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22 Years of Dark, Artful, Debauchery in San Francisco: The Edwardian Ball

Updated: Jan 27, 2023 08:01
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Performer, Vesper Synd blows bubbles at The Edwardian Ball San Francisco 2019, Photo by Marco Sanchez.

In San Francisco, the themed party is an art form in itself.  In most towns, the phrase ‘Do It Yourself’ means that decorations and costumes were thrown together with whatever you had lying around.  But in San Francisco ‘DIY’ can mean spending weeks or months rigging your band’s drums and instruments to light on fire for a single performance, it means building an entire art car to carry 20 of your friends around for a week in the desert, it means putting circus, art, music, dance, theater, fashion and Edward Gorey into one extravagant ball.

After 22 years of dark, artful, debaucherous Edwardian Balls in San Francisco, Edwardian Ball founders Rosin Coven are hanging up their spurs as Edwardian Ball co-producers and performers and going out with one final blowout bacchanal.  Over a hundred of the Bay’s best tailors, performers, witches, set designers, vampires, aerialists, and Edwardians are pulling out all the stops on February 3rd & 4th on all 4 floors of The Regency Ballroom, you would be crazy to miss it. 

Get your 2023 Edwardian Ball tickets here.

Vau de Vire joins Rosin Coven in presenting a stage interpretation of a different Edward Gorey Illustration each year. photo: Marco Sanchez

We thought it fitting to take a walk down memory lane with the Edwardian Ball producers Justin Katz & Mike Gaines, and ask them about their highs and lows, and two decades of throwing dope parties in the Bay.  So meet Justin Katz & Mike Gaines, two producing, directing, music playing, and stage performing, artists you should know.

Justin Katz (PARADOX Media) & Mike Gaines on stage at The Edwardian Ball.

ARTIST NAME: Mike Gaines (Vau de Vire)
ARTIST NAME: Justin Katz (Rosin Coven)

BAS: How did the Edwardian Ball get started?

Justin Katz:  It was the summer of 1998, and Rosin Coven were hosts of a somewhat fabled martini lounge in the middle of a remote Northern Nevada desert. One evening, after a particularly rousing sunset performance, they were carousing around the bar with their friends when they noticed someone had left a copy of Edward Gorey’s “Gashlycrumb Tinies” on the bartop. This led to a dramatic reading and the sudden idea that it would be great fun to throw a party in Gorey’s honor upon returning to San Francisco. And thus, in December of that same year, the first-ever “Edwardian Ball” was thrown in honor of our great author-saint. Gorey was always our Edward, but we knew from the start that the play on the name would lead to a wonderful re-imagining of the past and a new interpretation of an “Edwardian” era.

2nd Edwardian Ball, San Francisco 1999.

“There are so many things we’ve been brought up to believe that it takes you an awfully long time to realize that they aren’t you.”
― Edward Gorey

For the first four years, Rosin Coven held down the event on our own. We read the book and acted out the parts as best we could while simultaneously performing an original musical score. By year five we realized we had hit the limit of doing everything ourselves and teamed up with the emerging Vau de Vire Society in 2005 to co-create “The Evil Garden”, our fifth incarnation of The Ball and our first with them as co-hosts. Rosin Coven and Vau de Vire have chosen and created an original stage performance of Gorey’s work each and every year (that wasn’t totally shut down by a pandemic) for a total of 17 shows together. It’s been a synergy, an amazing partnership that we never could have anticipated going so far and so long!

Rosin Coven onstage at The Edwardian Ball 2022. Photo: Jane Hu

And, this year we have come to the bittersweet point of Rosin Coven being ready to hang up our top hats and wind down our musical project after 25 amazing years. So this year’s Edwardian Ball will be our last. We are excited to be performing with Vau de Vire for one last weekend, animating a Rosin Coven classic called “The Zookeeper’s Awakening” in a rousing, wild animal roundup!

