Photos in header by Neil Zeller Photography

"I wanted to personally thank you both for supporting our 2017 Employee Recognition Event on May 24th and “showing” us what is possible! You really took our event to the next level from past years. Some of the comments I heard after the event were: 'Best Event Ever!', 'Can’t believe how amazing it was!' and 'What a show!'"

- Shelley Vandenburg, President, First Calgary Financial

Project Name:

Connect First Staff Appreciation Event

Project Type:

Full event design and production

Project Descriptor:

Full event design and production

Every corporate event has a staff talent show, right? Well, at Connect First Credit Union (CFCU), it’s tradition. And they do not hold back. They blast out ballads, recite Seuss, choreograph dryland synchronized swimming. They go big. And we go big too. We have been working with them for a few years on multiple aspects of their leadership training and staff appreciation. A big part of their ethic is to be community-focused. Helping their members means everything, and in early 2017 they doubled down by launching a new internal campaign to codify how they serve their members and build community. By design, it coincided with our timeline for creating the annual staff appreciation event so we drew it up around that core culture of giving back to the community, but flipped on its head: we wanted the community to give back to the staff. The result: we designed a 600-person event that was built and facilitated by a collection of CFCU members from all over Southern Alberta. We banded them together to put on a giant show of thanks for the staff. Thanks to the partnered members, we had oodles of food, hosted transportation, aerialists, ranchers, train conductors, a drumline, hip-hop and break artists, retro-school-bus-music-machines, an industrial crane (indoors), and a flying astronaut.

Follow. The. Astronaut. Follow. The. Astronaut. — On two 12’ screens, those words repeated, bright and bold in the utter darkness of the room. The audience whispered confused curiosity. An overture swelled through the venue. A spotlight hit the centre of the room and — with the crescendo — the answer to their question dawned: an astronaut floated into the air. (Spider cranes come in handy.)

Our RocketHouse Astronaut waved to the crowd high above their heads, and then, with all eyes on him, he clapped. Everything changed. The lights went bright. Whirling galaxies shone on the screens. And a loud, rhythmic beat started pounding. Drummers materialized from the audience, striking in unison, moving their way towards the descending astronaut. Vaudevillians of every stripe — jugglers, contortionists, magicians — goaded the audience to follow. An entire side of the venue that had been doused in shadows and barricaded by a modified ice cream truck and industrial equipment was now exuberant and bouncing with lit up ballyhoo. The drumline led the way to a large stage while the vaudevillians guided the guests to row after of newly revealed seats. Our Astronaut touched down and, in slow motion, faded into the background as the drummers formed a line on the stage and paused. And then the hip-hop artists came out…

To this point, we’d had the audience chilling on lawn chairs. The event was planned for all of the 600+ Connect First Credit Union (CFCU) staff, many of whom we transported in on hosted busses from all over Southern Alberta. The storm of the season shut down roads in every direction, but for the 350 guests who stayed on, it was an adventure to boast about. Sleet-filled winds were howling outside so fiercely that we crowded our food trucks as close to the outer doors as we could. Guests bonded over huddling together, bursting through the doors and braving the elements long enough to order a plate of ribs. But back inside was pure picnic utopia. Having designed and sourced our own decor, we laid out reams of astroturf, bordered it with potted cedars, clumped together adirondack chairs, lit a campfire and dotted the space with picnic tables. Giant projections of community-submitted photos of Alberta provided backdrops on screens. BassBus bookended the picnic. On one end of the astroturf was their custom-painted 52-foot party bus flanked by performers and on the other — at centre court — was their mobile music machine, a modified ice cream truck they call the Band Wagon. Living up to its name, the DJ was spinning on a small stage outside it.

Our annual venue is the Indus Rec Centre arena. It might seem stark but it ends up working like a black box theatre. The best part is its reflective, aluminium-esque, puffy ceiling which becomes a prime canvas for bouncing light. Stardust — our kickass lighting partners — dappled half the arena in dancing circles and left the other half dark which created the impact we wanted guests to have on arrival: intimacy in a large area. Connect First’s branches are spread out far and wide across the lower third of our province. Rarely do all the staff get together and when they do our aim is to get them sharing ideas. We use subtle social engineering to nudge them into conversations with unfamiliar peers. One trick is to not have enough tables — if they want to sit, they are likely to plunk down with people they don’t know. Another is to give them a great starter to conversation: spectacle that is formed from their personal connections.






