February 22nd is Edward Gorey’s birthday. Of course, he is D for Dead. No matter; we still have his drawings and weird stories. All week, we’ll have Gorey posts in anticipation of a nice, little party that celebrates the man who brought us poor Xerxes and cloven Kate (whom we miss): yes, the Edwardian Ball.
Today, an ever so brief intro to the Ball itself, with its founder Justin Katz.
You’ve probably told the story a million times, but what are the origins of the Edwardian Ball?
Any artistic endeavor worth pursuing is a combination of simple but essential ingredients, combined in the right way at the right time, much like a martini for example. Rosin Coven – my band that has been performing together for nearly 20 years now – was and still is into immersive, interactive performance. We crossed paths with a friend who happened to own a San Francisco nightclub. We chatted at a bar in the middle of the desert, and noticed an Edward Gorey book laying on the bar top. Gorey! Wouldn’t it be fun to do a party in his honor? I have the bar. We have the band. Let’s make it a Ball. Edward’s Ball. The Edwardian Ball. The next thing you know, we gathered around 150 people around the stage and read “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” out loud with musical accompaniment, and a slide projector showing the images on the wall. Slides! And somehow, this single combination has become more popular than any other idea we’ve tossed out there. You never know with art, what will stick, what catches on, takes on a life of it’s own.
Can you describe any connection between the Edwardian Ball and Victoriana, Steampunk and Goth?
I’ll start with Goth, which is near and dear to the original feel of The Edwardian Ball. The Cat Club, our home for the first five years of the event, was a gathering place for all kinds of Goths, clubgoers, misfits, crazy artistic types that contributed to the celebration of shadow and macabre that is essential to our aesthetic, embracing dark beauty. Victoriana, not a word I have used, but I’m assuming that it’s a reference to turn of the century culture, and that really has a home with our crowd too. People play up either of the two Edwards, King or Gorey, and all kinds of characters in between. The reimagination of Victorian or Edwardian times plays out in a wonderful way, embracing civility, manners, respect, gentility, all kinds of elements that are relegated to the sidelines in our more abrupt and in-your-face modern culture. As for Steampunk, the trend has dovetailed nicely with the Edwardian world. What I love about Steampunk it has potential for creativity and imagination. Cosplay and roleplay have a great place in a participant-based event such as the Ball. People get really into it, and go all out. What I don’t like is when Steampunk (or any trend) becomes predictable and mass-produced. Steampunk costumes off the Spirit Halloween rack are no better than any other costume out of a bag, and start to lose their artistic statement. So most importantly, people should just keep bringing their best – there’s a place for everyone.
This year’s Ball started with two nights in San Fransisco, late-January. Any surprises so far this year? How is the LA event different from the SF event?
When you have an event that is created by the people attending it, there is always an element of surprise and innovation woven throughout the entire night. Everyone brings it full-on, one-upping themselves in pursuit of costume, character, and experience. We had some great additions in SF this year, such as the San Francisco Opera, Scott Levkoff’s Mystic Midway* interactive gaming, a flying bed, phenomenal presentations of Gorey Stories on stage, a tea party in our Museum of Wonders, a phone booth where you could talk to God, delicious absinthe cocktails, far too much for any one person to experience in a night! As for LA, much is the same in terms of programming, but fundamentally different because of the local culture. LA is finally really catching on, after 6 years, understanding that it’s not a show to come watch, it’s an event to come be immersed in and make your own.
*We have an interview with these mysterious fellows coming up. – Editor
Besides Edward Gorey, if you had to choose just 2 or 3 authors/artists who most inform the Ball, who would they be and why? In other words, what are the essential Edwardian texts?
When thinking about outside influences, authors such as Poe, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Wolfe, Lemony Snickett, and such all come to mind. But looking inward, I feel like I should also comment on the creative influence of the two groups that co-host the event, Rosin Coven and The Vau de Vire Society. Rosin Coven’s brand of “Pagan Lounge Music” has informed the look and feel of the Ball since it began in 1999. The goal of the Pagan Lounge has always been to create a dark, elegant, humorous and beautiful space that invites people to feel seen, connected, and transformed. Vau de Vire bring such a high caliber of creative performance that they really set the standard for play and participation. Sexy, playful, hilarious and poignant, they really create a backdrop for people to join the fun and paint their own characters into the night.
I think the coolest thing about this event & subculture is its immersiveness. It’s not about just one isolated activity, but involves literature, art, fashion, music, theater, etc. – and even reaches into things like magic and gaming. Can you comment on that a little?
As you may have noticed, this question has been addressed in every question above, and is clearly what this event is all about. It’s not about the stage, it’s about co-creating the “Edwardian World”, where the only rule is that you join in on the story, and immerse yourself in an unforgettable experience.
The Edwardian Ball is this Saturday, February 27. More info here.