Rosin Coven – Revisitation of the Birds LIVE

And, this year we have come to the bittersweet point of Rosin Coven being ready to hang up our top hats and wind down our musical project after 25 amazing years. So this year’s Edwardian Ball will be our last. We are excited to be performing with Vau de Vire for one last weekend, animating a Rosin Coven classic called “The Zookeeper’s Awakening” in a rousing, wild animal roundup!

What’s the performance art like at the Edwardian Ball?

Mike Gaines (Vau de Vire): Fantastic and abundant.  Aside from the Fashion, Music, Circus, Dance, Theater, and Burlesque we program, at the forefront of “performance art”  are the guests themselves…donning unique and elaborate costumes, wardrobes and characters, most of which are obviously concocted with a huge amount of effort.  From my producer’s eye, the ever-increasing and wide-reaching community of artists The Edwardian Ball has attracted over the years is beyond expectations and intentions…humbling for sure!  

Photo by Robin Fadke, 2022.

To directly answer your question, we create and program a wide variety of performance art throughout the expansive 4 Floors of The Regency.  On the Dance, Circus, and Theater front, each of the 2 nights of The Ball,  Vau de Vire hosts 3 variety shows, 2 ensemble shows (including the Gorey story), a slew of pop-up vignettes and roving characters, all performed by Vau de Vire’s phenomenal cast of superstars.  When curating our guest performing artists each year, we tend to lean toward the more avant-garde.

The first question we get when talking about the Edwardian Ball is ‘how do you decide what to wear”? 

Justin Katz: Despite what people might think, we do not have a dress code and no kind of look is “required” to attend The Edwardian Ball. Instead, we encourage each and every attendee to view themselves as a co-creator of a shared magical experience, and to dress up accordingly. We only ask that you try, you put in some effort – there are no spectators in this experience. Dress in some way that is fun, different, and unusual for you! Make it special. For some that may mean a fancy hat or accessory. For others, it may be a full-blown costume, a historic re-creation, a steampunk fantasy, a gothic monster, a sexy creature of undetermined nature… What lights you up? Find your spark and run with it, and come be a part of this revelry!

Corseted ladies of Dark Garden perform at The Edwardian Ball San Francisco, 2017, Photo by Marco Sanchez

If people want to get decked out for the Edwardian Ball where should they go?

Justin Katz: Our team has put time and care into creating a Whatever To Wear? Page on our website. This also includes some of our featured vendors that are part of our spectacular and widely-renowned Vendor Bazaar, which occupies an entire floor of The Edwardian Ball an is open both nights during the event, 8pm-2am. In addition, we will be offering free daytime shopping in our Bazaar from 12-5pm on Saturday, February 4th, which is a great time to pick up that ‘something special’ for our 2nd night!

Photo by Robin Fadke

Vendors in the Bazaar.  Photo by Robin Fadke

Our Whatever to Wear page also includes inspiring images and lovely musings by Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden, who I lovingly refer to as The Corset Queen of San Francisco.

Checkout our interview with Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden Corsets here:

Masterful Designs by Dark Garden Corsetry Debuting at Edwardian Ball

There are other shops in SF that focus on outfits for The Edwardian Ball, such as Five & Diamond on Valencia, Distractions on Haight, and Decades of Fashion. Have fun with it!

How’d you pick the ‘Edwardian period’ specifically? 

Justin Katz: As mentioned in our “history of The Ball”, our Edward was never really King Edward, and thus we have never felt particularly tied to the era of his reign, which was really only 1901-1910, historically. Our Edward was and is Edward Gorey, so the event vibe has always reflected more of his art and aesthetic, which spans from the late 1800s Victorian era all the way up to 1960s mod and everything in between! But if people want to dress in a way they feel is authentic to the Edwardian era, then by all means that’s fantastic too.

Gaming in the Edwardian World’s Faire, San Francisco 2016, Photo by Marco Sanchez

We’ve seen y’all perform countless times in the Bay Area, how would you describe Vau de Vire Society? 

