The part audience plays in the planning process may not be as obvious as the type of party you’re having, or the when and where. So I’m going to use examples heavily here.
Say I’m planning a rock star birthday party. What do you think of for thematic elements? Posters on the walls? Guitar Hero on the Wii? A cover band? Big hair? Safety pins? Now let me suggest that this party is for a 7-year-old girl. Suddenly there are sparkly pink microphones and glam makeup a la Jem and the Holograms, a fun photo session with dress up clothes, and Disney karaoke on the Wii. If the party is, instead, for a 30th birthday, I might insist that all attendees wear their best grunge-inspired clothing and play endless Nirvana. For a 40th birthday, the theme might be based around Spinal Tap. That is, unless the birthday girl has dreams of being Joan Jett (or Jem!). What’s appropriate for a 7-year-old girl and her friends may or may not be what’s appropriate for her mother or her older brother and their peers.
Take another example: the tea party. Now, I could easily plan a tea party for that same 7-year-old girl (of course, if she’s more of a rock star, she might not be too happy with me for planning her such a sedate theme!). There would probably be lots of ruffles, some pretty tea cakes, a princess dress-up box, and plastic tea set favors. If that little girl grew up and was having her bridal shower with a tea party theme, I’d focus more on soft floral accents, cucumber sandwiches and scones, perhaps some great hats for her guests to wear, and tea bag favors. If she were celebrating her eightieth birthday with a tea party (as my grandmother did nearly a decade ago), the food and favors might be the same – but the party activities would be distinctly different (can you imagine a room full of eighty-somethings playing a risque game of shower charades? okay, maybe you can…).
Too much estrogen for you? How about a party with a casino theme? For a teenager’s birthday, they might enjoy dressing up, “gambling” for prize tickets, and drinking fancy non-alcoholic beverages (think slushy virgin margaritas and muddled mint and club soda “mojitos”). For a 21st birthday, though, the drinks are alcoholic and guests are learning real gambling techniques. For a bachelor party, poker dealers and bartenders are beautiful women and the beers flow freely. For a 40th birthday, the guests come in their nicest attire (think Monte Carlo) and the martinis are shaken, not stirred.
Know your audience – age, gender, and likes/dislikes – and you’ll be able to tailor your theme to fit them.