Partygoers at San Francisco’s Edwardian Ball have worn it all: Birdcage headdresses with real birds, and fishbowl hats with live fish swimming in water already have been done.
“I’ll never forget watching an elegantly costumed Edwardian-era woman in a full-length velvet evening gown, waltzing across the floor with a praying mantis,” recalls Justin Katz of Paradox Media, one of event’s founding fathers. “Where else are you going to see that?”
For 12 years, ball organizers have been inspired by illustrator and author Edward Gorey as they create one of The City’s most surreal parties; this year, it’s Friday and Saturday at the Regency Ballroom.
Katz and his friends concocted the concept for the ball while perusing Gorey books at a martini bar in the summer of 1999. The inky, black-and-white illustrations accompanying misanthropic short stories in the macabre mini-books seemed a good excuse for a costume party.
“Gorey shows you a story without telling you much of anything,” says Katz. “Everything that happens in his stories is between the scenes, and somewhere in your mind. It’s an invitation to use the imagination, and I think that invitation is welcome in San Francisco where people can really get into the stories and become a character.”
This year’s theme, which takes its cue from the enigmatic book “The Iron Tonic,” includes a theatrical adaptation of the story by longtime ball collaborators and co-producers Vau de Vire Society, a collective specializing in interactive acrobatic, circus, theater, dance and music arts.
The event has become so popular that it has outgrown its humble origins at the Kat Klub. The three-tiered Regency Ballroom, with period-appropriate 1909 beaux arts decor, fits with the event’s secondary theme, the Edwardian era itself.
“It’s an opulent, historic space,” says Katz. “We knew when we titled the event that it was a play on words, but the Edwardian period reflects the genteel elegance of Gorey’s illustrations and the formality that is seen in his work.”
The site’s multiple rooms and corridors, decked with chandeliers, tapestries, velvet upholstery and unique alcoves, allows the ball to unfold with simultaneous entertainments.
Of course, ballroom dancing and live music are on the bill. But other offerings include parlor games, sideshow and circus performers, steam machinery, a bicycle-powered carousel with a calliope, a museum of wonders, a live statue garden, a thematic vendor bazaar, an antique portrait studio, a tea and more.
In short, the Edwardian Ball is not an event as much as it is its own universe.
“It’s evolved into a place where you can have 10 different people experience 10 different evenings,” says Katz.
IF YOU GO
Presented by Paradox Media and Vau de Vire Society
When: 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday; noon to 2 a.m. Saturday
Where: Regency Ballroom, 1300 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
Tickets: $29 to $85
Contact: (877) 435-9849, edwardianball.com