“My whole philosophy is to be of service,” says Sequoia Productions President and Founder Cheryl Cecchetto. “I never want to take anything for granted.” Her mantra to her Los Angeles-based events team is “Humble, humble, humble.” Cecchetto is the longtime producer of some of Hollywood’s biggest soirees—the post-Oscars Governors Ball (25 years and counting), the Emmy Awards Governors Ball and other high-profile celebrations such as the reopening of the Griffith Observatory.
She has enough real-world tips and fascinating memories—populated by Hollywood luminaries—to fill a book, so she wrote one. Passion to Create is both a memoir and a how-to on home entertaining (“Think like a hostess, not a waitress”) and managing events (“When you make a mistake, it’s a gift, it’s a stop sign. Learn from it and never do it again.”) Each chapter is capped with a recipe. Her recounting of her early years in Hollywood ends with a recipe for marinara sauce from actress Shelley Winters, her onetime boss.
Though she’s a pro at producing celebrity-driven events, Cecchetto isn’t a hob-nobber. “You won’t see a ton of pictures of me with celebrities,” says Cecchetto. “It’s not what I do; if you’re my client, you’re with the celebrities. I’m the facilitator.” As an event planner, she searches for inspiration and asks, “Where can you take guests that is special, a surprise, unknown?”
A favorite moment took place at a gala fundraiser for the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. She’d sought out a patient who could illustrate the hospital’s lauded ability to help children. She found Alex, a charismatic 11-year-old with a rare genetic disorder who’d already been through 27 operations. Dressed in a tuxedo, he opened the night’s presentations by declaring, “I love to tap dance,” which he immediately did around the podium, bringing the house down.
For each event, Cecchetto looks for a way to give back. Whether it’s donating unused food to a mission, flowers to elder care or incorporating students from local performing arts academies into the event’s entertainment, the effort is integrated into the budget and planning from day one. So are rehearsal, pretesting and previews.
Despite meticulous planning, near disasters can happen, like the two that occurred during the same Governors Ball. First, picture-perfect koi began to jump out of the aquariums that were being used as centerpieces (they were wrangled back in). Later, the power went out when a vendor tapped into the ballroom’s electric supply. Once she realized the fix was outside her control, Cecchetto, in a gown and heels, went into a yoga pose on the ballroom carpet to center herself. “I calmed myself down,” she says. “I regrouped. I got back up. And the lights went back on.”