Social Register

Galas That Go Above and Beyond

Fundraising takes centerstage this season with immersive themes, showstopping productions and venues to match.

BY October 1, 2022
Over the top event performance during Under the Big Top event
(Photo by AP Alexander)

When it comes to showing up and showing out for a good cause, Southwest Florida reigns supreme. From an elegant polo fundraiser benefiting the Community School of Naples to a Catch Me If You Can-themed gala held at a private hangar to support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), nonprofit events bring good-hearted citizens together for fantastical evenings. Such productions require atmosphere and attitude, presence and personality. And Gulfshore Playhouse is the glittering chandelier that sits atop the scene, illuminating the way for its peers.

Sarah Owen, the Playhouse’s director of development, regularly pulls together functions like the theater’s opening night shows. But, creativity really shines at the annual gala. For Sarah, it’s important for guests to feel a part of the event from the minute they arrive. Actors from the Playhouse might hand out secret codes for a speakeasy-themed soiree; host horse races during a Gimmicks and Games cocktail hour; or Broadway talent may perform numbers from My Fair Lady, as occurred at The Loverly Gala in 2021. Stage and costume designers, lighting directors and sound engineers help guests magically step into the scene. Because the more people get carried away by the enchantment and see the value of the Playhouse, the more they give. Earlier this year, at Under the Big Top—where guests dined surrounded by acrobats, fire eaters and outlandish visual effects—Gulfshore Playhouse raised $2.5 million, the largest amount in the event’s history.

CEO Kristen Coury says the galas are the most important piece of the puzzle for their fundraising. And she and Sarah are diligently working toward the March 6th event, a masquerade ball, themed around The Phantom of the Opera, with iconic music from the show and performances from students in their education program. Riding this year’s high, Sarah hopes the gala nets another year of record-breaking donations, which help run day-to-day operations and expand educational programming. Bravo!

4 More Galas That Go Above and Beyond

Naples Zoo’s Moonlight in Malaysia
This sold-out event celebrates more than 100 years of the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens. On Nov. 17, find yourself transported to the jungles of Southeast Asia, where you can bid to name the zoo’s new Malaysian tiger—all in honor of the late Eko.

C’MON Saturday Night Fever
The Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples hosts a disco-themed affair in 2023 for its  fundraiser—known as the most spirited of the season, with frequent celeb appearances and guests going all-out with costumes. Wear your funkiest getup for the groovy Jan. 28 event, where Three60 Market’s Rebecca Maddox curates wines for the $20,000-plus-level tables.

Ronald McDonald Storybook Ball
In its 27th year, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southwest Florida’s Storybook Ball transports guests to the Polynesian Islands for a Moana-themed night on Feb. 18, complete with hula and fire dancing.

Naples Botanical Garden Hats in the Garden
One of the longest-running events in the region is complete with fanciful hats, the lushest venue, big-name designers and an award for most elaborate topper. For the 19th annual fundraiser, on March 29, Oscar de la Renta makes a scene as the featured designer.

Related Images: