My only disappointment from the 2015 Theatre Bizarre was that at this fete exhorting us to “Ride the Goat,” there was no appearance by the Baphomet statue so recently flaunted by the local Satanists. It’s probably for the best. I suspect pious devil-worship would have paled in comparison to the joyous revelries and raucous naughtiness that Theatre Bizarre is known for. You know the drill: Theatre Bizarre has come a long way from that notorious renegade party it once was and for some folks, there ain’t nothing quite as delicious as nostalgia for auld lang syne. For my money, Dunivant’s crazy circus has hit its stride in the Masonic Temple. Elsa and I were on-site for a good eight hours last night which means our ticket gave us great value for money.
Hold the goat, Theatre Bizarre 2015, for me, was really the Year of the Performer. I was able to look past the luridly lovely decorations and outrageous costumes long enough to pay attention to the remarkable calibre of the events occurring on the many stages. I know I mocked it a couple years ago when placards appeared at the venues listing the acts. I felt the glory was precisely in NOT knowing what would be seen. I repent and recant. I only wish I knew the names of more of the itinerant mimes, clowns and fireworkers. May they be recognized at least by descriptions of their work.
All Packed up and Ready to Fork: The show starts even outside Masonic, which is fortunate because the wait is sometimes lengthy. This year there were two entrances which minimized the time Elsa and I spent in the cold… but we were there long enough to catch a Theatre Bizarre regular, one of many performers whose name I don’t know. His routine is classic and well honed. This mime struggles with a suitcase that possesses a mind of its own, simple fare that requires great control and nuance because there is little flash to distract. More crowd-pleasing, perhaps, is his sword-swallowing but what he does when he combines a fork and his nose is priceless.
Quest for Fire: I was also fortunate to be in the right places to witness the work of a lithe blonde fire-dancer. She twirled a flame-tipped baton and swirled a fiery circle in the Main Foyer and on at least one of the small table-sized stages that dot Masonic. But when she and another dancer parted the revelers in the Fountain Ballroom, sometime after midnight, that’s when I really took notice. The routine was a spirited tug-of-war / pas de deux of sorts where the pair struggled to possess a flaming bauble. With contortions and gymnastic flair, the two gleefully contested, wrestled and writhed… and never even singed the awestruck crowd. This is the kind of unexpected wonderment I’ve come to expect from Theatre Bizarre.Elsa and I started the evening in the Dirty Devil’s Burlesque, since we know the room crowds up early. A patron could spend the entire evening watching these beauties and get a great introduction to the state of the burlesque art. Dahlia Fatale and Dangrrr Doll were remarkable for the fluid physicality of their acts but I was glad to finally see Lou Lou Roxy, a Las Vegas performer who has recently relocated to Detroit. I believe I could watch her work out of her gloves for quite a contented eternity.
We drifted and indulged and found ourselves in the first floor Ballroom early enough to secure a table for several of the signature performances. There are several traditions at Theatre Bizarre, set pieces repeated and revered to the point of becoming rituals. The Devil’s Tightrope is one routine that, while not precisely my taste, is a remarkable, must-see stunt. It features BOTH kinds of mischief, both clowns and devils. A rope is suspended between hooks sunk into the flesh of two strong men, lit on fire before a hapless clown is forced at knife-point to walk across that perilous line. Don’t try it at home.
One of Theatre Bizarre’s recurring cast is “The Doll,” whose joyous zeal really epitomizes the weird fun of the affair. We spotted her as usual all around the festivities, sometimes atop stilts and brandishing a massive hammer, sometimes just cuddling a doll. When she appeared onstage in “The Doll and the Devil,” I feared that her innocent joie de vivre would be besmirched by that compellingly androgynous faun who attempted to seduce her. Ha! I worried in vain. The Doll was triumphant and the Devil got his comeuppance in the end, quite literally.
“The Clown’s Surprise” featured two more of the Theatre Bizarre regulars, a lanky clown and a remarkably acrobatic devil girl. Both performers pop up all around the show, accosting customers and performing bits, and Elsa and I have thrilled to their talents, year after year, but it was fun to finally see an act where both could play off each other’s strengths.
There was ice cream and dancing, popcorn and short-attention span porn movies, in addition to other naughtiness best left unmentioned. Theatre Bizarre is an event ruled by serendipity, happy accidents of being in the right place at precisely the right time. These blessings more than compensate for the moments found trapped somewhere, surrounded by far too many people, pushing along in line for some attraction. Elsa and I have learned to take the long view, to relax and look around because at Theatre Bizarre, something amazing is happening just about everywhere.