Debutante Ball Of The Year Event Creates Dazzling Circus
By Eleanora Leeper Morrison
Photography by Daniel Holman and Lilianna Story
COME ONE, COME ALL
Cirque Du Carolina, a grand Texas gathering for the books, drew crowds of family and friends in celebration of a timeless tradition that was artfully executed with a modern twist. It honored Carolina Roberts with a circus-themed debutante party like none seen before. The St. Anthony Hotel and its adjacent city-owned Travis Park were the historic sites chosen by the Roberts family to set the stage for their daughter’s unforgettable celebration.
When preparing initial plans for her debutante to-do, Carolina had only two requests: that the stars of the party would be animals, and that her 1,200 guests would have an array of activities to keep them entertained throughout the evening. Who would Barry and Elizabeth Roberts select to be the Ringmaster of their daughter Carolina’s circus? None other than Billinda Wilkinson of Wilkinson Rhodes, of course. Wilkinson and her team of performance directors worked tirelessly for many months to capture just about every experience one could have at a circus… and to stage the event in the middle of downtown San Antonio, a feat unto itself.
FUN FOR ALL AGES
Barry Roberts’ sisters and grandmother all made their debuts in San Antonio through the German Club, and his daughter Carolina grew up hearing stories about these grand family parties that vibrantly celebrated a new chapter in each of their lives. Inspired by her aunt’s circus-themed debutante ball on Ivy Lane in Terrell Hills years ago, Carolina knew she wanted to continue the family tradition thematically.
Cirque Du Carolina was a joyful celebration of just that: family. The event was an affair of great significance to the tightly knit Roberts family; not only was it Barry and Elizabeth’s way to honor Carolina, but also their two younger sons Coates and Jay. The party was designed around their children and their entire extended family. In fact, the Roberts’ felt strongly that this joyous celebration was one to be shared with everyone who attended. It was clear that this was an event designed around their guests’ experience first and foremost. Carolina’s German Club debutante year was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that Barry and Elizabeth wanted to seize. Her younger brother Coates was also in on the planning of the entertainment, suggesting that there be a casino for his group of friends to enjoy.
WELCOME TO THE BIG TOP
Guests arrived to the circus in style, donning their finest furs and evening winter coats, to find a full carnival awaiting them beneath a cluster of custom big top tents. Carolina, her German Club escort Charlie Fuhrmann, and her family excitedly received their friends as they entered the venue. There was something for everyone to enjoy: midway games, animals, bites and beverages, big band sounds, casino games, face paints and henna tattoos, live sketch artists, Russian acrobats, a candy sugar artist, a cigar rolling station and even full-sized rides for the most daring guests.
Wilkinson Rhodes worked with Marquee Rentals to create the circus tents custom-made for Travis Park. The LED lighting was placed strategically throughout the trees to create an ethereal effect that set the mood. The backdrop was beautiful: vintage yet va va voom. The crown jewel of the park setup was the 60-foot tall Ferris wheel that was transported from Kansas to the venue. A full-sized carousel was also staged amongst the carnival activities and both attractions symbolized the evening’s promise of a thrilling time, and proved to be focal points of the party all night long.
Guests were mesmerized by the array of animals roaming the grounds. Among Carolina’s furry friends were a kissing Alpaca and a porcupine that ate kibble and sat in the laps of its human admirers. There were camels and zebras and “zonies,” oh my (half zebra, half pony), a monkey that sat on partygoers’ shoulders and posed for many a selfie, and other exotic animals that dropped in on the fun.
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
Among the Texas-flavored midway games was something for everyone: from Skee Ball to Balloon Pop, to Beer Bottle Ring Toss, Flippin’ Chickens and Knock ‘Em Down, the mood was as light as a trapeze artist. Henna tattoos and face paints also drew crowds. The biggest crowd of all, however, was lined up all night to have their backs live-sketched by the nationally known entertainment artist The Butt Sketcher. Friends and family were enamored by the chance of posing for a frame-worthy party favor, and the lines kept the artist sketching until the wee hours of the morning.
Performers under the tents welcomed and engaged guests as they sipped and snacked. Mr. Fabulous, the Frank Sinatra-style band from Austin crooned during cocktail hour, while Russian acrobats wowed the crowd with their athleticism. Shan The Candy Artist from California intricately spun sugar into edible animals on a stick as family and friends of all ages looked on in wonder and amazement.
There was Fluffpop Gourmet Cotton Candy for those with a sweet tooth, and even the popular Austin food truck Gourdough’s Big Fat Donuts made an appearance before the night was over, finishing off the sweetest event of the year with some sinfully savory dough-based treats such as The Mother Clucker, a hearty-sized donut topped with fried chicken and honey butter.
STEP RIGHT UP
As the cocktail hour came to a close, the party was still just beginning. Guests were guided to the grand front entrance of the recently refurbished St. Anthony Hotel by life-sized letters in each front window that were illuminated and spelled the honoree’s name. The fuchsia hues of the LED lighting cast throughout the entire ground floor of the historic hotel (referred to as the Waldorf of the West when it opened in 1909) lured people through the lobby, where jumbo-sized topiaries in the likeness of Dumbo and life-sized jester dolls beckoned wanderers inside to witness the real performers’ tricks: dinner and dancing.
The hotel’s Peacock Alley was transformed into a feast for the eyes. With custom circus festooning that draped the main corridor, coupled with bold tablescapes and florals by Danny Cuellar, the stage was set for the second half of the cirque extravaganza. Custom vintage inspired Cirque Du Carolina posters marked the entrance to the alley, and large tapestries with her initials hung with pride. Animal ice sculptures were placed throughout the cocktail areas while harlequin clown dolls dangled daringly from the fireplace.
After the party was reaching a fever pitch Carolina made a quick change from her white ball gown by Reem Acra to her sequined mermaid-skirted dancing dress custom-made by local designer Javier Castillo, and the celebrations kicked off on the state-of-the-art LED dance floor in the Anacacho Ballroom to the lively sounds of Libido, a Miami-based entertainment band with high energy and fresh sounds hand-selected by Carolina herself. The Roberts family radiated joy and fun: Barry danced with Caroline, Elizabeth danced with the crowd and the entire family boogied well into the night and enjoyed every moment with their guests.
As they say, after the show is the after party, and this one did not disappoint. DJ Rooney from New York City started the late night entertainment at midnight and had all of the youngsters cutting footloose into the early morning hours. Even the members of the Libido band stayed after their performance to keep dancing with the crowd. As the night wound down, compliments were handed to the chefs at the hotel since the culinary experience of the event was curated and prepared by The St. Anthony Hotel team from start to finish.
All good things must come to an end, and eventually it came time for the cast of Cirque Du Carolina to give their final curtain call. Guests took one last romantic spin on the Ferris wheel, one more rotation on the carousel before they bid Carolina and her family adieu. The event only lasted for one night, yet the memories of leading her own traveling circus will stay with this darling debutante forever.