How Kehoe Designs’ Hidden Gem, BlackOak Technical Productions, Takes Event Technology to the Next Level

design & decor: Kehoe Designs | photographer & venue: The Geraghty | av & technology: BlackOak Technical Productions

by Pamela Rothbard, Editor

Chicago-based Kehoe Designs has been producing reliably gorgeous, interactive, buzzed-about events for years. For the past seven of those years, they’ve had a little help from an internal department created to push the boundaries of event lighting solutions. Gradually, under the guidance of founder, Tom Kehoe, the group expanded their capabilities to better serve the design team’s increasingly complex visions. They grew from lighting to a full-service independent technical production division with staging capabilities and emerging technologies — and now into a client-facing brand called BlackOak Technical Productions.

Having a background in theater design and live production, managing director of BlackOak Technical Productions, Adam McCarthy, and his team are perfectly poised to offer exciting event enhancements in lighting, audio, video, staging, producing, and emerging technologies like projection mapping, virtual and augmented reality, live-streaming, and interactive video elements.

“People see exciting developments at large-scale productions like the drone performance at the Super Bowl or the energy at a Beyoncé concert, and they want that same aesthetic,” says McCarthy. “We’re able to translate that into an approachable design package for a client.” The team brings a fresh approach to technical production, combining it with a well-honed eye for design and an impeccable sense of customer service.

photographer (from upper left): Kehoe Designs | Carasco Photography | Kehoe Designs | Garbo Productions

The BlackOak team has sharpened their design and attention to the guest experience from years of working alongside their Kehoe Designs colleagues. They consider how to use every event element to funnel attendee focus at appropriate moments. “From a lighting perspective, the human eye is inherently always looking at the brightest thing. We consider where we want people to look at a given moment and make that the brightest element,” says McCarthy. The team applies the same concept to audio components of a program, designing experiences that bring sound from the specific places they want to focus attention.

He adds, “We thrive on how every element impacts the others and want to make the planning process easy for our clients.” That last part is key given that productions that involve a lot of technical aspects can be anxiety-producing for clients — if one little thing goes wrong, the mistake can be very public. McCarthy says, “We focus on being warm and approachable to reduce client stress around new technologies.” The team also works relentlessly to deliver flawless experiences at corporate events, fundraising galas, weddings, and more.

photographer (from upper left): images 1 & 2: Kehoe Designs | images 3 & 4: The Geraghty

BlackOak Technical Productions’ experience with Kehoe Designs helps them pair bold design choices with innovative experiences. For example, the group has created virtual reality experiences — which can be isolating — that engage large numbers of guests at once. “We make it a talking point, curating a lounge space to encourage guests to hang out in the VR area seeing others use the technology or talking about their experience with others.”

The team is also able to project onto large screens what the guest wearing the VR glasses is seeing or to create a large-scale experience that can engage multiple people at once. For a Mad Max Fury Road-themed corporate event, the team constructed a “VR video game” that featured a working steering wheel and gas pedal for the user to drive then simulate a crash. Guests “woke up” in an operating room full of the company’s products. It’s this kind of seamless guest experience, leveraging the latest technological innovations that will have guests talking about events long after.

photographer (from upper left): image 1: The Geraghty | images 2-4: Kehoe Designs

BlackOak Technical Productions has grown from an in-house team of 2-3 people to a fully-functioning staff of 35+ design-focused, technically-creative staff ready to launch into helping more planning and décor companies fulfill their event visions. They join the Kehoe Designs portfolio — which includes Kehoe Designs, the parent company, and full-service design and décor provider; Floral Exhibits, the largest trade show floral provider in the country; The Geraghty, a sophisticated and accommodating venue; and Kehoe Collection, a line of designer linens through BBJ Linen.

photographer (from upper left): The Geraghty | Andrew Weeks Photography | Collin Pierson Photography | The Geraghty

PartySlate is the place where leading event professionals share their work with the world. Find new ideas by viewing and saving hundreds of thousands of beautiful event photos from weddings to birthday parties, corporate events to galas. Easily connect with the best local event professionals and find stunning venues. Sign up now »

Featured event professionals and venues receive additional links within articles. Learn about membership plans »