This Saturday, the Edwardian Ball will celebrate its 10th anniversary in Los Angeles, and while 10 years is an admirable duration for the ball to have sustained its opulent tradition in town [it has just held its 19th anniversary show in San Francisco], the event has become so ingrained in many people’s psyches that it is difficult to believe that it has not been around for 100 years, or more. Perhaps this disassociation is not as odd as it feels given that the event is comprised of timeless musical and variety acts, presented in an anachronistic fantasy world inspired by the art and stories of Edward Gorey. In advance of the immersive Victorian / Edwardian / steampunk show/bazaar/ party, the Weekly spoke with the show’s co-host / co-producer and OC native Mike Gaines about this year’s production.
OC Weekly (Scott Feinblatt): For the last two years, the Edwardian Ball had changed venues from The Fonda Theatre to the Globe Theatre. This year, you’re returning to The Fonda.
Mike Gaines: We are indeed and ecstatic about it. The Globe was awesome, first and foremost, for the past few years…very accommodating, great people…We went back to the Fonda [because] we really like the upstairs outdoor [area]. It lends itself to what we want with a different environment, being a little bit more organic. [Also,] we like Hollywood Boulevard. We love downtown as well, but we weighed out all of the pros and cons…the pros including that outdoor area, and we just dig having an outdoor area that people can migrate to and actually have music in that area.
I’ve never asked you this one before, but how do you choose, year by year, which of Edward Gorey’s stories you’re going to feature as the main theme?
That’s funny — we haven’t had that question except for a few times, and they’ve been this year! Justin and myself and Shannon, my wife and choreographer, get together and just go over the possibilities of stories and see how we might be able to present them in a novel way. Working on 18 years of collaboration together for this, we really want to take it to different places. Either showcase the media, in different places of it, sometimes do the story verbatim and sometimes we add our own backstory, like last year. Or sometimes do something totally off the rails and bring the orchestra into a game show scenario. That’s how we presented it last year, so, it’s really a process of going through all of his illustrated literature, and choosing it, and having drinks, and conceptualizing something really crazy and wild and fun and poignant sometimes at the same time.
The central Edward Gorey story this year is The Epiplectic Bicycle. Can you explain how you’re going to present this one?
It’s actually one of the only illustrated stories that really don’t have [many complex components. The story deals] with two characters, a bicycle, and their journey. And then of course, ala Gorey, there’s a demise in the end. Usually, it’s children, but this time the character of the bike, itself, falls dead at the end. And, ala Gorey, he leaves you a lot of room here to both interpret and to embellish. So we’re taking some multimedia angles on this one, which is really fun and, as we always do, [we’re taking] some prop that is ridiculous and can’t work and [we’re going to] make it work. We have a couple of props in this one and some set design that’s pretty innovative. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s both on the ground and in the air, as we like to be able to do. And it’s a fun, fun play. I’d say the immersive [component] is, well…we’re taking it into the audience and getting the audience involved a little bit for this year…We’ve always used projections, but we’re using projections in more of a three-dimensional situation. Our set design is going to be encompassed with projections; the staging of it is going out into the audience and back and the characters are amazing. The music from Rosin Coven is crazy and really fun, and it’s a quick show, 15 minutes, but it’s a fun travel through The Epiplectic Bicycle.
Apart from the Edward Gorey story / showcase, to what extent are your various musicians and variety performers recruited locally versus brought down with you from your base, in San Francisco? I noticed the local act Marquis and the Rhythm Howlers are on the bill.
Specific to Marquis and the Rhythm Howlers, God, they showed up a couple of years ago, and I don’t know the origin of the connection, but I think they just organically came to surface while [we were] looking for local talent. We just keep extending the reach out from friends of friends, you know, we don’t go through agencies or anything of that sort…it’s a small community of performers and the like-minded…I think, for Los Angeles, we’ve had some national headliners over the past down there but, we like keeping it…[local, and] once I heard them — it’s just so gritty and fast and rock and roll — Justin and I felt like it was a great approach with this year to take it into that realm of fast rock and roll driven, on Hollywood Boulevard. I think that’s the vibe that we’ve gone with. We’ve gone with more ballroom stuff in the past and more like low-key stuff in the past, but rock and roll really moved us, I think on specifically them. They’re a great group and we haven’t had them before. [Other local groups we’ll be featuring this year include] Atom Smith & His Bass Age Big Band…Grand Artique is back with us…Dr. Solar is back with us…Vaude and the Villainz…Danniellow is a DJ and opener for the rooftop. DJ Baz is from Los Angeles. He’s been with us for a couple of years now, and we pulled him into the San Francisco ball, so we try to cross-pollinate with Los Angeles folks as we’re able. We’ll be bringing down Kinetic Steam Works and Cyclecide — they are the installation artist cast who’s been with us quite a few times before. They literally have steam driven, kinetic art pieces that we route into the venue, and they’ll be down with us with a big installation…We have a big chunk that we always bring…20 performers down with us and showcase different solo acts and ensemble acts, and we usually infuse the crew with some local performers as well that we’ve created relationships with over the years.
Would you say that over the years you’ve increasingly used locals as you get to know more of them?
I would say that’s exactly how it’s gone. Looking back at it now, I realize that we used to lean on [the production team] that we created in San Francisco more and take more caravans and such down, and now I think [we’re] consolidating that. I think you’re on it [about] how it’s just growing into its own thing. We’re not trying to replicate anything in San Francisco, really, we’re just…whatever fits in our box truck, we bring down and then supplement with a bunch of local artists as well. I was talking about musical acts, just there, but some of the installation artists[, too.] We’ll have a bunch more fine artists with their art hanging and on display around the venue.
Any final thoughts for folks who haven’t yet experienced your shows?
I guess one poignant thing for any guests contemplating coming to the ball: you’re not mandated to dress a certain way. We just ask that you put a little effort into your attire, and that usually equates to getting more out of it and being more inclusive, but we’re all open arms to anybody that wants to come out and test it for the first time…We hope to make a comfortable place for people to express themselves.
The 10th Annual Edwardian Ball will take place Saturday, Feb. 9, at The Fonda Theatre. For more info on the history of the Edwardian Ball, read our previous interview with Mike Gaines and Justin Katz. For more details about this year’s ball, and to buy tickets, visit the Edwardian Ball’s website.