John Dunivant, the creative force behind Theatre Bizarre, has been quoted calling the once-a-year Halloween party an immersive, participatory art installation, and I think he’s exactly right. Wealthy people attend parties like this — with elaborate decorating, entertainment and the like — all the time, but all it takes is a $70 ticket in the fall, and anyone can become a part of this show, now in its third year at Detroit’s Masonic Temple.
Alan and I attended in 2011, skipped last year and went back Saturday, sort of spur of the moment. We wore the same costumes as last time — those masks were too good not to wear a second time — but the growth in the event was noticeable. They were awarded a $100,000 Knight Foundation arts grant this year, and it looks like it went into the event. Six floors, dozens of acts, ranging from freak-show stuff (suspension artists) to fun-show stuff (burlesque) to your basic local rock bands. And lots of atmosphere, mostly Dunivant’s own artwork, including his wonderful carnival banners, which set the tone:
Theatre Bizarre is staged like a gone-to-seed ’30s carnival, before they became family-friendly. So, fire:
My date, standing against one detail of many in the overall decor:
Click any of those pictures to enlarge. A short video gives you a glimpse of just one room. There were many, many more:
I think my favorite this year was the burlesque. These aren’t pole dancers gyrating through three songs and twerking for tips, but intelligent, amusing, self-aware acts performed by women who owe more to their yoga instructors than their plastic surgeons. For example: One dancer hit the stage covered with pink balloons, wearing a pinhead mask. After a few opening moves, the music changed to “The Stripper,” she extracted a pin from her head, and broke the balloons, one by one, in time with the music.
And Roxi D’Lite was there. She was the main draw on the burlesque stage, and gives a pretty good explanation of TB at that link.
You can find people all over Detroit who mourn the old Theatre Bizarre, when it was an entirely underground, renegade event held in a bombed-out neighborhood by the fairgrounds. One told me how “sad” it was to attend at the Masonic. Well, I guess everyone has their own definition of that word, but based on what we saw this weekend, I’d say success has hardly spoiled them.
Otherwise, it was a fine weekend. Saw “Carrie,” made my first butterflied roast chicken, did laundry — the usual. And now it’s Monday again, another trudge ahead of us. Let’s pick up our burdens joyfully, eh?