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Cougar Tales: PDA Provides Glamour for A Charleston Affair

The decision to return to a one-night format for A Charleston Affair (ACA) required utilizing more areas of campus and closing city streets in order to accommodate 3,500 alumni, students, and guests. The Alumni Affairs staff knew that a creative lighting and décor plan would draw guests throughout the party footprint. Fortunately, College alumnus Jeff Nickles is Founder and President of PDA, the largest production company in South Carolina.

“PDA was honored when the College of Charleston contacted us to discuss their production needs for A Charleston Affair,” said Nickles. “We were familiar with the event, but had never been involved with it.”

Alumni Affairs staff met with PDA in October and shared their vision for the event. The 2016 ACA attendee survey revealed alumni longed for tradition. The focus of the event would return to welcoming the graduating students into the Alumni Association, as when it began in 1900 as the Alumni Reception. In order to appeal to alumni of all ages, as well as to students, the event would include something for everyone, from a big College band party to a more dignified Charleston social event. To protect Cistern Yard’s cherished tree canopy, lighting and decor would be simplified to avoid installing heavy trusses for fans and chandeliers. Proceeds would benefit the Alumni Association’s scholarships and programs for the College.

“We liked what we heard,” said Nickles. “The PDA team started thinking about design concepts. This event was being held in the Cistern Yard and surrounding campus—some of the most beautiful grounds in Charleston. We figured, why try to change it? We should complement it with whatever we do.”

"We decided to use marquee lights because they are simple, look great in this environment, and put out just the right amount of light. The only problem was, we would need a lot of them!” Nickles continued.

“We also felt that in keeping with the elegant, understated concept we would use colors only on Randolph Hall: maroon on the sides and gold on the columns. Everything else would be warm, white light, once again keeping it simple and elegant. We provided battery-powered uplights and accent lights in Cougar Mall, the Stern Center courtyard, and George Street areas, and used a full stage wash for the band and dance floor, in warm amber tones, of course.”

The PDA Scenic Department got involved as well, providing custom bars and backdrops and designing a beautiful faux boxwood barrier for the band to keep dancing guests from spilling drinks on expensive sound equipment.


“This event is a massive undertaking for the College,” said Nickles. “It has many pieces and parts, lots of guests, and a very large footprint, all making it a challenge for the vendors. The PDA team started on Wednesday and worked through Saturday stringing half a mile of lights, running power, driving lifts, and setting scenic pieces. Finally the day came, one that had been in the works for months. The sun set, the lights came up, and it was truly impressive.” Not only did PDA create a beautiful setting for guests to dance the night away, they made an in-kind donation of more than $10,000 in equipment and services to support the Alumni Association’s event.

“We are always proud of our work, but this was particularly personal to me, because it’s my alma mater,” says Jeff. “We are already excited about plans for next year’s Charleston Affair!”