If the Addams Family and authors Lemony Snicket, Lewis Carroll and Edward Gorey got together and threw a party, it'd be the Edwardian Ball and World's Faire.
It's fantastical, eerie, time-warped and a tad macabre, an annual spectacle of exhibition, performance and dance unlike any other event in San Francisco. At the Regency Ballroom on January 18 and 19, 2013, Bay Area folks in corsets, Goth looks, top hats and tails, lace, bustles, and stylishly eccentric outfits will converge to enjoy dark humor, chanteuses, burlesque dancers, taxidermy, ballroom dancing, acrobats, tea and absinthe, curiosities and steam-powered technology.
The Edwardian Ball began in 1999 as a tribute to the ominous and prolific American writer and illustrator Edward St. John Gorey (1925-2000), an aficionado of cats, fur, ballet, Batman and soap operas. Besides creepy children's tales (his ABC book, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, has 26 tykes meeting their demise in colorful ways), Gorey produced pen-and-ink drawings for The New Yorker and for books by Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, H.G. Wells, John Updike and other assorted authors. He also designed theater sets and costumes and drew the animated credits for the PBS Mystery! series.
Each year the ball features a theatrical and musical enactment of a Gorey tale; this year's is the 1957 book The Doubtful Guest, which has been likened to the works of Dr. Seuss. The title character is an odd creature resembling an aardvark without the big ears and tail. Wearing white sneakers and a striped scarf, it shows up unexpectedly at a mansion and disturbs the gray existence of the Victorian family living there:
It was seemingly deaf to whatever they said,
So at last they stopped screaming, and went off to bed.
It joined them at breakfast and presently ate
All the syrup and toast and a part of a plate.
The uninvited guest also broods on Sundays, tears chapters out of books, hides towels and does other bizarre things. And seventeen years later, the pale, seemingly catatonic family has still not managed to ask it to leave.
Aardvark-like and Victorian costumes will no doubt appear at the 2013 Edwardian Ball and World's Faire. Over the years, because the "Edwardian" in the name has been widely misconstrued to refer not to Gorey but to the early 1900s, there's also a prevalence of top hats, velvet and other fashions of that era. That's fine, because the dress code is more about creativity than historical accuracy. (Should you be stumped for a costume, a vendor bazaar offers vests, jewelry, millinery ranging from dainty to daring, feathered and fur-trimmed accessories and make-up jobs). If you like gawking at the get-ups at Bay to Breakers and Castro Street's Halloween, you'll love the Edwardian weekend.
Besides The Doubtful Guest performance, Saturday's ball features dancing, cabaret and musical entertainment, DJs and an antique portrait studio. The Friday night fair is a carnival of games, bicycle-powered rides, circus and burlesque sets and steam-fueled contraptions.
On both nights, you can also roam among a piano saloon with live music, the vendor market, a gaming parlor and the "Edwardian Odditorium," a museum of strange artifacts, live human "statues," fortune tellers and sideshows.
The Edwardian World's Faire and Edwardian Ball
At the Regency Ballroom, 1300 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco 94109. All ages welcome
January 18, at 8 pm-2 am: The Edwardian World's Faire. Tickets $30, 75.
January 19, at 12-5 pm: The Edwardian Vendor Bazaar. Entrance at 1270 Sutter St. Tickets $5.
January 19, at 8 pm-2 am: The Edwardian Ball. Tickets $45, 85.