Mike Gaines (Vau de Vire): We began our journey embracing the tagline, ”circus”, but over the past 22 years in The Bay Vau de Vire Society has blossomed to become so much more.   Perhaps we can best be described now as a tight family of creators, dancers, circus artists, actors, sideshow, musicians, fine artists, fabricators, builders, and performing artists…who create unique live entertainment experiences spanning a wide range of genres.  We believe, as artists, it’s super fulfilling to not typecast your role in performance art, leaving the door open for re-invention and re-direction at will.  In a consolidated description I guess Vau de Vire can be described as “Mesmerizing Instigators of Immersive Fun”…or something like that 🙂

Do you have a favorite memory from an Edwardian Ball in the past?

Mike Gaines (Vau de Vire):: There are so many but I’d have to go back to where it all began for Vau de Vire… “The Disrespectful Summons” at the Cat Club in 2005…our first collaboration with Rosin Coven.  Shannon (my wife and VdV Choreographer) and I portrayed “The Devil and Miss Squill,” squeezing performances onto a 4’x12′ stage in a tiny packed venue chalked full of danger…so fun!

Mike and Shannon Gaines of Vau de Vire.

Your favorite performance of the last 23 years? 

Mike Gaines (Vau de Vire): Wow, super tough to answer.  I feel that, as a performance group, we are now in a super fortunate place  where we’re able to choose projects that fulfill us without compromising or censoring our artistic expression.  On that note, i’d answer that all of our over-ambitious and challenging projects that we see our visions to fruition are at the top of my list of “favorite performances”… with our 6 week run of REVIVE LA in Downtown Los Angeles this past summer being a top contender.  But, there are so many favorites, for different reasons, over the 2+decades including:

The Soiled Dove (in our Big Top), Alcatraz show (expression). Hell in the Armory – 20-day run of Halloween tours, Lincoln Center NYC – featured show, Burningman – too many to count, First VdV show i- 1999 in our 100yr old church in colorado, SuperBowl XLII (experience tent) – headlining act with supporting acts Velvet Revolver, 50 Cent, Wyclef Jean. Le Rossignol w/ the SF Symphony, Lagunitas Beer Circus – 9 yrs. producing event w/ culmination in a 5-city tour, Moscova Affair – 9-City tour for Stoli Symbiosis, and Global Eclipse Festivals and the list goes on…

Vau de Vire Society 2019 photo: Marco Sanchez

I love reminiscing on all of my favorites but I do know that there is so much more FUN to be had and present and so much more to learn…and that’s super exciting.

The Edwardian Ball & World’s Faire 2019

Get your Edwardian Ball tickets here.

Where’s your favorite spot to perform in the Bay Area?

Mike Gaines (Vau de Vire): Hands down, the opulence yet warm vibe of the Lodge level of The Regency Ballroom inspires us like no other venue in The Bay.  It could be that I’m biased since The Edwardian Ball has called this home for the past decade.

People come from all over the world to attend the ball, why do you think they keep coming back? 

Justin Katz:  We offer people the opportunity to not only enjoy the world that our team has so lovingly curated, but to actually be the star of it, and create it together. People definitely come for the art, the performances, the music, the dancing, the absinthe cocktails… but they really come for each other. As producer my favorite element of the entire event is seeing how people show up for it and make it so wonderful. And when people sincerely feel that, they keep coming back for more. And to create more. It’s wild and crazy, but also safe and accepting. There’s no right way or cool kids, we’re all in it together.

Jay Bee of Vau de Vire Society performs at The Edwardian Ball, San Francisco 2019, Photo Marco Sanchez

Does Rosin Coven all camp together at Burning Man?  Do you all take any inspiration from the sf Cacophony society? 

