If the Addams Family, Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allan Poe, Lemony Snicket 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 touch macabre, an annual spectacle of theater, performance, exhibition and dance unlike any other event in San Francisco. At the Regency Ballroom on January 17 and 18, 2014, about 3,500 Bay Area folks in corsets, top hats and tails, velvet, Goth looks and stylishly eccentric outfits will converge to revel in dark humor, burlesque, taxidermy, ballroom dancing, chanteuses, games and carnival rides, acrobats, tea and absinthe, curiosities and steam-powered technology.
The Edwardian Ball began in 1999 as a tribute to the ominous, prolific American writer and illustrator Edward St. John Gorey (1925-2000), an aficionado of cats, fur, ballet, Batman and soap operas. Often starring creepy grown-ups, naughty children and odd creatures, Gorey’s tales are twisted and mischievous; his ABC book, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, has 26 tykes meeting their demise in colorful ways. Gorey also produced pen-and-ink drawings for The New Yorker and for books by authors ranging from Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf to H.G. Wells and John Updike. He designed theater sets and costumes (he won a Tony for his costumes for Dracula on Broadway), drew the animated credits for the PBS Mystery! series and was an inspiration to artists such as director Tim Burton, Nine Inch Nails and The Tiger Lillies.
Each year the Edwardian Ball features a theatrical and musical enactment of a Gorey story; this year's is The Curious Sofa: A Pornographic Work by Ogdred Weary, which Gorey published in 1961 under one of his anagram pen names. Despite the title, there’s no outright nudity or sex, but rather lots of innuendo and purposefully placed screens, tree branches and shrubbery. The titillating tale follows the flapper-styled Alice, who’s approached in the park by a young man and goes with him on an taxicab ride in which “they did something Alice had never done before.” Alice’s adventure continues with various frolics and romps that encompass a colonel and his wife, each with wooden legs that are used to do “all sorts of entertaining tricks,” a French maid, an English sheepdog, aristocrats, “anatomical peculiarities,” several “remarkably well-set-up young men,” the “Lithuanian Typewriter” technique, a boa and a saucepan. There’s occasional fainting and a death, too.
And then there’s the “famous” eponymous sofa: “It stood in a windowless room lined with polar bear fur and otherwise empty; it was upholstered in scarlet velvet, and had nine legs and seven arms. As soon as everybody had crowded into the room, Sir Egbert fastened shut the door, and started up the machinery inside the sofa. When Alice saw what was about to happen, she began to scream uncontrollably….”
Flapper dresses and oddball props will no doubt appear at the 2014 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 King Edward VII of the early 1900s, there's also a prevalence of top hats, bodices, long skirts 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 jackets, millinery ranging from dainty to daring, feathered and fur-trimmed accessories, jewelry and make-up jobs). If you like to gawk at the get-ups at Halloween in the Castro and at Bay to Breakers, you’ll have a ball during the Edwardian weekend.
Besides The Curious Sofa performance by Rosin Covin and the Vau de Vire Society, Saturday's ball features dancing, a concert by singer-pianist Jill Tracy, a fashion show and a tea garden. The Friday night fair is a carnival of bicycle-powered rides and zoetropes, on-site portrait drawings by Ben Walker and steam-fueled curious sofas and other contraptions.
Friday and Saturday alike abound with entertainment and side shows including cancan dancers, Fou Fou Ha!, Shovelman (playing his shovel-turned-guitar), bands, DJs, a pipe organist and circus and burlesque acts. On both nights you can also roam among a piano saloon, the Grand Artique Trading Post (a general store featuring banter and barter), the vendor bazaar, a gaming parlor, a photo booth and the "Museum of Wonders,” an assemblage of strange and natural artifacts, live human "statues" and prognosticators.
The Edwardian World's Faire and Edwardian Ball
At the Regency Ballroom, 1300 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco 94109. All ages welcome
January 17, at 8 pm-2 am: The Edwardian World's Faire. Tickets $40, 45, 80, 85.
January 18, at 12-5 pm: The Edwardian Vendor Bazaar. Entrance at 1270 Sutter St. Tickets $5.
January 18, at 8 pm-2 am: The Edwardian Ball. Tickets $50, 55, 95, 100.