Whether it's been in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, or Las Vegas, odds are you've danced through a party by Jake Resnicow. And you'd remember it. The producer and promoter, who's international party brand Matinee has played to his strengths as both fun-lover and philanthropist, has a knack for adding epic spectacle to his events. This year, Resnicow did just that at the 25th anniversary of Life Ball, Europe's largest and most lavish HIV/AIDS fundraiser, held at Vienna's City Hall in Austria. Out was right there with Resnicow to take in the sights and sounds, and he sat down—in the rare moment he could—to chat about his work, his role, and the real reasons behind it.
OUT: You've attended Life Ball before. Apart from the 25th anniversary and you being tapped to produce the main event ball room, what made this year's Life Ball special for you?
It really hits home to see how much of a difference we're making. Life Ball has now raised over 30 million euros that directly help people affected by HIV/AIDS around the world. We are living in turbulent times and it's so rewarding to see so many people come together to celebrate life and give back. I'm so honored to be a part of that.
Your contribution to Life Ball was partially inspired by the marionettes in The Sound of Music. Tell me about that.
We approached the event with the goal of telling a story. At the beginning of the night, dancers were strung in the air like marionettes as our DJ opened with a signature mix of “The Lonely Goatherd.” DJ Nina Flowers closed the night with a remix of “So Long, Farewell” as we invited everyone to join us on the stage. Just like a Broadway show, we look to embed underlying symbols and references.
When producing an event like the Life Ball party, or anything close to that scale, what is your main objective, and how do you achieve it?
For me, it's all about creating memorable experiences, giving every event a wow factor, and leaving our guests with big smiles on their faces. Months of planning went into selecting the right talent, telling the story, and keeping the energy high from start to finish.
You seem very aware of how to incorporate elements that demand people's attention, like giant robots. It's almost as if you're building a nightlife amusement park. Was this always your approach?
For sure. We are building a nightlife amusement park! Much of my inspiration comes from large-scale music festivals that feature fireworks, ferris wheels, and signature performances.
In the spirit of that, this year you employed LED wristbands and video technology to introduce a new kind of experience. What sparked that idea and how did it develop?
In years past, the main floor was used just for the VIP dinner. For the 25th Anniversary, Life Ball asked me, “How can we turn the main floor into a massive dance party? We know you can make it special.” I was thrilled by the opportunity. I thought of the LED wristband technology that we used at Matinee Vegas and Pride, and I'd also seen it at the Super Bowl halftime show. My idea was to give every guest, as they entered City Hall, a wristband that generates wireless video effects in sync with The Sound of Music. As our DJ opened with his intro mix of “The Hills are Alive,” and guests raised their hands in the air, all the wristbands began pulsating with light as one, transforming the crowd into a visual canvas. It was a beautiful moment!
What are some of the wildest things you've ever seen happen at Life Ball?
The chartered Austrian Airlines flight from New York to Vienna each year, with all the talent, is by far one of the wildest experiences. I remember when Macklemore's Ray Dalton and Paula Abdul started a sing-along in the back of the plane while Amanda Lepore danced topless, serving cocktails. I also have some fond memories of Kesha and Naomi Campbell, but some things that happen on that plane, must stay on the plane! It's especially beautiful to see everyone involved let their guard down and come together like a family. In fact, Life Ball reserves a few seats for guests to purchase to travel on the actual plane. I highly encourage joining us next year! There's nothing like it!
Amid all the glamour and excitement, people can sometimes forget that Life Ball's key purpose is to raise funds and awareness for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention. What does that mean to you personally?
It hits close to home. I have family and friends that have been personally affected by HIV. I see the real difference Life Ball is making each year around the world and continue to be inspired and motivated to do more and continue to give back. On our end, we actually pay for the all the production elements - from the 5,000 LED wristbands to costumes, performers' travel, and rehearsal costs. This way, Life Ball is able to give more back to where it counts.
You repeatedly said that Life Ball is an experience that will change a person's life. How has it changed yours?
There is no event in the world like Life Ball. Thousands of artists from all over the world come together for free to be a part of this magical event and give back. When you see the production come to life, as the red carpet opens and the stage unfolds, it gives me chills. As we board the Life Ball plane back to New York on Sunday morning, there is a real sense of family and community. It's inspiring.
You seem to keep growing and developing as a rising LGBTQ producer and promoter. What inspires you most about working in and for this community?
I really love putting smiles on people's faces. I am so passionate about what I do. My events provide a place to feel welcomed, to be accepted, and to celebrate who we are in the face of life's obstacles. Those who may have been shunned by family, friends, communities, or employers can be free here. For some, it is more of a home than they have ever known.
What's next for you?
Very excited to be producing the biggest events during New York Pride. I'm especially psyched for our annual LUVBOAT VIP yacht cruise, sailing into the fireworks. Last year we had a beautiful wedding proposal on board. I've since received three other requests for this year. This really touches me.
Additionally, we launched the “Pride With a Purpose” initiative again this year, calling for the community to volunteer at least eight hours of their time this month for a charitable LGBTQ cause. In exchange, we will give a free Ultra VIP weekend pass to our Pride events—a $600 value. The program is all about empowering people to do more—to donate their time and resources.
All images photographed on site at Life Ball, exclusively for Out, by Daniel Robinson.