Long before Sleep No More upended Macbeth in New York City, or San Francisco’s linchpin immersive theater experience The Speakeasy poured its first gin cocktail, a band of classic misfits began a whimsical, meta-theatrical tribute to the creative genius of author and artist Edward Gorey, who died in 2000. Twenty years later, the Edwardian Ball has evolved into a weekend-long wonderland of choose-your-own adventure pageantry and sensory overdrive.
A sumptuous soiree with significant literary underpinnings, the Edwardian Ball and its weekend of auxiliary events has come a long way from its humble beginnings at the Cat Club on Folsom Street. That first foray, coaxed into existence by dark cabaret act Rosin Coven, involved not much more than a slideshow of Gorey’s gleefully morbid abecedarium, The Ghashlycrumb Tinies, and a concert of their own music. A few years in, they recognized the limitations of that format, and invited the then-emerging circus-centric performance troupe Vau de Vire Society to reenact one of Gorey’s peculiar works onstage. A fertile creative collaboration was born.
Though a frequent misconception about the Ball is to conflate the “Edwardian” in the event with period-specificity, co-founder Justin Katz is emphatic about the name as a reference to Edward Gorey, their “patron saint.” This open-ended theme allows participants to let their imagination alone guide them in what to wear and how best to participate.
Katz confesses a fondness for the costumes with a literary bent—Gorey-an or otherwise—citing participants who clad themselves as Gashlycrumb Tinies, or Doubtful Guests. But what really excites him are those who go the extra mile to create elaborate, character-driven backstories complemented by but not subsumed by their costumery. As much inspired by Victorian Science Fiction and Nonsense Literature as by Edward Gorey, you’ll find attendees in top hats and spats dancing with ones in homemade replicas of anthropomorphic diving suits, stripe-stockinged bawds escorting bewigged dandies, and plenty of feathers, flounces, and fringe.
“Whatever the roleplay that they are doing, people come prepared with their own story,” Katz enthuses. “And I feel like in that way, we are writing the book of the Edwardian Ball each time.”
In addition to the character traits and artful attire displayed by Ball patrons are those contributed by the Vau de Vire Society. After coming onboard during the Ball’s scrappy Cat Club years, and taking on co-producing duties ever since, the Vau de Vire Society gives the Ball a playful, unpredictable edge, and much of its visual panache. Adapting an Edward Gorey story each year into a narrative for the stage, Vau de Vire’s flamboyant approach to creating spectacle turns Goery’s wryly somber monochromatics into a dazzling, daring tableau.