Sunday, October 10, 2004

Get the party started


Undaunted Danute Miskinis has been behind many of the biggest bashes in town

By Jim Knippenberg
Enquirer staff writer

party
Danute Miskinis (center) poses in the ballroom of Music Hall with Deb G. Girdler and Ben Magnuson.
(The Enquirer/Brandi Stafford)
Guests said there must have been some hocus-pocus involved: What was once a muddy, empty lot had been transformed into a glittering party palace lit by 14 handmade wrought-iron chandeliers and hundreds of flickering white candles.

Tables were draped in white linen and topped by centerpieces of long-stem white roses - thousands of them.

Men in Armani tuxes and women in Bagdley Mischka gowns mingled on an emerald-green carpet before sitting down to dinner.

Who could work such magic? Harry Potter? David Copperfield?

No. Danute Miskinis, party planner extraordinaire and coordinator of the August gala that opened the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The event was planned for inside the center but when guest list swelled to 1,500 the party moved. Outside. Into a ditch behind the center. In crawled bulldozers, up went the sprawling white tent and - puff! - a party was born.

Miskinis owns DM Productions, an event planning firm that will do as little or as much as clients - from institutions to individuals - want. Give her a date and she will come up with a concept; theme, price and name; find a venue; write a script; and hire everyone from the caterer to security to entertainers.

When the Contemporary Arts Center wanted a memorable party to open its building in 2003, they called her. Ditto planners behind the Aronoff Center for the Performing Arts' opening in 1995.

Miskinis operates with a staff of two out of a tiny office downtown, where the soft gray walls are barely visible beneath the photos of events she has produced. Where photos don't cover walls, there are bookcases stuffed with tapes, artists' directories and folders.

A lavender candle burns. The Singing Sergeants, an armed services group, are belting holiday tunes. She produced a concert of theirs that was so good, it played the White House.

Born in a displaced persons' camp in Schweinfurt, Germany (she won't say when: "I'm between 40 and death, OK?") where her parents were detained while fleeing Communist rule in Lithuania, Miskinis was raised in Detroit and attended the University of Michigan, first in pre-med, later in English and theater.

That's when she started in show business. "I was auditioning for Jack Rouse (owner of Cincinnati's Rouse and Associates) at U of M. I was a dancer, and he told me I had to sing. I started crying. But I sang and I got the part."

Years later, Rouse was hiring for live shows at the fledgling Kings Island and scouting for a producer. He called Miskinis, who was working in New York, to see if she knew someone. She took the job herself. Soon, she was producing shows from Kings Dominion in Virginia to Lotte World in Seoul. When Kings Island was sold in the early '90s, she struck out on her own.

Today, DM Productions is the place to go for party help. Last year, she produced the retirement party for UC President Joseph Steger. This year, it was his successor Nancy Zimpher's inauguration.

For Northern Kentucky University she dreamed up Northern Lights, an arts sampler showcasing the departments in the school's arts program. It's now an annual event. "She brings such a wealth of experience and enthusiasm to the task," says Gail Wells, NKU provost and vice president of academic affairs, "but I don't see how she juggles all those balls at once."

At the moment, Miskinis' is planning a November gala for Every Child Succeeds, an April gala for Miami University to kick off a fund drive, spring's next Northern Lights and UC's Legion of Excellence gala. "Because of her, I come out smelling like a rose," says Mary Ellen Cody, chair of the Every Child benefit.

"I call it plate spinning," Miskinis says with a laugh that rumbles up from her toes. "This industry is ripe with pressure, personalities and politics. Anything at any time can go wrong. My job is to see that it doesn't or to react quickly enough that no one else knows."

Example: the incident involving actress Teri Garr at the opening of the Clark State Performance Center.Garr, hobbling on a broken foot, arrived so late that Miskinis had to hire a police escort to get her to Dayton on time. But Garr didn't know it was black tie. One of Miskinis' assistants leant the actress her long black skirt and lacy blouse. "I mean really lacy," says Miskinis "We had to Magic Marker her bra black."

She possesses such an air of calm that most people never know she's running the party. College-Conservatory of Music dean Doug Lowry sums her up in three words: "She's a treasure."

Email jknippenberg@enquirer.com



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