puck
Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck will cater the ball for a 23rd consecutive year, bringing back signatures such as his macaroni and cheese, chicken pot pie, and kobe beef burgers. Recipes for all three Oscar after-party staples are available online. “Do small bites along the way,” Cecchetto suggests. “The kobe burgers are not hard to make. They’re just baby burgers. But you can say that you’re serving Wolfgang Puck’s baby burgers.”
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