I have somehow combined my knowledge of successful art and my experience partying and party planning to create the Perfect Party Analogy.
This all started because my younger sister is turning 21, and she asked for my advice on what to do for her birthday party. This analogy arose out of the depths of my mind (you know, one of those file folders that you haven't seen in awhile and accessed only through playing a lot of sudoku so your neural pathways don't close). In psych they always called the brain a filing system. The more organized the easier access to thoughts/memories.
Anyway off topic. The first rule of painting and drawing I ever learned (before I decided I like abstract art better) was that there must always be something going on in the foreground, middle-ground, and background of a composition. This applies mainly to painting or drawing landscapes, but also works for still life and photography. The idea for art is that the brain will process the most important part of what it is seeing if it doesn't recognize anything unusual beforehand. Some artists take advantage of this by inputting mysteries into the background of their work (think the uneven skyline in daVinci's Mona Lisa). Most artists just leave it as it should be, background. It helps you see what is important.
Okay so enough about art. There are many types of people, from loners to joiners to dependents. There is a chance that so many types of people will show up to a party. The point is to please everyone's taste. This is very hard to do when you don't necessarily know everyone 100% (think frat party or housewarming). This is where the basic analogy applies. Every party needs a foreground, middle-ground, and background. For my examples, I will use what I explained to my sister, but hopefully it will be general enough to apply to any party or event.
Let's start with the background. This is for loners and/or people who have trouble being social with strangers. It is for everyone technically, but it makes these people feel comfortable. They feel included without having to force their way in. Essentially, something must be going on for the whole length of the party that is easy, includes everyone, and most importantly, that can be taken or left. This is something that can be done religiously if one so chooses, but can also be ignored for the most part and done only occasionally. If you're confused by what I mean, here is the example. At any party where there is drinking, and good background event is a television show drinking game (particularly one invented by the host involving a well-known show or movie that they have access to). My sister happens to love Dexter, so that's what I suggested. I've never seen the show, but here are some specific examples: (1) House says something snarky, (2) Zombies appear in The Walking Dead, (3) David Caruso makes a terrible pun and takes off his sunglasses on CSI: Miami. A couple of rules for this: TV works better than movies, because there are tons of episodes with similar themes, pick something that happens often enough to not get boring, but not so often that your guests will be vomiting after one episode. This type of game allows for people to just sit on the couch and watch and drink, occasionally calling out other people to pay attention and drink as well. However, if no one pays attention most of the time, it can just be funny when other things get dull or a specific guest wants to drink with the host. Obviously this is only one type of example, but think about the clothespin game from baby showers, buffet meals at holiday parties, or even just music or a football game in the background. See how this interacts with what is going on the in the middle-ground and foreground but doesn't overwhelm it to become front and center.
Middle-ground. This is for the joiners and/or socially independent people. It is technically for everyone, but it is mostly for frequent party-goers and people who are occasionally the center of attention, but don't need to be (my best friend is like this and I aspire to be like her). This is something that a group of people can be involved in, but has distinct beginning and ends unless you're just a spectator (in which case it could go on all night). These events are many (as in all of the events going on in the center/middle-ground of a painting, they can include spectators, and usually they have a bit of competition involved. They are not the most important thing going on (that would be in the foreground), but they contribute directly to it. Here is the 21st birthday party example: DRINKING GAMES. Beer pong, Kings, Beer Hockey, Quarters, Asshole, Up the River-Down the River, Cornhole, Baseball, GolfFuck the Dealer, etc. etc. As I said, these games can oscillate between being front and center (if the host is playing) or a nice rhythmic middle-ground. Remember: Anyone can play, anyone can watch, no one has to play or watch. They are simply available. Other examples of middle-ground can be trivia games, cooking, football at Thanksgiving, etc.
The foreground is the main attraction, and depends on the type of party. It is for the "main character" and their dependents. It is again for everyone, but mainly focuses on the host/celebrant and their closest friends. These people are not usually very social or they don't know many of the other guests. Their comfort zone is with the person who invited them. Anyone can join in, which makes it a good way to get the dependents to meet some new people. It also prevents them from leaving early or getting mad, or crowding the host. For example, when the host is challenged to a game of beer pong (this is when middle-ground activities meet the foreground). What I explained for my sister is that whatever she is doing at her birthday party is what people will want to be involved in. They came to celebrate with her, so if she is taking shots with a group, playing a game, or eating dinner, that is what the other guests will be watching and doing. It allows her to circulate and for each person to share something with her. This is obvious for any party that has a main character (a birthday, graduation party, wedding). For other parties, it is usually an event, like present-opening at Christmas, or simply a conversation, like asking about home improvements of a new homeowner. The foreground is always there, and it is the most important thing going on.
Okay, so there is my analogy, perfectly developed in the twenty seconds it took me to respond to my sister's question. Guess my synapses are working alright, despite all the drinking :). Party on my friends, party on.