Alberta Communities


Curated Member Vendors

The CFCU Brand Team jumped on board with our idea of flipping the script and engaging the community of the credit union’s members to give back to the staff. Together, we curated ten diverse members from all over Southern Alberta who could provide various aspects of food, transportation, entertainment, decor and, of course, farming equipment. We puzzled together each aspect into a cohesive experiential whole and showcased the members each step of the way.

The guests disembarked hosted busses (National Transport is a member), were handed kettle corn from Sugar Creek (a member), funneled through a host of vaudeville entertainers (BassBus is a member) and, after picking up a ‘passport’ at the registration table and posing for a photo at our RocketHouse green screen (we’re a member), they pushed through to the arena. It was filled with activity. Desserts by Kim’s Catering (member), baklava from Byblos Bakery (member), roaming photographer and videographers — Neil Zeller and Pixels + Photons, respectively (both members). Aspen Crossing (a member) was raffling for train rides. And every step up of the entertainment through the night was built by us and the participating members to surround the staff talent show.

"At this event, we showcased and used many of our member’s products and services to put on an amazing annual event for our employees. Sharing the best of what our member businesses have to offer and promoting buying and shopping local is something very important to First Calgary and myself."

- Shelley Vandenburg, President, First Calgary Financial

We sculpted this experience so that the member community could show support for the people who help them and their businesses daily. It was a ‘Thank You’, a big ‘THANK YOU!’ That moment when the hip hop artists took the stage with the drummers, that was just the start. Soon the venue flickered with flame as BassBus performed with fire, contorted their bodies and aerialists dangled and twirled from the Crystal Services spider crane. But we members were just the openers. The main event started with the CFCU staff talent show. They left no skill unturned; jaw-dropping and hilarious, they had it all from Bollywood dances to a blacklight flashmob. Then the staff awards. Any stranger off the street could have guessed Connect First’s cultural priorities when watching. Each winner gets cheers from the crowd, many are in tears, and the biggest categories are the community service and member choice. Then, we capped it…with bubbles. A thank you needs a personal thank you. And who better than the executives? They’d each signed dozens of polaroids printed with photos members had submitted from all over Alberta and as Paul, the CEO, thanked the staff from stage bubble machines pumped joy into the air, the screens blasted with “THANK YOU!” and the execs ran into the crowd shaking hands and passing out polaroids. Every person got one.

…And the backdrop to this whole moment? A band kicked off, strumming their banjos from the top of the BandWagon. The guests reeled around as they stood in their seats. It was Rosalind, a local Calgary folk sensation whose frontman, Jesse Shire, was once a teller for Connect First before his music dreams took off. They played out the night, the staff lounging in the picnic chairs basking in the music.

“Our office is abuzz this morning with positive comments about last night’s event being the best ever and people being so proud to be part of a company that does that for their employees. Feelings like that come from working with professionals that are thoughtful and bring their A-game to delivering an event. Thanks so much for working with us to make this magic!”

- Alison Archambault, Director, Brand & Stakeholder Engagement, Connect First Credit Union


Crane Brought Indoors


Band members on a BassBuss rooftop


Sq. Feet of AstroTurf



Producer: Steve Nagy
Creative Director: Zoe Klintberg
Technical Director: Donovan Deschner
Production Coordinator: Erin Bauer

Stardust / Lighting Designer: Bill Filyk

Scope Safety + Security

Food and Beverage

Indus Recreation Centre

Soul Kitchen


Bento Burrito

Perogy Boyz

Member Partners


National Motor Coach Transport

Crystal Services

Aspen Crossing

Neil Zeller

Nick Taylor
Pixels + Photons


Sugar Creek Popcorn

Kim’s Katering

Byblos Bakery