Indie film fans may recall a 1990s gem starring Parker Posey called "Party Girl." Posey's character, Mary, keeps the lights on by throwing parties in friends' apartments and charging admission. Sometimes things get a little wild, and neighbors call the cops.
Now imagine that Mary has grown up, smoothed out her rough edges and moved to Sarasota. The sequel would star the polished party planner Stephanie Grae.
Thanks to Grae, many Sarasota art openings consist of more than walking around a gallery with a glass of ho-hum wine and Spotify playing on the sound system.
Grae's productions, many of which take place on the roof of the Art Ovation hotel downtown, aren't parties; they are spectacles with sexy dancers, dazzling light shows, fire pits and other elements that bring sizzle to an opening.
One recent Friday night found Grae as the guide of a "Gaze & Graze" trolley tour that began at one Creative Liberties studio in the Limelight District and ended at another Creative Liberties outpost.
In between there were stops at galleries like Marianne Chapel Junker's Spaaces on Princeton Street and restaurants including Vino Bistro in the Rosemary District. The "Gaze & Graze" event was the brainchild of Elizabeth Goodwill and Barbara Gerdeman, co-founders of Creative Liberties, who also hired Grae to organize a recent evening of "Magic and Mystery."
According to Grae, hosting arts events is part of her DNA. The Atlanta native's parents run a dance school and a nonprofit ballet company, so she's been surrounded by artists all her life.
Grae began throwing parties for her friends in elementary school and honed her appreciation for the arts by studying at Savannah School of Art and Design. "My gift is connecting people through the arts," she says.
Grae spent her 20s as an interior designer in Atlanta with celebrity clients like rapper Missy Elliott. She expanded from decorating into producing events, including a 2012 fundraiser for a friend who had Lou Gehrig's disease.
Along the way, Grae got married, had a baby and got her real estate license. She moved to Sarasota in 2019 with her ex-husband, who was transferred here. She decided to move into party planning in a big way just as COVID hit in 2020.
It wasn't until the season of 2021-22 that Grae was able to establish herself as a party planner extraordinaire, working with nonprofits, including the Fabulous Arts Foundation, and with DJs from SRQBeats.
Since then she's teamed up with 40 Carrots Family Center to bring entertainment to the live wine auction at its annual Wine, Women & Shoes fundraiser.
During an interview, Grae notes her first show in Atlanta was called Remove the Ego, an event with sponsors that brought together 800 people from different backgrounds.
That ego-free ethos still pervades Grae's approach to her business. Although she exudes glam, Grae doesn't project the attitude that often accompanies style and beauty.
She's a big believer in teamwork and is quick to credit her crew for her success. They include production assistant Sarah Jane Balotti, makeup artist and creative consultant Joshua Hardinger, lighting consultant Brian Craft of Limelight SRQ and designer Michael Murphy for visuals.
Grae's collaborator/client at Art Ovation is Nick Perdue, who could not be reached for comment. Dynasty Dance provides entertainment for some of her art openings, which include performances by ballerinas, ballroom dancers and circus artists.
"I'm good at making friends and finding talent," Grae says. "I enjoy bringing people together. In Sarasota, I've found a group of people that really want to see the growth of the arts."
Correction: This story has been updated to clarify Grae's role in Wine, Women & Shoes.
Monica Roman Gagnier is the arts and entertainment editor of the Observer. Previously, she covered A&E in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the Albuquerque Journal and film for industry trade publications Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.