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Nat Geo Gala

July 16, 2013

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Portions excerpted from Bizbash by Adele Chapin  

The National Geographic Society hosted one of the biggest events in its history, bringing large-scale projections of iconic National Geographic videos and still images to the National Building Museum to celebrate the society’s 125th anniversary.

It’s the first time a Kabuki scrim of this size has been installed in Washington, said Missy Tranter, National Geographic’s development director of special events. “This is the largest load in the National Building Museum has ever had. We started on Sunday for a Thursday event,” Tranter said. Projection screens lined the dining space in the museum’s Great Hall, with the 80-foot screen on a curved truss—another unique element. “Our goal was to give them lots of space to showcase their content,” said Marielle Shortell, partner at Syzygy Events International and production designer for the gala. This was also the first time black-out lids have ever been created in the space, blacking out the entire ceiling.


The event capped off this year’s annual National Geographic Explorers Symposium, when all of National Geographic’s explorers and photographers convene in Washington to meet and brainstorm future projects. “We consider it the week of our National Geographic family coming together, but this year we’re specifically looking to the future and the new age of exploration,” Tranter said. “It’s not just what we have done in the past, but what we will do in the future because there is so much left to discover.”

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The “Land, Sea, and Sky” theme of the National Geographic flag inspired both the 800-person gala’s decor and menu. Custom tables served as conversation starters, including Lucite tables etched with compasses or filled with 3-D elements like seashells, and tables with wooden tops with laser-cut topographical maps of places where National Geographic explorers have made their mark.

Occasions Caterers

Occasions Caterers

Occasions Caterers

Occasions Caterers

Occasions Caterers

Occasions Caterers


Occasions worked with National Geographic fellow and chef, Barton Seaver to ensure that the three-course menu was creative, delicious and responsibly sourced.

Occasions Caterers

Dishes included a “sea” inspired “Fruiti de Mare” first course with chilled Lobster Tail Medallions, East Coast White Shrimp, Diver Scallops and Little Neck Clams served in individual Scallop Shells over black Salt.

Occasions Caterers

Farm-raised Bison Tenderloin with Light and Dark Onion Soubise, Heirloom New Potatoes and Gathered Mushrooms, Asparagus, and Sunchokes in Brown Butter was a nod to “land” for the main course.

Occasions Caterers

Air was represented in dessert with a light Meringue Pavlova surrounded by Fresh Fruit Confetti, housemade Kiwi and Mango Sorbets and Passion Fruit Sauce offered tableside from “smoking” platters filled with dry ice.

Occasions Caterers

After the meal, the “New Age of Exploration” gala program ended with a jaw-dropping finale: the event’s 80-foot screen flew up in a four-second reverse Kabuki drop revealing the Society’s Explorers-in-Residence, photographers, 2013 Emerging Explorers, six gala awardees, and a 27-piece brass and tympani orchestra.

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“Titantic” director/oceanographer James Cameron was also honored with the organization’s “Explorer of the Year” award for his successful 2012 solo dive to the deepest point of the Pacific Ocean.

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Austrailan skydiver Felix Baumgartner, the base jumper who successfully dropped from 24 miles — breaking the sound barrier along the way —  was gives Nat Geo’s “Adventurer of the Year” award.

The Washington Symphonic Brass played an original arrangement of National Geographic’s theme song during the finale, and the program concluded with an announcement of philanthropic commitments including a $1 million pledge by gala awardee, Alex Trebek to create an endowment for the National Geographic Bee.

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A party of this size and scope needs a team of talented, creative and organized event pros.  Occasions was lucky to work with: