Theatre Bizarre is a little hard to describe: a masquerade run amok, immersive environmental theatre, a derelict circus ressurected for just one more night of tattered debauchery… In a different world, I would studiously document John Dunivant‘s magnum opus for a multi-volume dissertation but, in this sad beautiful universe, allow me just a few words and a couple photos.
Elsa and I arrived early this year, while Detroit Masonic Temple was still bathed in twilight and the occasional blast of fire.
Many performers mulled about the foyer, beside the Fiji mermaid and the scale model of Theatres past. These boxed representations are the circus I would run away to join, or at least display in my bedroom — handcrafted stages peopled with paper maché characters engaged in all manner of bizarreness and lit by blasts of flame. My favorite detail was a sword swallower who was part anatomical model. An occupational hazard, I suppose.
Being an early bird allowed my hungry eyes and itchy camera finger to record some of the classic set pieces before the real fun began.
One of the rooms was filled with what a friend called “Satanic Kitsch” which is an apt description. These massive paintings of horned beings on scuffed plywood echo props from a tawdry sideshow while evoking the iconography of 70’s demonism, scandalous and nostalgic. When the festivities began, this room shook with heavy metal and poorly-clad performers suspended by hooks in their flesh.
Other nooks of the massive structure were filled with sights that, let’s say, can’t be posted to Facebook. Thrilling, titillating amusements best left unmentioned.
In the “Sinema” Elsa and I munched popcorn and caught bits of Caligari as well as a performance by the rollicking Detroit Marching Party Band. But there was music EVERYWHERE. Elsa and I shook our tail-feathers to rockabilly in a place we came to call “The Pumpkin Room,” bounced gleefully to techno in the central court, and even swayed and head-banged to the bands rocking out the Ballroom on the very bottom floor.
Any night of magical indulgence should have at least one regret and this is a photo of mine: the prizes awarded for the carnival games. I must have spent $20 throwing darts and tossing beanbags but did not walk away with one of these odd mementoes. I would have treasured it, not just as a souvenir, but as tangible proof that the visions of Theatre Bizarre were more than just a Mid-Autumn’s Night Dream.