In 1865, Lewis Carroll wrote “Curiouser and curiouser!” for his heroine in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” It’s an apt sentiment for anyone considering attending the Edwardian Ball, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this weekend at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco.
Founded by the music ensemble Rosin Coven and currently co-presented by Shannon and Mike Gaines of Vau de Vire Society and Justin Katz of PARADOX Media, the first ball took place at the Cat Club on Folsom Street. It envisioned a whimsical intersection of the extravagant style of the Edwardian era (1901-10) named for the then-reigning British monarch, and Edward Gorey (1925-2000), a writer and artist specializing in darkly humorous work.
The cultural slideshow that assembles when considering the Edwardian Ball today is massive. It’s Cirque du Soleil meets “Beetlejuice,” and the dearly departed Thrillpeddlers and Teatro ZinZanni and Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge.” It’s cosplay and drag, with a soupçon of a demented Dickens fair. Steampunk and goth, vintage and leather and Ascot on acid come together for an immersive and congenial two-day mêlée of theater, cabaret, dance club, burlesque, music hall, magic and Grand Guignol, plus a Saturday high tea and a vendor bazaar of art and costuming.
The key to approaching it could be to imagine, whatever your gender, that you are in fact Alice and you have passed through the looking glass to feed your head, because to attend the Edwardian Ball is to become part of it.
If that feels daunting, it needn’t be. “One of the things we most frequently hear is that someone would like to go but doesn’t know what to wear or what to do,” says Katz, freely admitting that “It’s a lot to take in.” He recommends streaming a few of the videos on their website to get familiar with the vibe.
“One of the reasons the Edwardian Ball has been able to grow and thrive over the last 20 years is because it is a very warm and welcoming cultural environment. There is room at the table for so many different interests and ways of participating and the event is built around that.”
There is no dress code, says Katz. “Our invitation is to show up in a way that is fun and special and accessible for you and to not be afraid to mix, mingle and try things.”
Katz, Gaines and their teams work year-round to set the stage, but he says a large part of the flavor of each event comes from “the participants who show up from around the globe and co-create the Edwardian world.”
IF YOU GO
The Edwardian Ball
Where: Regency Ballroom, 1300 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Tickets: $25 to $250 (Single event and two-day passes available)
Note: A bazaar with era-appropiate fashions, accessories and oddities for sale, with $5 admission, is at noon Saturday, Jan. 25.