Justin Katz:  Back in the day, attending Burning Man together was a core part of how Rosin Coven really found our identity, and that energy I think contributed in a big way to the SF underground in the glorious era of late 90’s to mid 2000s. That was a beautiful moment in time, when it felt like art and artists had the run of the city. Rosin Coven’s “Pagan Lounge” both on and off playa was a rich and potent cauldron for fun, experimentation, and self-expression. Although we did not directly interact with The Cacophony Society, I think in hindsight we were riding much of the same wave, peppering our underground concerts with flaming drum kits, ridiculous rituals, robots, zombies popping out of coffins, shooting a metal-encased salami down a zipline across a club, on fire. So much fire really, all the time. Indoors! It’s kind of amazing we got away with it and didn’t burn anything down.

The Edwardian Ball 2022, Photo by Robin Fadke

Your favorite performance of the last 23 years?

Justin Katz:  It’s hard to nail it down but there was one year, maybe 2011 or so, when we created an original stage performance for an Edward Gorey tale called “The Tuning Fork.” It’s hard to recall the actual story – a very common story when reading Gorey books – but at some point there was a scene where a neglected and misunderstood child has her revenge on her terrible family by befriending a sea monster that eventually comes up through the bathtub and eats them. Vau de Vire had a huge articulating monster puppet swinging from the ceiling, the girl and the tub and the family meeting their demise one by one, and all the while Rosin Coven was playing the soundtrack as a high-kicking Perez Prado mambo. It was a glorious moment!

What was the worst or most challenging production disaster you’ve had setting up a ball or party? 

Justin Katz:   The very first year we brought the Edwardian Ball to Los Angeles we landed in a formerly glorious but now extremely dilapidated venue called The Tower Theater. When we started loading in we found standing water in the bathrooms, and gaping holes in staircases, and when we brought a forklift on stage to set up our rigging it cracked the deck and fell into the structure. Once we managed to get through all of that and open the event we were quickly busted by the LAPD for having a large crowd in a semi-legal venue. We had to scramble to clear out props and chairs to “make enough room” for our guests until the police were satisfied. And actually, in hindsight, it was an amazing night, maybe one of our best ever!

Why is this Rosin Coven’s last Ball?

Justin Katz:  We have been a band – really more like a family – for 25 years. That’s an extremely long time for a band by any measure, especially one that has virtually all of the same members since the start. I like to say that “band years” are like “dog years” but even longer! Rosin Coven has toured the country, we’ve traveled across Europe and played castles and metro stations and seedy dives, we’ve recorded several albums, done a deep dive into Burning Man, performed on a haunted tugboat… we’ve had the opportunity to connect with friends and fans and fellow musicians in so many places for so many years.

And now, it’s time for us to wind it down and make room in our lives for whatever comes next. That will be different for each of us, but we want to do it gracefully, and together. This year, in 2023, we will go back into the studio to record all of the music we haven’t captured yet, which is quite a lot. In the Fall probably, we’ll aim to do a final farewell concert that we hope will be a fun and meaningful experience for those that are still connected to us and what we do. As we have always said, this is alchemy through music. Welcome to The Pagan Lounge! Long live The Pagan Lounge!

Rosin Coven on Spotify here.

Complete with mesmerizing stage shows, interactive steam-powered art, immersive performances, an extensive, artisan Vendor Bazaar, a Museum of Wonders, and an exquisite Grand Ballroom, The Edwardian Ball invites thousands of costumed revelers to join together to create an imagined “Edwardian” wonderland

  • This holiday season, experiences are better than gifts.

  • The Edwardian Ball is a San Francisco cultural institution; independent and artist-owned and operated for 20+ years.

  • This immersive event is for all ages, providing an artistic and literary experience for creative and discerning families.

  • The Edwardian Ball is a celebration of the great author and illustrator Edward Gorey who continues to enjoy great acclaim posthumously

  • Visually stunning, The Edwardian Ball makes for fantastic, irresistible and unique content.

The Edwardian Ball returns for its 22nd annual event for two glorious nights at The Regency Ballroom, San Francisco

Friday, February 3 and Saturday, February 4th. Both nights run from 8:00 PM until 2:00 AM and are open to all ages.

Get your tickets here.

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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

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