G is for Gorgeously Gorey: Rocking the Edwardian Ball
February 22, 2012
— Belasco Theater, edward gorey, edwardian ball, gothic ball, steampunk
When was the last time you dressed up for a full fledged ball resplendent from floor length Edwardian gowns up to ceiling-brushing stilt walkers? Fantastically fun. Wide-eyed wonder. What writer/illustrator inspires throngs of fans to party across San Francisco and Los Angeles every year? Answer: The Edwardian Ball celebrating Edward Gorey (1925-2000), an erudite American artist wrought with paradox and humorous noir.
I first stumbled upon Gorey’s books as a young lass in an actual bookstore. Mr. Gorey’s sensibilities immediately stood out as different and hilarious. Gorey’s life and work soaks in irony. He served as an Army man and graduated Harvard. Although kids were often topics for his dark writings, he died childless and never confirmed his sexual orientation. For a creative who loved word games and read prodigiously, some of Gorey ‘s books are wordless. Gorey’s introduction for the PBS show Mystery! propelled his art to global recognition, yet he only attended one semester of art school in Chicago’s School of the Art Institute.
Even his name pelts puns. Edward often set his pieces in Edwardian times (1901-1910) despite his American roots. Gorey frequently focused on gory topics like untimely deaths and macabre observations. Although his prolific work conjures a niche following, he’s not widely known as J.K. Rowling’s ubiquitous Harry Potter. He rarely gave interviews, yet Floating Worlds is a 256-page book about Gorey’s prodigious letter writing to writer Peter Neumeyer.
The Edwardian Ball carries the same ironic undertone in its 12th year. This ball proved completely opposite to the conventional conceptions of a political, charity, or Disney sweet Cinderella ball.
Los Angeles held its annual ball at the marvelous Belasco Theater, established around 1900, not at a plastic fairy castle or scorching Burning Man desert. The $45 general admission is accessible unlike some over-the-top galas. Attendees dressed in magnificent pieces from the Edwardian, steampunk, or Gothic period. I’ve never seen so many corsets, hats, capes, umbrellas, and feathers in one original mix. The costumes were tastefully provocative, not sleazy tawdry. People took great attention to the detail, quality, and overall voilà of their amazing outfit. When a woman dons an intricate Spanish Armada-like ship as her hat, you know that these people are hardcore. Check out San Francisco’s professional shots.
Most importantly, the hundreds of people behaved like genteel ladies and gentlemen throughout the spacious two levels and 3 bars. Absinthe cocktails flowed freely as well-dressed sippers mingled in neat, fast lines. Forget the Renaissance Faire raunchy.
The main stage exhibited more variety than a Las Vegas buffet. We marveled at acts spanning ballet dancers, aerial dancers, belly dancers, corset fashion show, live bands, and a magician to name a few.
The toy gun toting cowgirl confidently shot balloons grasped by a perceptibly gay “Indian” who contorted his chiseled body more than a Rubik’s cube.
The renovated Belasco rocked with a mix of funky traditional bands and sleek club music. The lobby became the stage for a guy rocking out on a guitar made from shovel. Yes, a full-sized shovel strung out and attached to an amplifier. The vendor’s bazaar blended right into the crowd along the upper balcony. Period wares included leather masks, Edwardian clothes, jewelry, Gothic art, hats, gloves, and copper smith watches. The photo vendor offered both Polaroid prints and digital photos.
Giant reproductions of Gorey’s illustrations sprinkled the dark theater like delightful surprises. The “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs” signage was strategically placed on the top of stairs, referencing Gorey’s famous The Gashlycrumb Tinies.
‘Twas immensely fun dressing up and anticipating a proper ball. The entire event celebrated wonder, fantasy, craftsmanship, and barely-held-together Edwardian society rules. The Edwardian Ball is deliciously different, just like the artist who inspired the international community. A is for Addicted!