Gorgeously Gorey

Pub date January 18, 2011


NIGHTLIFE Actually, the Edwardian Ball — now in its 11th year of gothic, ghoulish, glorious celebration — isn’t strictly a gathering of period costume nerds. In fact, those who focus on historical accuracy, says event cofounder Justin Katz, are kind of missing the point. “Much to their frustration, the founders of the ball don’t care if your collar is Edwardian or not,” he chuckles.

That’s because, as any good SF costume freak will tell you, the original Edward of this shindig is Gorey, not Windsor. In its first years, it was actually named the Edward Gorey Ball, a theatrical homage to the work of the macabre writer and illustrator of such classics as the A-to-Z book of child demise, The Gashlycrumb Tinies. This tome was read at the ball’s first incarnation, which was hosted by Rosin Coven, the pagan lounge ensemble that has graced the stage each subsequent year.

Why Gorey? “Once we began to explore his work, we really enjoyed his ‘untelling’ of stories,” Katz continues. “Almost nothing happens in his books!” Which isn’t exactly true, of course, but his slight and spindly, grave-studded plot lines seem slightly unsuited for nightlife action, especially the bedazzled, bedazzling theatrical productions that Mike Gaines’ Vau de Vire Society circus-dance troupe so spectacularly gives birth to on stage at the ball.

“It isn’t the easiest thing to base a dramatic stage show on,” Gaines admits. “But Gorey left [his stories] up for interpretation. He was a real theatrical cat.” Gorey was a noted ballet fan, and his illustrated landscapes could easily double as sets. And if he did indeed mean for his creepy-cute stories to be blown into phantasmagoric carnivals someday, then he is smiling down on the Edwardian Ball.

But as far as the event goes these days, Gorey stories are but one of its attractions. In addition to all the offstage attractions at the ball (which has burgeoned into a weekend-long affair that includes an expo of steampunk wonder-toys, entire floors of the Regency Ballroom given over to vendors of satin and skeletal finery, even a Friday night-only Ferris Wheel to be erected inside the ballroom itself), the event has become a group therapy session for SF’s costume-addicted party people. Well, a therapy session in which the addicted bust out their most flagrant behavior and congratulate each other on having done so.

Top among Gaines’ favorite get-ups from years past was an homage to Gashlycrumb‘s Winnie, the poor tot who met her maker after becoming “embedded in ice.” The intrepid Edwardian in question encased herself in frosted Plexiglass for the evening’s festivities. Others choose more technically Edwardian-accurate ensembles, and others still will use the event as an excuse to wear whatever the hell gets their creative juices flowing: goth-steampunk-geisha, anyone?

This inclusivity most likely explains the success of the ball. Katz mentions that one is likely to see one of the aforementioned period fundamentalists having a cuppa with a giant grasshopper, one table over from a couple who “look like they just crawled out of a nightclub,” all in a steam-powered tea garden. And then they’ll all join in a round of ballroom dancing that takes place near the main stage on Saturday. One mustn’t forget about the ballroom dancing. *


Fri/21 “World’s Fair”: 8 p.m.– 2 a.m., $28–$75

Sat/22 bazaar: noon– 6 p.m., free; ball 8 p.m.– 2 a.m., $38–$85

Regency Ballroom

1300 Van Ness, SF