Article by Miranda Seaver
Venue: The Regency Ballroom
Featuring: The Edwardian World’s Faire 2020
I was a weird kid. If you know me, even tangentially, this probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
I spent a majority of my formative years dressed in ill-fitting thrift store suits, making campfires at the park and carving Pink Floyd lyrics into tree stumps with my brother’s switchblade. I’ve since grown up, and every so often I have been hit with a sense of un-direction. I mean, where do weird kids go when they aren’t kids anymore?
On January 24, I learned the answer to that question: they go to The Edwardian World’s Faire.
The Edwardian Ball is described on their website as “an elegant and whimsical celebration of art, music, theatre, fashion, technology, circus, and the beloved creations of the late, great author and illustrator Edward Gorey”. You may recognize Gorey from his grim black and white drawings depicting old-timey, high society-types. Or, if you’re like me, perhaps you have vague memories of The Gashlycrumb Tinies, an alphabet book consisting entirely of children dying terrible deaths. I’ll admit I don’t know much about his work aside from the feeling of indescribable dread it gave me when I was young, so I turned to a more knowledgable friend to ask what she believed attracted people to the Gorey’s work and aesthetic.
“His macabre subjects and the gallows humor,” she said, “accompanied by the lifework that can range from stark to densely-packed with lines… And a lot of it, though not necessarily macabre, just feels bizarre.”
So what type of people are drawn together in the same of such a bizarre man?
I arrived to The Regency Ballroom about an hour ahead of time, which worked in my favor as the line stacked up quickly. What really struck me first was how elaborate the costumes I saw were. There was a blend of fashion and technology that fit in well coming from the culture of Silicon Valley. I was lucky enough to be in line behind Greg and Lora Price from Steamy Tech in Santa Clara. Their ensemble was drawing in a lot of attention from passersby, especially Greg with his modified top hat containing four wooden walls of light and moving gears. This was built by hand, as was the pendent around Lora’s neck that lit up and acted as a sort of decibel meter.
Steamy Tech works with laser cutters, 3-D printers, and basic programming to create motorized trinkets and kits you can put together on your own. And Greg and Lora are regulars at the Edwardian Ball, coming each year with a new wooden pin to give out. I saw several guests donning this year’s pin of a scroll and quill, along with designs from previous years. It was clear to me that there was a tight-knit community surrounding the Ball, of which Greg and Lora were a vital part.
When the doors finally opened to the crowd I was one of the first inside. And god, there was a lot to look at. The Edwardian Ball takes up three floors of the Regency Ballroom. When you first enter there’s the Grand Ballroom, a vast space with people on stilts and posed on platforms. There were a lot of photo opportunities, from the flying alligator in the center of the room to the set pieces modeling different Edward Gorey stories from previous years. Below that is the Vendor Bazaar, where artisans sell their handcrafted goods, and two stories up is a more intimate space, with the Fireplace Stage and the Museum of Wonders.
Needless to say, I was lost in a heartbeat and overwhelmed almost immediately. Three floors, each packed with entertainment for the entirety of the night. There was a period of time while the line along the block was filing in (There was a metal detector at the door and almost everyone’s costumes had some amount of metal in them), and I used that period to take in the space while it was still relatively empty.
I enjoyed the Museum of Wonders, a hall of oddities reminiscent of a carnival funhouse with a cage containing the severed hands of the Baba Yaga, and a mermaid skeleton displayed in a case. Outside of that I got to see Belinda Blair’s Mechanical Doll, a performance piece where Blair posed as an animatronic doll that would come to life and play a song on her ukulele for anyone willing to toss her a few coins or trinkets.
The street performer energy was strong here, from the actual performers to the lavishly dressed patrons. There was a figure in a fox mask with an luminescent cape that glided through the ball on a pair of roller blades, and another one in a massive skeletal headpiece. The show was incredible, yes, with performances by the dancers of Le Cancan Bijou and the incredible acrobatics and contortionists of The Vau de Vire Society. But what really struck me about the Edwardian Ball were the people that were attending it.
I got the chance to speak with a few of them, and with the ghost of my younger self on my mind, I asked them all what they would say to the weird kids of the past and future.
There was a range of answers, but what I heard again and again was that things get better. One man advised that old clothes come in handy – which, as a lifelong Goodwill advocate, I can definitely agree with. And I spoke with a young woman in a mohawk and ballgown about her thoughts on the subject.
“Don’t stop being weird,” she said. “Other guys are going to some lame house party tonight, and I’m going to have a fabulous time watching people be themselves and be amazing and feel great about themselves. And what’s not great about that?”
This really struck me. Because, while Edward Gorey’s work is rather restrained, the Ball is anything but. These people are here to celebrate – celebrate themselves, each other, and the spark in Gorey’s work that pushed them to continue. And there’s something wonderful about that. There’s a magical quality in the spectacle of it all, the sense of joy without judgement.
When I left the party was still going on, and I left with with a sense of community that I’d never known before. After this weekend the patrons of the Ball will go back to their everyday lives, scattered all across the Bay Area. They’ll be working their jobs, going about their days, perhaps even passing you on the street. You might see them draped in regalia, or they might look so inconspicuous that you don’t notice them at all.
So take their advice, reader, and keep it weird. You might feel like you’re the only one, but that’s far from the truth.
They’re out there. We’re out there. You just have to know where to look.